Watch What You Write About Employees


14 Sep, 2014

When you manage employees there are many times when you need to write information down about your people. Everyday communications often happens in writing:

Most managers don’t think too deeply about what they are writing and where they are writing them. What I have found is that most managers will write copious notes about things that matter, but if they have an employee with a performance problem or one who is flouting the rules, suddenly they have no pens that seem to work.

The challenge is that every note you have written, every jotting and every email gives your employee a perception of who you are and what you think of them. In case of a problem, all of these notes can and are dusted off and used in evidence against you.

By following a few simple rules with your writing you will improve communication with your employees and protect your butt in times of trouble.

Writing Notes About Employees

Here are my top 10 rules around writing about your employees:

1. Think before you ink. This motto is not just for tattoos, take the time to get your thoughts together before you write them down, or jot them into an email. This is partially to make sure you have covered off all of the points you want to make and partially to consider how you should best respond to an issue. Managers who just write “disagree” on the top of documents are major creators of lost time and productivity. Explain precisely what the issue is and how it needs to be remedied.

2. Don’t write when you are angry. If you are ticked off at an employee, make a rule not to respond to the issue for at least 1 hour, to give your rational head time to overrule the emotional response.

3. Never let your emails send immediately. Every email program allows you to set either a manual send or a delay before sending. Always set your email program to at least a 10-minute delay before sending and receiving emails. This gives you that last minute chance to change what you are going to say.

4. Trust your gut. If you gut is sending you butterflies, or is churning, or is sinking – then don’t send it or ink it.

5. Always keep diary notes of major discussions and issues. Keep a diary note on your computer or a separate file of key conversations – what was discussed and what was agreed. This is relevant to both phone conversations as well as meetings. Date it and sign the notes, but make sure you have it on file.

6. Stick to the observable facts of the matter rather than any emotional interpretation. “She got red in the face and then raised her voice and said …” is more accurate than “then she really lost the plot because she is a psychopath”.

7. Lock it up. All notes must be kept 100% confidential. Keep notes in a locked filing cabinet, or password protected file on your system. Don’t allow others access to your notes. You don’t want your team giggling about what was said or spreading gossip.

8. Don’t discriminate. This should go without saying, but managers still write stupid things on files and in emails.

9. Read back what you have written and check for other ways it could be interpreted. Always always always read back what you have written. Read it out loud to yourself. Think through all the possible interpretations that could be made of your notes. You may think you are being straight and to the point while the recipient could interpret it that you are rude and abrupt.

10. Remember – there are two sides to every story and then somewhere in the middle there is the truth. You don’t have a monopoly on the truth – so check your facts and interpretations before you push the button or hand back the note.

Read more about how to give negative feedback to an employee.

Yes, thinking about these rules before writing down notes about your employee will add in a few seconds for each exchange. But they will save you a mountain of trouble over the years if you can make them a habit.

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HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years' experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.

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