Help! My Boss Just Wrote Me Up! What Can I Do?
Food for Thought about Managers
I have this continuing conversation with my son who currently works in retail, and I counsel a lot of people who have been written up or terminated from their jobs. Most people who are terminated feel that there was an injustice done. Being an HR Manager for over 18 years, I understand the frustration of termination and ending someone’s employment.
When I had to execute policy that resulted in ending someone’s employment, I viewed it differently than most HR professionals. You see, when you take someone’s job, you take their house payment, childcare, car payment, electric bill or groceries from the table. I never took this lightly and because I did that, I went to great pains to make certain that before someone terminated their employment, they knew what was happening before they ever walked across my office threshold. I looked not only into what the allegation was against that employee, but how the manager did his job, whether there were personal issues contributing to whatever the issue was, is there anything else going on with that person in their job besides just this one policy violation or job opportunity.
I never break up documentation on an employee. I always covered everything at one time so that they had a very clear, big picture of what their job performance looked like and what road they were heading down without an immediate change of behavior or circumstances. Breaking up a corrective action or discipline documentation is head-hunting. It is very apparent to the employee that you don’t care if they are successful or not. You just want them out the door so you can fill their job with someone else. To them, you have already written them off as a loss cause.
Why go to so much trouble? Because I believe that EVERYONE deserves the opportunity to change their behavior. If you continuously do something wrong and no one bothers to point it out until they want to fire you, then what kind of manager are you really? I will tell you. You’re a manager who has his/her own opportunities to improve. Because real managers know that firing people should always be a last resort. You spend more money on hiring and training than you do any other part of employing someone. You lose countless man hours when you don’t bother to develop someone and you allow them to fail versus develop and aid in making them successful.
The last comment I am going to make about this aspect of this article is this. If you are a manager, a real manager, then you will know that "you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." In other words, if your people are failing, and it happens often, then you may need to take a good look in a career two way mirror. Because, people don’t fail as often as managers fail their people!
You need to lead by example, remember that if you had bad experiences when you came up through the ranks, you should never, ever, repeat those mistakes to your people. Why? Because they will come out just as angry and bitter as you are and their people will hate them, never respect them and never want to work for them, just like you did. That’s right, bosses. Don’t forget where you came from. Unfortunately, all too often that is exactly what happens.
So Now That You Are Written Up, What Can You Do?
First, you need to not be reactive. Being reactive to an already tense situation is not going to make you look any better and is most likely going to prove a point to the managers that you don’t want to make. Don’t start making excuses, deny allegations, or do anything until you have all the information they are willing to give you about why you have been sat down. If you can’t be professional, then don’t speak. Just calmly acknowledge that you understand what is being said to you. That is, if you do. If you don’t understand a term or something in the documentation, then make a note so that you can come back to it after you regain control over your emotions.
Why are you doing this? Two reasons:
- So you can clarify what you heard and get more information if you need it.
- So you can keep focused on what is happening in that moment and keep some control over what direction the conversation is going.
No one ever really expects an employee to actively engage in their discipline. It throws the managers off their game when you use this approach. Try it and you will see that you have unsettled them as much as they unsettled you by bringing you back to talk to you. Even your playing field will allow you both to have some sense of ownership in this meeting.
There are really three types of employees:
1. The Right Fighter. This employee is about 80% of the workforce reaction. Employees sit there red-faced, indignant that managers dare call a meeting. They refuse to own their own part in the problem. They deny all wrong doing, push blame on poor management, time management, or another associate who is horrible at their job, "but bet you didn’t document them”.
Those employees never take the information presented constructively and rarely last in the workforce because of their own sense of entitlement.
2. The Drama Queen/King: This employee bursts into tears, and either quits on the spot because they “just can’t deal with all of this stress,” or they sob uncontrollably to try to make the manager feel sorry for them, or in hopes of guilting them into not completing the documentation. For the record, I never kept tissue in my office. I felt if you were this dramatic then you obviously needed your privacy to either go to the restroom and compose yourself, or I needed to leave and go get you some tissue and give you time to compose yourself.
But either way, we are still finishing the conversation. I don’t get emotional and I don’t truly believe professionals should. That includes you as much as it does me.
These employees often appear weak to managers and dramatic. No one likes drama. You are giving the manager signs that you lack communication skills. You also have little self control or ability to lead people if you can’t handle constructive criticism.
3. The Learner: This employee is a little miffed by being documented because they are typically a good employee, hard worker, and over all someone who has a promising career. They made a mistake. Sometimes they feel that the manager should have pulled them over to speak to them. But most of them know that if they broke a policy, the only way to show fairness and consistency is to do the same thing that they should be doing for everyone else. They take notes. Most of the time they own their part in the policy violation. They thank the manager for pointing it out, reassure them they will not commit the same violation, and they shake hands and walk out the door with an option to return at a later date to discuss any concerns or questions that may arise after the conclusion of the meeting. This employee will request a copy of the documentation and policy violation. They request this so that they can take the time to review it later that evening when they have time to revisit it and bring out any questions or comments that they may like to submit in addition to the actual documentation.
With that said, you should always be the Learner. Here is why. You never want to appear weak or unable to control your emotions. Reactive people often say things or do things they wish they could take back after thinking what their actions may have just done to the opinion of them in the eyes of their managers, or worse, they quit and realize that it’s not as easy to get another job and pay bills on time as they thought.
The Learner has the advantage because he proves immediately that he /she is professional and has strong control over their emotions. They instantly separate themselves from others by accepting that what is being told to them is truthful. If it is not, you are taking notes to come back and get further clarification. It shows that you thought through your actions and that you deserve the same respect in a like meeting if necessary. In addition to this, you are showing them that you are capable of following policy by accepting it when you break a policy that others have a job to do holding you accountable.
It’s important for you to have a copy of the documentation and policy that you violated. You need to keep this in the event that the managers don’t do their job and are not fair and consistent. You need to keep your paperwork together, and if you feel that they have made a mistake you have what you need to defend your actions should you need to request that it be reviewed at a higher level. This also makes them want to dot their I’s and cross their T’s when they deal with you, because they know that you are controlled, professional and will expect them to present you only real policy violations. They will not nit-pick or present you with weak documentation in the future, because they know they will be held to a higher standard. That is your edge and you need to keep it.
If you don’t agree with the information in the paperwork:
You need to write a grievance about the corrective action. Be factual. Your opinion does not count. As much as people like to say there is a grey area, the truth is that there is not. Use the KISS method. Keep It Simple/Solid. You either broke the policy or you did not. If you did not, then you need to use the policy and point out that the action they documented you for was not a violation of the policy that they gave you. Be specific.
Let’s say you are a smoker. You were documented because you were seen smoking in the parking lot. The policy states that as an employee, you cannot smoke anywhere in the parking lot or building. That’s simple enough. But, what if you were clocked out and on lunch? Are you still an employee? The answer is no. You are no longer an employee. At this time, you are now a customer who was smoking either on his/her way to the car or on the way into the store. Either way, you are still off the clock and no longer someone who can be considered as violating the policy. Therefore, you would request that your time card be pulled and compared to the time that the incident allegedly happened. You would then point out in the copy of the policy that you were NOT an EMPLOYEE during the time of the allegation. Therefore, legally you did not violate their policy. You will then respectfully request that they remove the documentation from your file. You should be present when that documentation is destroyed.
That is how you defend yourself when you are being documented. Keep it simple and always keep it within the same policy that they were using against you. If you can dispute their policy with solid proof, then you will win the right to overturn the action, and it will also show them that you were professional in the way you conducted yourself. You respected that they were trying to execute policy, but, unfortunately, it did not apply during that specific incident.
Sometimes, not all information is relayed to the manager during the documentation. It’s important that you keep that in mind before you become dramatic, angry etc… You need to be in control. Being in control gives you self-respect and it shows that you are someone that will not tolerate substandard investigations.
Respectfully disputing a writeup does not make you a troublemaker. It makes you someone who does their homework. Don’t ever apologize for defending yourself legally. No HR Manager or Manager is perfect or above reproach. If they consistently do the wrong thing, then someone needs to report them to their Corporate Office. Never accept shoddy documentation. You have rights. Use them.