Poorly Handled Final Written Warning

Question:

Hi, I work at a very conservative company and don’t fit the mold there. I am sarcastic, swear sometimes and have a personality that people like to vilify. Two years ago (about August ’08), I was written up for being intolerable, unapproachable, and unprofessional and I can’t remember the other one.

In January, I got a verbal warning for being pushy with a former direct report. I felt like I was trying to keep him on target with process; he felt like I was attacking him. The warning was scattered in my opinion and had no timeline.

Then last week, I got called in and given a final written warning by HR and my manager and suspended for three days. The warning was because I jokingly called someone a dipshit, who had asked me two months previously not to swear near him. I immediately recognized that I had violated his request and apologized, but he and his manager went to HR, and HR accused me of being passive aggressive by apologizing for something I knew I shouldn’t do.

Another girl went to HR recently because I had wanted to talk to her about an e-mail her boss had sent us and jokingly said, “You hold him down and I’ll pummel him.” She was terrified to talk to me and took my instant messaging her to ask her to come see me when she had a minute as a command. I was told there were only a few examples of my bad behavior. I did not react well to the warning. I pretty much told them that I might not return. I was argumentative and cried some. The HR person almost seemed to salivate at the idea of my not returning–at one point saying, “You know what this sounds like, an exit interview” when I was sharing some concerns with him. He then quickly added, “Not that I want it to be.” I am supposed to spend my suspension thinking about whether I want to work there and return with a document that outlines how I am going to meet my manager’s expectations (a list of 7 high-level items), how I am going to repair the damaged relationships, and why they should continue to employ me. My neighbor, a former HR person, thinks I’m doomed, will inevitably lose my job, and that they don’t want me there. They claim that wasn’t their intent. Who do I believe?

Should I try and just negotiate for unemployment or walk away without any income? I want to go back just long enough at least to apologize to these folks. Even though I think their approaches were underhanded and immature, I do feel bad that I stressed them out. I would also like to finish one project that I was working on to have it in on my resume. Please advise.

Signed,

Thinking It Over


Answer:

Dear Thinking It Over:

As you likely know, suspension is one step away from being fired. Yours is a downhill spiral of foul language, if not verbal abuse, that was perceived as “being intolerable, unapproachable, and unprofessional.” What you really want to do during your three days’ suspension appears mixed; whether to negotiate for unemployment, walk away, or to humble yourself by apologizing and being kept on to finish a project so that you might have it on your resume.

I gather that you are a capable individual or you would have not lasted as long as you have. I doubt HR will decide that you can redeem yourself by offering to apologize and to pledge to walk straight while finishing a project. Due to your mixed feelings about what you want, three days might not be enough time for you to outline how to meet your manager’s expectations, repair relationships, and make a case for why they should continue to employ you. Therefore, to advise you to do that probably is akin to a professor telling a failing student that her/his final exam must correct a semester of missteps when that student considers the prof “underhanded and immature.” Get my point?

You likely have some justification for the “concerns” you voiced about how your place was managed and for thinking that some of those who reported you were petty. But the big question is: what do you want to do with your career and how does where you are fit into that career path? Your wanting to complete an unfinished project speaks to that. Now you must let HR determine your life for you, and it will if you make a half-hearted pledge of apology accompanied by promise to not be a pain in the ass. However, you could compose a document specifying your desire to continue where your are if–if you think through how your present place of employment is a meaningful phase of what you want to do; as instrumental to loving what you do or at least has a potential for that.

Your question starts off by describing your present company as very conservative, a place where you don’t “fit.” Your three-day suspension might be a time for you to explore where you can fit, and to make plans to find that place. Enough said. You have plenty of thinking to do. Working where you don’t fit can make your life miserable and life is too short to spend months and years feeling like you don’t belong. You have career-matters before you. Hopefully you can shape up to live up to the expectations of your manager and HR, or you can find a job that is meaningful and that is excited to have a person like you. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and so far I don’t think you have earned to or have been rewarded for working in a place like that.

William Gorden