To comment or not to comment on my performance warning
March 31, 2014 8:16 PM   Subscribe

This afternoon, I received a call from my supervisor and the HR director informing me of a written warning regarding my performance. I must sign and return it by the close of business tomorrow.

The performance issues consist of insufficient work output some weeks, as well as output that is sufficient but poorly timed in other weeks.

I have no disagreement with the claims made. I've been on the job several years, with this as a recurring problem.

There is a space for comments from me on the matter. What, if any, sort of comments should I amke? I fear that if I leave ithat space blank it will come across as disinterest and apathy.

(I'm pretty worried about nonwork issues and pretty unhappy in general, but of course I can't tell them that. Work is the best thing I've got going for me at the moment.)

My supervisor probably reads this site, so anonymity is probably a moot point, but still.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, this area for comments is really for you to contest/explain/argue with the situation presented. As a supervisor, I wouldn't think twice about someone leaving the box blank.

Sign the form. Turn it in. Work on improving your work habits.
posted by shew at 8:22 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

This question is relevant.
posted by Dragonness at 8:23 PM on March 31, 2014

The only comments to really put on it are anything you want on record or want them to agree to on record. So it is very much intended for you to dispute it, if applicable.

As that's not the case, you might want to do some thinking as to whether your boss/work could do anything to help with your nonwork stress - flex hours are a common request in this scenario.
posted by pahalial at 8:24 PM on March 31, 2014

Nobody cares what you write on the form. They care about you improving your job performance. The reality of the situation is that this is step one on the path to firing you. You need to improve your job performance in a big way, or you're going to be let go. Focus on that instead of what you put on the form.
posted by empath at 8:26 PM on March 31, 2014 [17 favorites]

Not directly related to your question, but you may want to consider either or both of the following options: 1. start looking for a new job. 2. Take your boss to lunch and ask directly if they're genuinely looking for improved performance, or if this is just starting the paper trail for moving you out.

In my experience, all this stuff is handled informally if they want to keep you - it's brought up in 1:1 meetings, performance reviews, etc. Starting a written improvement plan is just the first step towards a firing.
posted by colin_l at 8:35 PM on March 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

In reality, that space is for them, not for you. It is correct that this is the first potential step in a process that could go in a negative direction, but also obviously a point where you can turn it around. If it goes in a negative direction, they need to be able to show that at every step of the way, you were fully informed of their opinion of your performance (hence, the signature), and that you were given the opportunity to fully engage these concerns in return (hence, the comments section), primarily for liability reasons. In terms of termination, the golden rule is documentation, documentation, documentation, to avoid any perception of bad faith interaction.

Sorry to put it so bluntly. However, if you wanted to add something that might be beneficial, perhaps you could say something like you have noticed these concerns, you are making plans to improve, and would appreciate any feedback that they might offer that would allow you to make positive changes. It won't count against you for not doing it, but it might be the first step towards establishing the type of positive rapport that might be needed from here on out, in the context of a broader discussion about improving performance.

Good luck to you. I know these things can be discouraging, but often these letters are given in the hope that they will have a positive effect, as well.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:12 PM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my experience, both on my own part and witnessing others, this is definitely the place to offer excuses or justifications. They're either showing you the door or they are looking to hear from you some concrete and specific plans to improve. If you know of their particular complaints, address them directly. It has gotten far enough that excuses won't fly.

It's not necessarily a firing-in-progress-- you know your supervisor well enough to know how that person copes with the duties of confronting employees, and he or she wouldn't be the first supervisor to run to HR for cover and, not least, avoidance.

This form might not save your job, but if you have specifics that you can (attempt to) follow through on, you'll benefit from creating the plan in the first place and the introspection that goes with it. There is no part of this that will be pleasant, so embrace the suck and try to get some self-improvement out of it.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:04 PM on March 31, 2014

Commenting in my experience is usually not important at all and more useful if you've got a good foothold in the company and can get away with writing stated objections rather than excuses to the warning, but you acknowledge that it's not their problem.

If your employer offers an "Employee Assistance Plan" for counseling and assistance with non-work challenges, I'd do some research into it and get a feel for whether it's something your company encourages, and it may or may not benefit you to convey that you want to discuss this with HR, may or may not be beneficial to write "I intend to improve my performance and to meet my goals, and as a first step I wish to discuss employee assistance benefits to provide some guidance while I work through some familial [better than "personal" to me if it's true] challenges." It could be a terrible idea, I don't know, but if it came down to a legal challenge over unemployment and they found that your write-up earnestly requested to use an HR benefit intended to improve your performance for exactly that reason and you were penalized for taking them up on the benefit, it could work to your advantage, but that's a far off strategy rooted in the assumption that you're in deep trouble but also in the sort of position where you have enough leverage to get away with using more leverage than usual knowing your rights and their intentions.

This all is very up to chance without knowing more but tied to many variables like the size of the company, the corporate culture, etc. A heavily "corporate" environment might do written warnings very casually like it's no big thing and there's no sword being held above you but it's still very formal, and possibly with immediate consequences that they are "bound to comply with" like termination after the second or third one.

Definitely if performance is a factor they will simply want to objectively make you perform better, maybe ask you how you will prove it to them and having you follow through on keeping them updated, or they'll just do it with raw metrics. Acknowledging your potential is better and your past accomplishments have exceeded the present while tactfully informing them that something is hindering that performance and you're working on that and may need their assistance, but the job of utmost importance and keeps you focused may or may not work to your benefit, depending on who you talk to (sometimes in weird situations, HR is more "your friend" than your boss, usually not, but more often in a smaller and pettier outfit), your rapport with them, etc.

Ultimately it's about protecting them from paying unemployment if you do leave or get fired, and an opportunity for you to bring up any possible work issues that they need to correct that could be used against them if you had to sue for any severance or PTO payout benefits and above all, unemployment compensation.

It's a tough call without more information but hopefully that gives you an idea. And start deconstructing the big specifics of what is affecting your performance and most likely if you're still there in a week or two to ask another question or two and you're seriously motivated to make improvements, you'll know whether they just wanted to light a fire under your ass and mark a check off in your "permanent record" to intimidate you and put you in your place (sometimes deserved, sometimes not). The best course of action is decide what you want most and if you want to go to the trouble or have the ability to move the necessary walls and mountains that might be in your path.
posted by lordaych at 2:42 AM on April 1, 2014

Another random example of shit that happens: the written warning is just raise-insurance, something that can be brought up for performance reviews for awhile. I'd basically give it a solid year before even talking about the possibility of a raise unless it's a terrible exploitative environment and you have an exit strategy. Another obnoxious rule of thumb to consider is that getting a job at all, and particularly a better job, is almost always easier and more plausible when you already / still have a job, even though you have no time during the day "operationally speaking" to devote to the process, in simple discriminatory but accepted terms of being "more employment worthy by way of being employed."
posted by lordaych at 2:49 AM on April 1, 2014

You can imagine some situation where the warning was delivered in a context that *did* have two sides to the story (you know how AskMeFi is always telling people to document cases of their managers being biased against them, and so forth?). That comments section is primarily for situations in which the employee has something that they need to say, on record, about the situation. So the question is, do you have something to say?
In this case, your feelings are "you're right, I should be doing better", and however sincere that is, a confession of guilt isn't something that it's in your best interests to have in your file. If you have a plan in place to solve the problem, this would be the place to mention that. Not necessarily to write out what the plan is (I will be receiving checklists from manager A on a weekly basis and agree that if those tasks are not met then blahblah) but the place to advertise how proactive you are in finding a potential solution.
posted by aimedwander at 6:32 AM on April 1, 2014

Whoooops! Correction: It is NOT the place to offer excuses or justifications. Doh!
posted by Sunburnt at 10:40 AM on April 1, 2014

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