person writing at a desk

A necessary part of managing other people is having to take corrective action. Often this starts with a conversation or verbal warning, but if that doesn’t work a written warning (a “write up”) usually comes next. A formal write up is important because it not only creates a paper trail, but also gives the employee steps on how to improve. Here’s a quick overview of what a write up is exactly and how to create one.

What is an employee write up?

A “write up” is a report that formally documents disciplinary actions in the workplace. It should include both a description of the incident (or incidents) and the recommended steps needed to correct the problem. This is a professional document and should be taken seriously by everyone involved. A write up doesn’t mean an employee will be fired, but it does create a sort of probationary period. Here are the basic steps to writing up an employee.

1. Talk about it first.

Before you decide to write someone up, take some time to talk with the employee about the issue. Ask if they’re aware of company policy and if there’s anything you can do to help them improve. Try to clear up any misunderstandings or misinformation before you move on to formally writing up an employee.

2. Take some time to cool off.

The circumstances leading to a write up can be stressful and frustrating. We get it. Managing other employees can feel unrewarding and impossible. But, no matter what the circumstances are and no matter how angry you are—never, ever write someone up until you’ve had time to cool down. Remember, a write up is a professional document. There is no room for drama or accusations.

3. Use your organization’s template.

Your organization should have an official template for writing up employees. All managers should be familiar with this document, what’s in it, and where to find it. If you have questions about how to fill it out, make sure to ask someone in Human Resources for clarification.

4. Stick to the facts.

Fill out the form as accurately and objectively as possible. If you’re writing up an employee who is consistently late for work, reference specific days and shift times. Or, if an employee is rude to customers, include a short explanation of a specific incident and any customer complaints you’ve received. If you are regularly documenting things as a manager, you should already have these facts on hand.

5. Cite company policies.

Refer to official company policies whenever possible. This helps validate your reason for the write up and keeps things objective.

6. Outline how the employee is expected to improve.

A write up should include a description of the problem and the recommended steps for improvement. Keep these suggestions real and actionable. Don’t say an employee needs to “work on their attitude” or that they should “recognize how their actions affect coworkers”. Instead, list some areas where you can track measurable results. For example, arriving on time or consistently following safety procedures.

7. Deliver the news in-person.

Always deliver the news of a write up in-person. Doing it over email or text can feel cold and impersonal and leave the employee confused and hurt. Instead, make time for a face-to-face conversation. Focus on the issue at hand and avoid any personal allegations. Review the document with them and discuss the suggestions for improvement. Explain what will happen if the employee doesn’t make an effort to improve. Leave a space in the document for their comments and ask if there’s anything they’d like to add. Sign and file it with the appropriate HR representative.

8. Follow up.

A write up doesn’t end with filing it away. It’s critical you check back on the employee’s progress. Note any improvements and provide encouragement and support as necessary. Most of the time, a write up is enough to give a troublesome employee the wake-up call and motivate them to improve. However, if the employee hasn’t made an effort and the behavior continues it may be time for more serious measures. Discuss this with higher management or HR as appropriate.

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