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Poor Performance Write-Up Examples for Small Businesses

Poor Performance Write-Up ExamplesPoor Performance Write-Up Examples
min read
August 21, 2023

As a small business owner, you're responsible for managing your employees and making sure things get done properly and efficiently. But what do you do when a team member keeps falling short?

One way to deal with an underperforming employee is writing them up to explain where they're missing the mark—and, just as importantly, how they can improve. Not only does a reprimand letter help communicate performance issues with your employee, but it also helps you justify any possible consequences outlined by your employee handbook and policies—including termination of employment—if that employee doesn't turn things around.

Let's look at what to include when reprimanding an employee (in written form), a few poor performance write-up examples and templates you can use in your business, and best practices for writing an effective performance warning letter.

What Is a Poor Performance Write-Up?

A poor performance write-up is a formal letter that informs an employee that their workplace performance needs to improve. 

Issuing this type of write-up provides employees with feedback about their behavior, giving you the chance to help them improve and meet your company's expectations.

And because this type of write-up also acts as a written warning letter, a copy of this letter can (and should!) be included in the employee's personnel file—as it can help support your case in the event you need to take further action against the employee (like firing them) or defend against a legal claim (like an employee claiming they were fired over discrimination instead of performance).

These letters are also sometimes called a warning letter, employee reprimand, or letter of reprimand. 

3 Poor Performance Write-Up Examples

Warning an employee about performance issues can be challenging. Fortunately, these poor performance write-up examples and sample letter templates have you covered for any situation. 

If you want to get started drafting your write-ups immediately, here are three examples to help you get started.

When Should You Write up an Employee?

Now, it's important to remember that even stellar employees may have minor performance issues from time to time—and not every issue requires a formal letter of reprimand. So at what point should you consider issuing a letter? 

While when, how often, and under what circumstances you issue employee warning letters will depend on your company's specific policies, warning letters and write-ups are typically issued after a team member receives an informal or verbal warning for performance and/or conduct.

Poor performance can be described as an employee who: 

  • Is absent or late to work too many times
  • Doesn't meet expectations or performance metrics, like not fulfilling their duties or meeting expected goals
  • Fails to follow company policies and protocols, like using a cell phone on the sales floor or not following safety rules
  • Misuses company equipment or property, like driving a company vehicle for personal travel or using the office printer to print out materials related to the employee's side hustle
  • Displays inappropriate behavior, like using offensive language or arguing with customers

Examples of Unsatisfactory Performance 

  • An insurance agent who fails to meet their monthly sales quota over multiple consecutive months
  • A merchandiser who consistently takes too long to set up their displays and stock their shelves
  • An hourly IT technician who frequently takes long lunch breaks beyond what company policy allows

What to Include in a Poor Performance Write-Up

Now you know why it's important to write up an employee for subpar performance—and the benefits of doing so—let's look at what to include in a warning letter.

What Do You Say in a Write-Up for Poor Performance?

A write-up for an underperforming employee should include:

  • Employee's name, as well as the name(s) of the person issuing the letter (whether it's you, the employee's manager or supervisor, or human resources representative), and anyone who receives a copy of the letter (such as HR)
  • Date the letter is issued
  • Which performance issues are being addressed (like excessive absenteeism or low sales)
  • List of previous attempts to resolve these issues (including the dates of past discussions or when other disciplinary actions were taken, like verbal warnings)
  • Policies violated by the employee, if applicable
  • Impact the employee's performance issues has on your company
  • Action plan for improving the employee's performance over a specific time period
  • Consequences if the employee's performance doesn't improve
  • Notice that this is a formal warning and will be included in the employee's file
  • Positive note explaining that the employee is a valuable part of your company and expressing your hope that the employee's work performance improves

Each write-up should end with a space for you and the employee to sign, as well as a blank area for the employee to include any comments.

Poor Performance Review vs. Write-Up

Sometimes, you might want to give an employee feedback without disciplining them for their behavior. A performance appraisal or review is an important part of performance management and gives you the chance to recognize employees for their hard work—or help employees who aren't meeting your company's expectations. But how do you write this type of review?

How Do You Write a Poor Performance Review?

Unlike a write-up—which is a formal disciplinary warning—an employee review should focus entirely on feedback that helps the employee feel engaged

And for it to be successful and beneficial, you should include actionable advice that the employee can use to improve. 

This means referencing examples of what they've done wrong—like a cashier who consistently miscounts their register till—to develop a plan that corrects the issue (like counting multiple times before accepting a customer's cash or handing back change).

Best Practices for Writing a Poor Performance Write-Up

Want to write the most effective write-up? Keep these best practices in mind as you're drafting your letter of reprimand:

  • Discuss the employee's performance before issuing a write-up: Where positive feedback increases employee morale, negative feedback can have the opposite effect and demotivate a team member—particularly when that warning is formalized and added to an employee's file. Sometimes, a bit of counseling, coaching, or a verbal warning can be enough to encourage an underperforming employee to improve without you needing to formally write them up.
  • Document all warnings and write-ups: Write-ups are typically used to justify additional disciplinary actions, like suspensions and terminations. If you do need to take action against an employee, documenting any and all write-ups can demonstrate that an employee violated company policy too many times—and can help defend against possible lawsuits and legal issues.
  • Strike the right tone: Though you need to be stern and strict when issuing corrective actions, it doesn't mean you need to be all doom and gloom too. Issuing a letter of reprimand gives an employee the chance to turn things around—so show them that you're committed to helping them improve their performance at work. Call out what they're doing well and be optimistic that they'll improve and start meeting expectations.
  • Issue the letter of reprimand in person: Receiving a write-up can be confusing and emotional. By hand-delivering a warning letter in person, you can demonstrate your empathy, answer any questions the employee might have for you, and help keep things from getting misinterpreted. (If your team works virtually, consider scheduling a video call to deliver the letter.)
  • Schedule a follow-up: Following up on the action plan outlined in a subpar performance write-up can help you make sure the employee is committed to improving—and demonstrate that you genuinely care about helping your team member perform at a higher level. Following up can also give you insight into the employee's morale, helping you determine if they're likely to leave or are genuinely interested in following their performance improvement plan.

Improve Employee Job Performance—and Satisfaction

Reprimanding an employee can sound harsh—but it doesn't need to be! Though a write-up for poor work performance is a type of disciplinary action, it can also be a tool to improve workplace efficiency, reduce employee turnover, and demonstrate your commitment to your employees. 

By writing an effective letter of reprimand, you can help guide your employees to improve their job performance and, as a result, increase their job satisfaction.

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