A Survival Guide to Getting Written Up
Over the past several months, Sam’s coworkers and supervisor have noticed that he’s been missing deadlines and his work includes careless mistakes. Alex, Sam’s supervisor, has counseled him informally in their regularly scheduled check-in sessions, and Sam typically responds that he’s doing the best he can but will try harder. On a few occasions, Alex has asked if there is any additional support Sam needs to meet the demands of his job.
Eventually, Sam’s poor performance increases his colleagues’ workload and begins to impact the morale of Alex’s entire team. With few other options left, Alex presents Sam with a formal written warning and a performance improvement plan (PIP).
How Sam reacts to the written warning and PIP will likely determine whether Sam becomes a productive team member or joins the unemployment rolls.
As a manager for over 20 years, I’ve had the unenviable task of writing up staff members. I’ve seen employees who respond in a positive manner that results in succeeding in their current position – – – and even getting promotions. And I’ve seen employees respond in counter-productive ways that fast-track them toward termination.
Here’s some thoughts and advice from an experienced manager about being written up:
- Avoid the urge to get defensive. With very few exceptions, your manager has written you up because you are not meeting her expectations. Even if you disagree with your supervisor, use disarming statements and questions like:
- It sounds like I’m not meeting your expectations?
- How would success look different?
- Are there specific goals you would like me to achieve?
- What action can I take to improve?
- Understand what your signature on the written warning and PIP means, as well as the ramifications of refusing to sign the documents. Most employee acknowledgement sections indicate that a signature is merely acknowledging receipt and does not represent agreement with the contents of the document. Refusing to acknowledge receipt makes you appear uncooperative and may require that your manager escalate the matter by inviting a witness into the room to acknowledge you received it. Do you really want a coworker see you get written up?
- Occasionally, an employee will refuse to sign their performance improvement plan even after being given the opportunity to suggest edits to the plan. Do you really want to be the team member who refuses to improve? Instead, ask your supervisor if you can think about additional support you might need or steps you might take as part of a PIP, and schedule some time to discuss the following day. If you want to speak with legal counsel, this will tactic will also afford you the time to do so.
- Advocate for yourself:
- Ask if the written warning can be removed from your file after a period of exemplary performance (typically 6, 12, or 18 months)
- Schedule regular meetings to discuss your performance and progress
- Create an easy-to-read dashboard to document your performance for your manager
- Make a good faith effort to meet your supervisor’s expectations, while remaining pleasant and professional.
- Evaluate whether this is the right position, organization, or supervisor for you. If it isn’t a good fit, look for another job while still making a good faith effort to meet the conditions of your PIP. It’s easier to secure another job when you have already have one, and it’s significantly more difficult to find work after being terminated.
It’s possible to come back from a written warning and become a high-performing team member with a bright future. But it requires having a positive attitude, a willingness to accept responsibility, and a genuine desire to change.
Disclaimer: The author is not a lawyer and is not providing legal advice. It is always important to know your rights, and you should consult an attorney if you want legal counsel on a written warning or performance improvement plan. Also consult an attorney if you feel you are being discriminated against or treated unfairly in any way.