12 Tips to Improve Written Employee Warnings

Written Employee Warning

Written employee warnings are a necessary part of leadership within the multifamily industry and beyond. They have the capacity to be either constructive and productive or detrimental and destructive. A poorly written warning can be dangerous on multiple levels, so use these 12 tips to improve written employee warnings to swing them in the best direction.

Let’s look at some warning pitfalls to avoid right off the bat:

  • Using the words “insubordination” or “falsification of records” with no specifics
  • Too much information that does not relate to the behavior
  • Using system codes instead of details relating to performance or behavior

These pitfalls can confuse the employee and open you up to potential legal consequences for unlawful discipline.

Often, written warnings are a last procedure before termination, but consider these additional applications for written employee warnings:

  1. Encourage improvement in employee behavior
  2. Allow managers to manage better
  3. Improve employee performance and overall results

Here are Sue Weston’s 12 tips to improve written warnings to make the most of your effort.

  1. Be Specific About the Offending Conduct
    Give specific information about exactly what went wrong in the written warning. Consider that your warning could appear in court, so you want to be absolutely clear about what happened and the details of what was said or done (or not done).
  1. Provide the Real Reason for the Warning, Not the Reason that Sounds Better
    Don’t try to sugarcoat the reason for the warning to the employee. Be clear and direct about the real reason for issuing the written warning.
  1. Connect the Employee’s Conduct to Your Company Policies
    If you can relate the behavior being addressed to a specific company policy, you’re bringing not just your own authority but the authority of the entire company. This is a potent tool to eliminate any question about the validity of your warning.
  1. Describe the Impact of the Policy Violation
    Be sure to explain the impact of the behavior to the team, the community, and the overall company. This is another safety measure to support the reason for the written warning.
  1. Avoid Unneeded Commentary
    Even though the process of delivering a written warning can be uncomfortable, don’t try to “fill the silence” with unnecessary chatter or small talk. This can confuse the employee about the reason for the meeting and can diminish the impact of the warning. Also, stick to the specific topic of the warning; don’t bring up other issues outside of the written warning.
  1. Avoid Legal Conclusions
    Please do not attempt to interpret the issue’s legality; simply deliver the details of the behavior or action and then link it to the policy. Don’t suggest the potential legal outcomes.
  1. Don’t Attach Supporting Documents
    If the employee asks to see them, reference documents, but don’t attach it all to the warning. This can appear predatory in the event of a legal situation.
  1. Mention Previous Verbal or Written Warnings
    If there have been recent verbal or written employee warnings, mention them in the current warning. However, you should most often avoid going back further than a year, as this can appear irrelevant.
  1. Issue Written Employee Warnings Promptly
    Timing can be critical when it comes to delivering warnings. If you have information that needs to be addressed and you wait, you could find yourself in a situation where your feedback appears like retaliation or lacks clarity.
  1. Follow Through with the Steps Outlined in the Warning
    Any conclusions or outcomes that are planned and delivered in the meeting must be followed through. If additional meetings are planned, or a reduced workload is suggested, follow-through; anything that is promised needs to be delivered.
  1. Give the Employee the Opportunity to Provide a Written Response
    If your disciplinary forms do not include a space for it, ask the employee to write on the back or send an email with a written response. Please don’t ask them to respond during the meeting; consider providing 24 hours for them to submit a written response.
  1. Ensure Consistency
    Although you have a team made up of various people from different backgrounds, be sure you provide the same discipline for the same offenses. There may need to be some considerations regarding tenure, and you may need to check with your own company’s Human Resources before proceeding with a written warning.

You don’t need to adopt all 12 tips for improving written employee warnings at one time. Start with one or two until they become habit and then move on to the next. You’ll have the most productive written warnings that may help you keep and improve on quality people.  

Contributed by:

Susan Weston
President, The Susan Weston Company

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