Warning Memo Part 2

Category: Newsletters Published on Mar 21 2017



Would you please provide me with some tips for writing a written warning? I’ve found samples on-line but they don’t always fit my needs.


Jordan, PA



Dear Jordan,


As I mentioned last month, there are two elements to writing a good written warning: layout and content. This month I will concentrate on including effective content in your memo.

An effective written warning will clearly express what behavior has been causing problems, why it’s problematic, what behavior is preferred, and the consequences for continuing on with no changes. While this is fairly simple and straight forward, it’s far from easy. The three mis-steps I see most often are:

 - Including issues that are personality based rather than behavioral

 - Reciting a long litany of unrelated behavioral issues

 - Overusing the word ‘you’.

Behaviors not Personality: Telling someone that they are lazy or rude will not solve anything. Instead it will create a barrier to change. A well written warning provides examples of behaviors that exhibit why you think they are lazy or rude (without using those words please) and explains why these behaviors are unacceptable (i.e. the impact).

No List: By the time people create a written warning, they are frequently angry, frustrated, and ready to lash out. They may see the warning as an opportunity to express all of the ways in which this employee has been subpar in their performance. However, this will increase the employee’s defensiveness, leave them unsure about what you really want to see changed, and possibly make them feel “what’s the use of trying?” Instead, concentrate on one or at most two key areas where you would most like to see change.

Avoid You: Finally, minimize the use of the word ‘you’. Every time you write the word you, picture yourself poking your finger in the employee’s forehead. This is what it’s going to feel like to them. And that is not an effective way to create the motivation to change existing behaviors. Instead, do your best to write in the passive tense as much as possible. (Yes, your English teacher always told you the opposite, but she wasn’t teaching you to write written warnings.)


Note: If you really don’t want to see change and the written warning is the first step in firing this employee, then by all means, include every single item and say you as often as you like. Just be careful to keep it organized and to restrain yourself from becoming petty.


A final caveat, there are some issues that have potential legal ramifications. If you have any reason to believe that your written warning may be in this area, be sure to consult with an attorney or human resources professional before issuing your memo.


Have a great day!