A write-up is a note from a supervisor or manager about how you’re doing at work. It sounds scary, but it’s also a normal part of nearly every job, and it’s usually just a way for your boss to make sure you’re still on track to reach your goals. If you get a write-up as an entry-level employee and it feels like the worst thing that has ever happened in your life so far, take a deep breath. You probably won’t get another one again for a while — unless you need to keep working on some specific problem. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. A write-up can feel like an insult and make you worry about the future of your career path, especially if it was unexpected or came from someone who isn’t typically known for being negative. However, these things happen to everyone eventually — even people who have been at their company for years. Here are some ways to handle it with grace and confidence.
How To Respond To A Write-Up At Work
1. Don’t panic
First things first: Whether you’re getting the first write-up or you’ve had a few in your time at the job, don’t panic. Write-ups are normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to get fired tomorrow or that you’ve suddenly become a bad employee. It’s just one part of working at a company, and luckily, it’s not something that’s likely to happen often. According to a 2018 study from OfficeTeam, a professional staffing firm, nearly half of managers say they’ve given an employee a written warning in the past year, but only 11 percent of employees said they’d been written up during that time. If you’ve only had one write-up in your whole career as an employee, you’re doing pretty well.
2. Ask for clarification
When you get a write-up, it can be a good idea to ask your manager what you could have done differently. You don’t have to do this in an accusatory way; you can just say something like, “I’m sorry I could have done a better job on that project. What changes would you like to see in the future?” This can be especially important if you’re feeling confused about the write-up. You might find out that you were expected to do something you didn’t know about, or that you just need to work on one specific skill. Or, you might find out that your boss has a negative bias toward you for some reason you can’t understand — but that’s actually unlikely since managers are almost never going to discuss their biases against employees.
3. Figure out what was expected and whether you met that expectation
Sometimes, the write-up will spell out the specific expectation that you didn’t meet. When that happens, it’s a good idea to make a note of that so that you don’t make the same mistake again. If the expectation is vaguer, it can help to ask yourself: What were my goals at this job? What did my manager expect me to be working on? What do I want to accomplish in this role? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it might be time to schedule an honest conversation with your manager. That may sound scary, but it’s actually a good thing — it shows initiative, and it’s a sign that you’re serious about your growth.
4. Use it as an opportunity to learn, grow and pivot
While you’re figuring out what happened and what you could have done differently, you also want to think about how this can be an opportunity to learn from your mistake and grow as an employee. If you’re not sure what you could do to improve, it can help to look at the situation from both a personal and professional perspective. What is happening in your personal life that could be affecting your work? What do you need to work on professionally? What do you want to accomplish at work? What do you need to do to get there?
5. Take a moment to care for yourself
This is a really stressful situation, and it’s important to take the time to care for yourself in the middle of it. That could mean taking a walk outside, calling a trusted friend, going to a yoga class, or doing some other things that help you relax. There are also really simple things you can do to take care of yourself at work, like leaving your phone in a different room for a few hours each day, scheduling breaks for yourself every few hours, making sure you have enough time to eat lunch and get enough sleep, and asking your coworkers to hold off on emails and meetings until a certain time so you don’t get stressed out.
Like all aspects of your job, write-ups are something that you can learn to navigate with confidence over time. They’re normal, and they’re usually just a way for your manager to check in and make sure you’re on track to hit your goals. Even if you’ve never written up before, it happens to almost everyone. The important thing is to keep your head up, respond to the write-up in a way that shows your manager you’re taking it seriously, and use the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow.
I got a write-up, now what?
A: Now you want to figure out what happened and how you can improve. Your first step should be to schedule an honest conversation with your manager. You can ask them why they wrote you up, and give them an opportunity to share their perspective on the situation. Then, you’ll have a chance to explain your side of things, too.
My manager gave me a write-up, but I don’t know what I did wrong! What do I do?
A: First off, don’t panic! Write-ups are pretty common, so your manager probably just wants to check in with you and make sure that you know where you stand. The best thing to do is schedule a meeting with your manager so that they can tell you exactly what the issue is. That way, there are no surprises and no assumptions about what went wrong or how it happened — it will all be laid out for you in black and white (or at least in digital format).
What if my manager won’t talk to me about my write-up?
A: If you’re having trouble getting a meeting with your manager, it could be that they’re busy or they don’t think the write-up is a big deal. You could try sending them an email and then following up with a phone call. You can also try to get their attention in person by walking over to their desk and asking them if they have time for a quick chat.
I wrote up my coworker, but I don’t know how to do it!
A: This can be really hard, but you want to make sure that you follow the same process that your manager would use. That means having an honest conversation with your coworker, describing exactly what happened and why it was wrong (without blaming them), and offering some suggestions on how to do better in the future. It might be tempting to blow off the write-up because you don’t want to get into trouble yourself, but remember — even though it wasn’t your fault, you can still help your coworker improve by being there as a resource for them when they need help.