Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about verbal warnings
What is the correct procedure for a verbal warning given to an employee?
Signed, Being Prepared
Dear Being Prepared:
The goal of a verbal warning is to stop a problem before it harms the employee or the organization. Warnings give a supervisor or manager a chance to intervene about a problem at the earliest stage. There are two basic approaches to a verbal warning. The approach varies according to the circumstances as well as the requirements of the organization, the relationship of the supervisor or manager to the employee and the culture of the group.
1. An informal verbal warning may be given immediately following or soon after an incident of negative behavior or performance. This type of verbal warning is usually not part of a required progressive disciplinary process, but is instead a supervisory reminder to an employee–usually with a tone of correction to it.
2. A formal verbal warning, often as part of a progressive discipline program, in which the verbal warning is the step before a written reprimand or a more severe punishment.In these cases the warning may come hours or days after the actual incident or it may be delivered immediately. But, unlike the informal warning it will usually be documented in some way to ensure the employee knows it is part of a progressive series.In the first situation, the supervisor or manager might simply make a quick statement that incldues correction and warning:”Mary, you were late again today and everyone else had to catch the phones. We need you here on time. I’ve talked with you before about this, so now I’m giving you a warning that if it happens again without a very good reason, I’m going to document it and start a formal process. I don’t want it to come to that, but it’s crucial that you be here on time. What can you do to make sure you’re on time from now on?”
If the matter is a more complex, the supervisor or manager would benefit from following the format used by Ken Blanchard in The One Minute Manager:
*Keep it immediate, specific and brief.
*State what concerns you and the negative affect the performance or behavior had on work, the employee, other employees and the supervisor.
*Pause to allow the employee to respond with reasons, a statement or just to express their own opinions.
*If the statement doesn’t change the need for a warning, continue on with a reminder of what was expected in the area of concern and what must happen in the future. *If there must be some specific action by the employee or by the supervisor, state that. (Training, an increase of such and such a number of percentage, a change of behavior in a specific way, increased reporting or a probationary time, etc.)
*State clearly what you will do if it happens again (if there is a timeline for that, state the timeline).
*Ask if the employee understands what you were concerned about, why you were concerned and what will happen if the situation occurs again.
*Close the interview with a few sentence indicating you are confident the situation will improve. *End the interview. Implement training or changes. Follow up to ensure the problem is eliminated.In the second situation (when the verbal warning is an official action as part of progressive discipline) the supervisor or manager may have already consulted with HR or a higher level about it.In that case the supervisor or manager would have a private meeting with the employee and state that the interview is for the purpose of issuing the employee a verbal warning about his or her performance or behavior. The One Minute Manager concept could be adapted to this as well:
*Be brief, rather than giving a lecture or making this a long counseling session. Usually if the warning is part of a formal process it is preferable to ensure the employee sees it as a stand-alone action. You don’t want the official verbal warning to get lost in the general talk. If appropriate, the supervisor may want to give the warning, have the employee sign that they heard it, then move into a time of counseling or training. I prefer that, so that the interview closes with counseling or training not with the employee signing a form to verify he or she received a verbal warning.
*Document the verbal warning. Follow the policies of your organization about this. In most organizations, the supervisor gives the employee a paper with a paragraph or two that gives the essence of the warning and a place for the employee to sign that they have been given a warning. Explain that the signature is not an agreement or admission, it is only to verify that the employee was clearly given a warning. Most employees think signing something puts the verbal warning into the category of a written reprimand. That’s why they often refuse to sign it. They’re not being mean about it, they’re probably afraid or confused. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just write, “Did not sign, but heard the warning.” Sign it yourself and put the date and time.Usually the documentation is maintained in the office of the manager or supervisor involved and after the time established by the organization, it can be destroyed if there are no further problems. Dick Grote, the author of the book “Discipline Without Punishment” says warnings and reprimands, should be delivered to employees as reminders of what is expected of them and what they have committed to do. The word “reminder” is firm but still tends to help the warnings be better received.In what ever way you or any supervisor or manager delivers a verbal warning, the bottom line is that it should be clear to the employee that this is the last reminder and the last warning. On the other hand, since it is the step PRIOR to discipline it should not be a harsh disciplinary lecture. If you think that is needed, move on to a reprimand or more severe action.Many employees have been stopped from creating problems for themselves, others or the group, by a well-timed warning delivered in a courteous but firm way. Think of a verbal warning–whether informal or formal–as a way to help all employees and the employee involved. When you keep that approach your tone of voice and your technique will be right for the situation. Best wishes!
Tina Lewis Rowe