Verbal Warning Long After

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about old misbehavior:

I have been given a verbal warning yesterday for something I did 18 months ago. Is my employer allowed to do this after so long?

Signed, Warned About Back When

Dear Warned About Back When:

Yes is the short answer to your question. To the best of my knowledge, there is no law defining when a warning must be given unless it is part of a union contract. And I predict you don’t have a union, because if you did, you would not be writing the Workplace Doctors this kind of question. The larger question begged by so belated a warning is: Why now? The important underlying issue is: are you adding value to your workplace? Can you say, “Yes, they need me? They can depend on me. I do my job and more. I cooperate. I get along. I’m a team player”?

If you can’t say that, how would you grade your self? Might you strike your employer as just doing what you have to do and rarely or never doing anything more? Might you come across as a troublemaker and/or a smart ass? Of course from the little you reveal in your question, I have no reason to do more than offer a wild guess. But you do say enough for me to know that the relationship with your supervisor is not the best. So because a verbal warning can escalate to a second written warning and a third that could mean firing, if you need your job, what might you do to keep it? You could frankly ask your boss, Why now? Don’t brood over why for six months even if you have a pretty good idea of the answer to why. Approach your boss in private and seriously say that you don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker and that you want to earn your pay. Ask how she/he sees you. Do not respond defensively even if you are told that you are irresponsible and disrespectful to coworkers and her/him. Rather, use this one-on-one conversation as an opportunity to get clear what is wanted and expected. Get specific about what you might do to not be one who is given another warning.

This can be a time to talk out what is bothering your boss and also what troubles you. If you can use this belated warning as an opening to better communication, then you might develop the kind of positive working relationship that good bosses have with their people.

Bosses at their best become interested in more than just getting the job done. Good bosses come to think of those they manage as people who want to do more than simply earn a paycheck. In short, they see you as an individual with dreams and hopes of making a difference; as someone who cares about doing good work and her/his future. Have you ever asked your boss for advice? Have you talked about cutting wasted supplies, duplication, and ways of making yours and others’ job easier and more effective? Have you asked what he/she would do if he/she were you; about your career? You do not have to be friends with a boss to develop a good working relationship, but rarely will a good working relationship just happen. It takes respect from one or the other to shape that.

Might these thoughts prompt you to think what is behind this warning? Might they motivate you to do more that ask, “Is this allowed?” I hope you will ask your self, “Is this job just a job? Could it be more? And if not, what might I do to get a job or shape a job that I can like, or at least not hate?” Work is work and in tough times to keep bread on the table we each might have to do what we not like. But tough times need not keep us from dreaming and working to make them come true on the job or outside the job.Feel free to tell me that when you sent your question, you were not looking for a sermon. Also feel free to let me know what you do in light of these thoughts. My final signature thought is embedded in this: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

If you get the meaning of that, you will do what you need to do to make both yourself and your boss feel good about each other and your workplace.

Follow Up: Thank you for that. I suspect that my employer might be shirking away from making a redundancy,(due to the credit crunch. They are dotting of the Is and crossing of Ts–getting up to date pertaining to any bad work done or mistakes made (even if that is denied). It is their way of getting someone to jump ship rather than them having to push someone overboard! I am keeping my head down.

Reply: You probably are wise to the way your employer functions. So do keep your head down and your nose pointed in the right direction. I gather you have discounted my suggestions about developing a more positive working relationship with your boss and that you see yourself as a victim and an adversary of a scheming employer. That may be a way to survive, but it strikes me as “working scared” and that is far from a satisfying working relationship. Whatever you elect to do, I wish you the best possible.

William Gorden