Job Threatened If One More Mistake

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about poor performance:

I was recently called in by my supervisor and the department supervisor and told my performance was subpar and since he had given me previous warnings I would have to sign a paper saying if I made another mistake I would be terminated. I am one of four proofreaders in the department and mistakes have been made by all of us. These mistakes have been discussed with me by my supervisor but were never put in a personal context and I was never told by him that I needed to improve or my job would be in jeopardy.

I am a conscientious well liked hard worker and to be put in this position without any warning was a shock to me. I signed the paper but regret doing so as now I am under pressure to have perfect performance or lose my job. This is scary and unrealistic as I am only human and bound to make a mistake or be blamed for one I didn’t make as has happened before with this supervisor. This is a small company and does not have a Human Resources department. I know the general manager personally as he hired me and am considering writing a letter to him defending myself and asking for consideration. What should I do to keep my job?

Signed, Signed But Regret

Dear Signed But Regret:

You are right to amend signing the One More Mistake and Out document. This is a time for self-appraisal and, then in cooperation with your supervisor, to plan on ways to prevent errors that put your job at risk and quality of the product to be less than desired.

Organizations should have systems to prevent serious errors rather than depend on solo-perfect performance. This is common for preventing errors that could cause catastrophic harm, such as failure to shut off a valve that could release toxic fumes to the public or loss of money to a company by action on one individual rather than having a second individual Okaying a withdrawal of funds.

So rather than seeing this only as a personal job threat, might you see it as a challenge to quality improvement of your department and more generally of the good name of your small company? I recommend this approach rather than bypassing your supervisor with a letter to your general manager. Think through what might be done to come closer to the quality set by your supervisor; then meet with him. Together see if you two might spell out safe-guards to his “one more and out” declaration.

Also prepare a letter in which you review your performance since employment, acknowledging project completed satisfactorily and errors. Ask that this be placed in your file and that your general manager be informed of both the “one more and out” ultimatum and your proposed effort of a collaboratively developed a system to improve quality and cut errors.

Does this make sense? It is in keeping with my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that, I mean to say you are working in an organization (your small company) because by working together you can produce what you cannot produce as well alone. Your quality of performance, of course, is your responsibility but it is also shared and if shared system-wide and system-wisely, product quality and spirit of your workplace should be high; and employee-friendly rather than employee-under threat.

We at Ask the Workplace Doctors learn from those who submit and work through situations such as yours. Therefore, after a few weeks, might you tell us what you elect to do and update us on how you work through this stressful time with your supervisor?

FOLLOW UP: Thank you for your reply. My immediate supervisor is difficult to communicate with and tends to lay blame easily without consideration for the consequences to me. There may be a personal issue on his part although he has not communicated that to me and I am well liked by all my other coworkers and management. I appreciate your suggestion to look for ways to improve my work quality without jeopardizing my position but I am more successful in discussions with the supervisor in the shift that follows mine even though I work with him for only a couple hours. I still have to deal with my immediate supervisor for most of the day and am nervous every day when I come to work in anticipation of an error being blamed on me by him. I strongly feel that the situation I’ve been placed in is unfair and does not follow company guidelines but I still am responsible for having signed a paper that places my job in jeopardy at any time if an error appears to have been committed by me. I wonder if there is any legal remedy that I can utilize as this is making my work environment nearly unbearable from fear of a mistake coming from my work product in some way that I have no control over. I’m kind of over a barrel here and not sure what to do without causing resentment on his part and further pressure in regards to my keeping my job. Thank you for your help.

Workplace Doctor’s second reply: I know of no legal way to change this. We provide communication advice, not legal. If you want legal advice consult an attorney. However, I suggest that you can cope with a difficult supervisor. My suggestions of amending your one-error/out signed agreement and frankly discussing this with your supervisor are actions you should consider. You are in an adult world and you can cope.

Too often bosses intimidate and get by when they act tough because subordinates work scared. So respond to that side of you that is afraid. Tell yourself that you won’t fall apart if this supervisor says, “Shape up or get out.” What company guidelines contradict the one-more and you are out? If you know of them, don’t gossip about him or be obsessed about this situation. Just confront and work with him and your coworkers to develop a system that safeguards against error. Realize that your supervisor’s reputation hinges on the quality of work you and those he supervises do. Endeavor to make him look good rather than to work in fear and avoid him. Please think through these suggestions and keep me posted on what you elect to do and how it works or fails. You can help shape a worker-friendly workplace. So smile, cheer each other, and do all that you reasonably can to make your supervisor pleased. Remember WEGO involves his and your egos. Mutual concern for each other and your workplace is something for which you can only be half responsible.

William Gorden