As difficult as it is to share negative feedback, it’s the only way to give your team members the opportunity to improve.
Your employees need to know when they’re underperforming on the job.
These difficult conversations bring your employees the awareness they need to make positive changes. However, the most successful managers go a step further than having a conversation.
They also give their employees a formal written warning, increasing accountability and transparency, while reducing employer liability.
Why a Written Warning Matters
A written warning details the issue that took place and gives employees the information they need to shift their behavior. Because it’s in writing, the team member can use it as a plan for how to move forward.
This document also gives workers transparency, creating clarity and boundaries around the workplace. A framework of clear boundaries ensures that people give their best to the job every day.
Lastly, a written form also decreases employer liability by clearly documenting the inappropriate or poor behavior. It serves as part of a paper trail that substantiates the business if you do need to terminate the employee.
A lot of business owners pull together this kind of warning from scratch. Doing so takes extra work, more time, and fails to ensure that you capture all the important details.
To make it as easy as possible, we went ahead and made a simple template for you. It works in every situation for each employee, and you can use it for years to come!
Here’s How to Use the Template:
Step 1: Write Down the Details
An effective written warning includes the details of “what went wrong” in the employee’s behavior. Make sure to reference specific incidents, such as, “On 2 June, you raised your voice at a fellow employee. This kind of behavior lacks respect for your peers and the workplace.”
The more specific you are, the better it is for everyone.
If there were multiple instances or incidents, write down a few of the issues and tie them together to an overall message. You could say, “These three incidents reflect a disregard for our customers that’s out of line with our company’s mission.”
Step 2: Create an Improvement Plan
An improvement plan is just as important as the details of the issue. It sets up employees for a change in behavior, building consensus as you move forward.
Outline the exact behavior you need to see on a daily basis for an employee to improve their standing at your workplace. Use specific language and, if needed, bullet points. Here’s some language you could use in an improvement plan for an employee who is always late:
- “Addresses scheduling conflicts at least two weeks ahead of time, through When I Work’s platform.”
- “Arrives 10 minutes before his or her shift starts every day.”
- “If occasional (once a month) lateness occurs, calls in advance to let the manager know you’re running late.”
Step 3: Have a Conversation
One of the best things about a written warning template is that it also serves the format for a conversation.
Pick a space where you’re not going to be interrupted or overheard — it’s important that this conversation stays confidential. Bring the document with you, filled out, to a meeting with your employee.
Talk through the issue. For example, given the tardiness issue, you could say:
“I wanted to get together to talk about your tardiness. At least twice a week, you’re 15 minutes late for the start of your shift. This leaves the business unprepared to service customers, and it gives the impression that you don’t care about your work. We’ve talked about it before, but your behavior hasn’t changed.”
From there, you can walk the worker through the template, outlining specific incidents and the improvement plan. If the employee wants to take a more active role, you could give the worker an opportunity to add a couple of details to the improvement plan.
Step 4: Sign the Document
At the end of the conversation, be very clear that if the employee’s behavior doesn’t change, they will lose their job. Ask the worker to take some time to review the document. Ask, “Do you have any questions for me? Is there anything I can help to clarify?”
Sometimes, workers don’t perform because they’re unclear about the expectations. Opening up a dialogue ensures you’re on the same page moving forward.
After questions, sign the written warning and ask the worker to do the same.
Make a copy for your employee to keep for reference and add the other one to the employee’s personnel file. By reviewing and signing the document, you bring a formality to the process, which makes it more likely that your worker will take it seriously.