How to Respond to a Verbal Warning at Work

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A verbal warning is given by employers, supervisors or upper management to an employee to indicate that the employee’s behavior in the office is inappropriate or that his or her work is substandard. 

A verbal warning gives the employer a chance to discuss the employee’s behavior based on a warning rather than a written memo that goes in the employee’s file. 

It can be as simple as “do not do that again” and nothing more is said about it, or it can be the first step in taking severe action. The warning may be given in a firm or friendly manner, but whatever the tone, it should be taken seriously.

The employee may not consider getting a verbal warning as something very serious, after all, it does not go on their record. However, it should be considered as a chance to upgrade their performance, because if they do not, a written warning is next, and that can be the first step towards losing their job. 

The employee can be sure that their boss is keeping a written record of the verbal warning with all the details, in the event a formal written warning is necessary in the future.

Many employers do not consider a verbal warning as a serious action. The main aim is to keep employees and to avoid going to the time and expense of employing and training someone new. It is an opportunity to help an employee improve their performance to benefit the company.

In some cases, the employee may not be performing well because he or she does not like the job and is not giving it their best. If this is the case, a verbal warning may be the tipping point for the employee to resign. 

However, it may not be easy to get another job, and worth focusing on improving their performance and keeping the job they have. If the warning was about something specific, the employee should take the time to write a letter or email to the employer that explains the reasons for the employee’s actions.

For example, if they are not turning work in on time because they are overworked, this can be mentioned to the employer. If they feel the warning was unjustified, they should explain why in a letter that will be put in their file.

If the employee wants to keep the job, here are some ways to respond to a verbal warning:

• The employee should ask the boss for some time when the issue of reprimand can be discussed. The topic should not be taken up at a casual moment in the break room or elevator. 

Meeting the employer privately allows the employee to show that he or she takes the warning seriously and wants help for improvement. For example, if tardiness that is unavoidable is the reason for the warning, the employee may suggest that he work late or on the weekend.

• If the warning was vague or general such as “you don’t work well with the team”, the employee can ask for specific examples. This is not the time to be defensive, but the employee should listen and take notes. There may be a few instances when the employee trod on others feelings and was not aware of it.

• Once the employee understands his or her mistakes, they should think seriously how to improve their behavior. Some changes may be easy to do immediately, and some may be long-term. The goal is a verbal commendation in which the employer acknowledges the employee’s improvement.

• After discussing the ways in which the employee can improve, she should write an email to the boss that outlines the goals and means to the goals that she intends to follow. At this time, the employee can thank the employer for the feedback. 

When the employee meets any of her goals, she should send another email to the boss expressing her success. This also serves as written proof that the employee is trying to improve and succeeding. It may be a good idea for the employee to ask for another appointment with the boss to assess her progress.

• The employee should take a hard look at his performance to see if there are other, more serious, problems such as anger management or lack of proper training in a certain area. 

Sometimes, a bad attitude towards a co-worker can make an employee do a poor job. Any employee who wants to keep the job, needs to stop blaming others and start taking a hard look at his own actions.

When employees receive a verbal warning about their behavior in the office, and if they want to keep their job, they should make an effort to tell their employer why they behaved in that way and promise to improve. 

If the warning was about their job performance, they should assure the employer that they are taking steps to improve and ask for concrete examples of how they can advance.

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