What to do when you get a warning at work

If you receive a warning at work, verbal or written, it is important to be cautious with your response. Usually, a warning happens when a supervisor is dissatisfied with your work, behavior or performance.

Before this happens, some supervisors will voice their concerns, allowing you to correct your mistake before an official warning takes place. Oftentimes, you can pick up on the subtle cues from your supervisor to determine the gravity of the situation.  If the problem is not fixed, the termination of your employment can occur.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, it is important to understand what you should do if you receive either of the two following warnings:

1. A verbal warning

If you were to receive a verbal warning from an employer, it is often to discuss your behavior or performance in person. Sometimes it can be simple, such as a correction on a mistake that you have made, or a reminder for future improvement.

While this might seem simple and not at all harmful, it is important to take this advisory seriously. In most cases, the idea is to give an employee another chance to fix their performance or behavior.

2. A written warning

If you were to receive your first written warning at work, this might look like a letter of concern and a meeting on your performance. While all companies are different, oftentimes, this happens after you have received a verbal
warning. In most cases, employers will issue a written warning, if the same offense or violation has occurred. Now, as the employee, you will sign the written notice and a copy of the letter will be placed in your folder.

According to Sarah Hughes, an HR assistant at Vartan Aviation Group, the goal isn’t to get the employee in trouble. Instead, it is to “sit them down and let them know something they’ve done is not acceptable and give them the opportunity to improve.”

How should you respond

In situations like these, it is common to feel nervous, upset, and surprised by your supervisors’ words or actions. You might be caught off guard by their warning, so to ensure you are putting your best foot forward, try these following tips.

Stay calm and collected

If you feel that your employer was wrong, you might quickly become defensive when responding. Instead, it is important to stay calm and collected. While this isn’t an easy task, to defuse the situation, or keep it from getting worse, try to stay even-tempered.

Listen carefully

When meeting with your employer to discuss your warning, you will need to listen carefully. During this time, your employer should explain what led to your warning, and how you can do better next time. If you are worried that you will forget any of the information your employer provided, make sure you take notes. Not only will this benefit you in the long run, but it will also show your boss that you are taking the warning seriously.

But don’t just take it from us, take it from, Hughes. “Most of the time, an employee is not happy to be having a disciplinary meeting which is understandable. But my recommendation is to go into it with an open mind
ready to hear what your supervisor has to say. Be receptive.”

Explain your side

If you feel that there has been a misunderstanding, or if you disagree with the warning, you might feel the need to explain your side. It isn’t easy speaking up during times like these, but honest communication can be helpful, too. With that said, it is important to be
cautious when defending your actions. Even if the situation feels unfair, professionalism is key.

Ask questions

When given the chance, ask the questions you need to ask before exiting the meeting. This is your time to seek clarity, on what went wrong and clearness on how you can improve. Sometimes fixing the problem can be simple. If your employer is concerned about your tardiness, you might be able to assure them it won’t happen again. However, if you received a warning on a situation that is more complicated, you might want to set up a plan, so it doesn’t reoccur in the future.

Take time to process

You are only human. Sometimes mistakes do happen, but when we are called out on an error we made, it can often feel embarrassing or upsetting. While it is easier said than done, understand slip-ups are a part of learning. Your boss is giving you a chance to fix the mistake you made. So, while you can’t change what happened, you can fix the problem moving forward. In order do to this, it is important to process the warning and to give yourself grace for any errors, or missteps.

Most likely you didn’t do it on purpose. Take the warning with a grain of salt; after all, failing in your career is essential in bettering your performance in the future.

Overall, when recovering from a warning, you will want a plan, so this doesn’t happen again.

If the behavior is corrected, you can even reference your ability to learn from the experience when negotiating your next performance review.  Listen to your supervisors’ correction, ask questions and improve your performance or behavior immediately.