Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five Steps for Survival When You've Been Verbally Reprimanded

Everyone knows that when a boss starts "paper-trailing" you -- giving you written reprimands that go into your personnel file -- you're in deep doo-doo.

That's because written reprimands are what bosses do when they're seriously considering booting you to the curb -- or have already made up their mind and are just going through the paper thing because human resources makes them.

But what happens when you get a "verbal" reprimand? Is that the same as a "paper" reprimand?

Well, yes and no.

Obviously, it's not paper, so that makes it different. And, if the boss were really fed up with you, he would be writing down what you did (or didn't do) and shooting off a copy to HR. But when he just verbally disses your performance, you've been given a (brief) reprieve to get your act together.

Usually, a supervisor will say something like, "This is your official verbal warning" or something to that effect. When you hear that, it's your cue to either a) start dusting off your resume or b) craft a battle plan to save your butt.

And, in this economy with the crappy job market, I'd suggest you focus on Plan B.

So, let's look at an action plan when you get a verbal warning from the boss:

1. Set the tone. Ask for a time to talk to your boss when you won't be interrupted. Trying to discuss a serious issue such as your performance while on an elevator or in the break room pouring a cup of coffee won't serve your interests well. By asking for a meeting, you show that you're taking what he said to heart.
2. Ask for specifics. The boss saying, "You're not a team player" isn't going to be very illuminating, so ask if he can provide specific instances of this behavior. Don't be confrontational or defensive: Listen and take notes.
3. Set goals. Just as in a formal yearly performance appraisal, you should always have a clear road map of where you need to go. In this case, you're looking for things you can do right away to show the boss you're serious about meeting expectations. Then, ask about long-term expectations: Have those changed since your last evaluation?
4. Follow up. After you've had your meeting, use your notes to write a formal e-mail to your boss, outlining your expectations and goals. Tell the boss how much you appreciate the feedback. Make sure you send your boss e-mails when you've met those expectations: Bosses aren't the only ones who can paper-trail. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a good practice not only for employees who are in trouble, but as a way to have solid proof of your contributions. Set up regular appointments with the boss to make sure you're staying on track.
5. Kick your own butt. Once you've got a good idea of what the boss expects, it's time to take a hard look at your performance. Is the verbal reprimand an indication of a more serious problem? Do you need anger management classes, or perhaps more training in an area that makes you defensive because you lack the necessary skills? Are you deliberately doing a poor job because you resent a co-worker or the boss? This is a good opportunity to find a mentor who is willing to give you honest feedback and help steer you back on course.

What other steps should someone take after a verbal reprimand?


Angela said...

Great article, but I disagree with trying to work with the boss. In most cases, once a boss starts in on an employee, that employee is screwed - especially if you work in an At Will state like Missouri.

I think the steps you recommended are good in the few situations where it can work. The key is knowing if it is worth a shot - i.e. if you, the employee really are in the wrong - or if you should cut bait and go fishing elsewhere.

Anita said...

I think the key here is that it's a verbal reprimand. When it's a written reprimand, I think you better start looking for a job, as you say.
But the bosses I spoke with say that when they verbally reprimand someone, they don't consider it as serious -- and that they would like to try and keep an employee rather than go through the hassle and expense of trying to find someone new.
And, as I said in the post, in this economy I think it's much smarter to put your energy into saving the job you have.
However, I do agree with you that you have to really assess whether it's worth saving the job -- do you even want to? Maybe it's your signal that it really would be better for everyone if you moved on.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Some good points, other ones to ponder are that maybe you and your boss just won't ever get along. If that is the case and you work in a large company, maybe finding another internal job is the way to go. Talking with co-workers or people that formerly worked for the boss may also help you gain insight into how they work best.

If the reprimand is related to not getting work done and you feel you are overworked, then knowing what your manager's and the teams goals are will help shed light on what you need to focus your efforts on to avoid the verbal leading to a written reprimand.

Anita said...

Great suggestions. Being proactive is much better than letting the situation deteriorate to the point that you're fired -- or your reputation is damaged and it adversely impacts your future job plans.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Another important step is- don't be afraid to ask! Checking in with your boss to make sure you're on the same page can prevent misunderstanding and is a small, important step in showing your commitment to improvement.

Anita said...

Right! You want to make sure that all your verbal interactions with your boss aren't just about problems. Checking in with him or her about progress you've made it also a way to establish a more positive pattern of communication.
Thanks for the suggestion.

Unknown said...

No one here is mentioning a witness too what has occurred how do you know you getting written up for no reason and just taking it where is the third party witness .. Does it mean anyone can write you up for the hell of it ..??? No one here is questioning that part bunch of idiots people need a third party witness too confirm things what happen who saw it as well etc one person says john pulled my hair in office john says he didn't and the other who saw it happen or didn't happenis the third party witness too confirm that is what I mean and if you don't have that witness and the claim was there you can sue them for lack of proof

Ashley said...

My manager told me she would have to reprimand me because I called out sick. What should I do?

Anita said...

You don't say whether this is a verbal reprimand or a written one, but I would definitely consult your employee handbook or talk to human resources about how much sick time you are given and the procedure for when you call in sick. If it's a written one, and you feel it's unfair, then I would write a (civil and professional) response and ask that it also be included in your personnel file. In cases like this, I think it's a good idea that you keep a record of the action take by the boss, and record as many facts as possible. You never know when you may need that record in your defense.

Anonymous said...

I was taken into a room and given a written reprimand. I was shocked! I have been with the company for a long time and never had that happen before. I also have a new boss that did it. Then all of a sudden later I got a verbal reprimand. I don't know what to do, I have never had this occur before. Any thoughts?

Anita said...

I'd suggest being proactive. Follow the tips listed above and make sure you continue to communicate with your new boss to understand what he/she believes should be your priorities. New bosses often feel they have to "set the tone" and go overboard in trying to direct a team in a new direction. The more you show that you're willing to do what's necessary to help the boss meets his/her goals, the better off you will be. In the meantime, also be proactive about your career -- make sure you're networking, checking other job possibilities, etc. I'm not saying you will lose your job, but don't be caught flatfooted if the worst should happen. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Walking by my supervisors cubicle on Friday 2/26 he asked if I had a second. He started telling me a manager of a manager said this and that. Never really asked my side. Yet when I told him things were going on he told me thanks for keeping me out of it. So in defense of myself I sent him emails of what was going on lots of emails. I requested a meeting on Friday 2/26. He responded CC'g HR person. HR person on Wednesday 3/2 sent an email asking supervisor if he had scheduled meeting. I stated at his convenience. It was at 4pm Wed. Today Thursday, 3/3 he called me and asked if I would walk down to his cubicle. I sat down he had a folder and stated for documentation purposes they were covering themselves since I was documenting myself and he had a form with Verbal (Written in) before warning. I asked when I got the verbal warning because as we ended the meeting on Wednesday they both told me I did a great job they needed me, etc. He told me I got the verbal warning on Friday. Infraction date stated "Prior to 2/26". He had my name wrong, I asked him to correct it. I told me to sign it or we could walk into HR office and she would sign it for me. I asked if I could take it and read it he said no, I asked if I could have a copy, he said only after I signed it, I told him I was never told Friday it was a verbal warning and everything is vague and I could not sign it. NOW I have a problem with the shipping department and HR is MARRIED to the MANAGER of the SHIPPING DEPARTMENT so how come after the end of the meeting on WEDNESDAY on Thursday I am told to sign a document shouldnt have have been made clear at the meeting and when I was walked into the HR office and she hold me she was signing as a witness I stated I objected due to the conflict of interest of my situation with the shipping department as discussed the meeting the afternoon prior. I am in Texas which is an At Will State and I am over 40 - I feel HR and SHipping manager had a great CHAT as they drove home and now I was told to sign in and could not read his writting plus I told him my name was not correct - He thanked me! What are my options if any for the now Backdated Verbal warning form they both dated 7 days later and 1 day after a meeting where they praised me and my work?

Anita said...

Dear Anonymous,
I'm no legal expert, so I'm going to be honest and tell you that it may be time you sought legal advice. I don't like the way these people are vague with you, ask you to sign documents you know are wrong, etc. If you should ever lose your job, they're going to use those documents against you and say that you signed them. So, again, think seriously about getting some legal advice.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anita,

I'm glad I found this blog and I'll try to explain what happened to me as I need to put this out of my head and soul, otherwise I'm going to turn crazy. First of all I apologize for my English mistakes but this is not my first language but I'll try me best.
I've received an oral warning a few weeks ago in my job. I was shocked about this and about how things happened. The thing is they said they've put this into my file during 4 months and that's what is most worrying me more.

One day I've tried to talk to the head of the team for the place I'm working for and he was busy at that moment and asked me to send him an email. I send him an email that was for asking permission to going to a job interview and to go to an informal visit to the place I was going to the interview. The place I work for give the day off for people who goes to job interviews but I said on the email that I was happy to come back after the interview finish. I asked for 2 hours in the morning on the day before, to going to visit the place and then I would come back to work.

I received an email saying that the day for the interview was allowed but the hours for the informal visit not. I got upset with this because I truly believe it would be granted and because I'd said that I wouldn't spent the hole day off on my interview day. When I received the email, the work had already finished and in the room was another colleague of me and my supervisor, still working. I share these feelings with theme and they saw how upset I was. I was also worried because I had already said yes to the place of the interview that I was going for an informal visit (not smart I know, but I truly thought that wouldn't be an issue). My supervisor advised me to speak with the head off the place personally and my colleague share a history that he asked time off for doing a free training and it wasn't granted too, and he got upset because he knew it would be good for his curriculum.

The very next day I don't know why, my alarm didn't rang and I went late for work 1h15 min. It was very very bad. Nothing like this haven't happened before but I was feeling really bad with myself. When I got there I had to leave immediately and I spent the day out doing activities with people I work.
When I arrived and after people I work left, I went to speak to the head of place I work. When I approach him and start the conversation I felt a bit uncomfortable. I explain my situation, why I wanted to go visited the place before, that I've already said yes and know I was feeling without knowing what to do, that I understand his position, but I was there to see if it was something to do. He said
he was glad I went to talk to him instead of saying things about him. I got shocked. I said I haven't made that he said he was told that. I got so shocked when

Anonymous said...

I've tried to explain I barely could talk. Then he said he wouldn't granted me the hours and I asked him If I went what would happened. He said he would disciplinary me. Then I said something like ok and thank you and I left. I was almost crying because of what he said as I asked that expecting not being paid the day even going 2hours or doing some extra hours or something like that. Not hearing that..
I cried for half an hour and then when I went to work my line manager and supervisor came and talk to me saying that the head of the place wanted an apologize for what happened and saying that I have to come to work next day because it's in my contract. I was surprised because of them saying that, I never said I was not working the next day. I said to them of course I would come to work and I never meant to be rude to anyone and I would apologize myself if necessary. My supervisor also said she went to him and said that I was upset about the email. She spoke about the lateness and I've explain the situation and we went together speak with the head of the pplace

I apologize to him, I said I didn't realize and it wasn't to attack anyone. He only look at me and ask again If I would come to work next day, I said yes, and he said you can leave now. I felt miserable.

The next day morning in the middle of my work my supervisor call me and said the head of the place wanted to speak with me. Me and her went into a room with him, and he started reading a paper saying that was an oral warning. I was petrified and I couldn't say anything. He said that my supervisor was the whiteness. The oral warning that went to my file was because the lateness and I didn't warned the place, because I said things about him (but it wasn't written which things) and because I asked what would happened.
He asked me If I have anything to say while was reading the paper and I said no because I didn't want get worse the situation. After that he said a a few things that made me thing miserable and said you can leave.

I called HR a few hours later because I was worried and scared. First because I was having an interview on Monday and I didn't know how references worked If I get the position. It made me feel worse. She said I had been very unprofessional and she knew that I hadn't said anything on the meeting. I explain to here (crying) that I haven't said anything because I didn't want to make things worse... Well she convicted me to went again and say apologies which I did. He accepted and things get a little bit better.

I wrote everything down because I'm on job haunting and I'm so worried about references... I'm still working for them and nothing more happened but I just want to leave...
And now after days and weeks later I believe that this was a misunderstanding/miscommunication thing. Cultural differences had a real impact here because If I was speaking in my language nothing of this would had happened.
However If they felt I was rude, I felt mistreated as well because I was putted in a room in the middle of my work, without previous knowledge. I'd the right to prepare myself for this meeting, at least is what is written in their policy. I'd the right to be accompanied by a colleague and what about the conflict of interest about the witness being the whistle-blower?

I am sorry for being so long, but I'm being hunting by this. I'm having nightmares, I'm feeling miserable and I'm feeling that I'm never finding a job elsewhere. I'm not a bad person or a bad employee.


Anita said...

Dear N.,
I'm sorry to hear about the problems you've had a work and the stress it is causing you.
I think there are a couple of things going on here, including poor communication and cultural misunderstandings.
I don't know the specifics about your entire situation, but I would suggest finding a mentor.
This person would be someone who is respected, someone who could spend some time sharing professional wisdom with you.
This is not a person you complain to, but instead someone who can help you navigate difficult situations in a job. This person can offer wisdom about various work-related issues, such as communicating effectively, responding to feedback and negotiating work agreements.
At the same time, I would encourage you to join professional or industry groups. You want to be around people who are successful, who can offer you information about how to grow in your job and in your career. Making such an investment will pay off now and in the future.
Finally, I would also recommend that you gain emotional support from positive people in your life. You're going through a difficult time, and the support of people who can offer encouragement is important.

Anonymous said...

A co worker got written up after we made a mutual decision to throw a donated unsightly seasonal plant away - this was perceived as threatening by a couple of other people who only saw the plant being thrown out and literally "have it in" for the co-worker. I feel so bad but don't know what to do. This is so petty and not good judgement by HR and Management.

Anita said...

Since I don't really know all the facts in the situation -- what was said, how it was handled, HR and management reasoning for the write up -- I can't really comment on something that has already happened. What I will advise, however, is that you can be friend to the colleague whom you believe is being unfairly targeted. Voice your support when you can and include the colleague in discussions, meetings, etc. Don't compound the problem by isolating this co-worker. At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to document areas where you believe the worker (or yourself) is being bullied. You want to rely on facts if the time comes for you to speak up, and it will help you to avoid becoming emotional should another stressful situation arise.