Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Correcting An Employee–There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way

Correcting an employee the wrong way:

1. Making it seem like a personal attack. “You have such a crummy attitude about everything you do.” “We’re not here to make you happy.” “You’re the only one who can’t get it right.”

2. Mocking or humiliating the employee: Standing by the door with a clock when they walk in. Leaving a sarcastic note taped to their computer where everyone can see it. Talking about it to another employee. Making the employee feel she can never overcome the mistake. 

3. Treating the error or problem as unimportant. “It’s not a big deal to me, and I don’t really care, but I’m supposed to tell people not to do that.” “I’m sorry to have to bug you about that report but we were supposed to have it done already, so could you maybe get it done?”

4. Yelling, cursing, showing extreme anger: “I didn’t ask you if it would be easy for you to do it, I told you to do it! Now get to work and do it or I’ll get someone who can, and you can do your whining in some other job! Do you understand me? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME????”

5. Not correcting at all: Avoiding talking to the employee about it until things are so bad that very serious action must be taken.

Correcting an employee the wrong way says more about the supervisor or manager than about the employee. No matter how frustrated you are as a manager, you will lose the respect of everyone–even the best employees as well as other managers–when you handle corrections poorly. 

Correcting an employee the right way:

1. Correct in private unless there is a strong reason for other employees to be aware of the situation. Not long ago I wrote an article about times when reprimanding in front of others might be appropriate. You can refresh your memory here . However, those times are rare. Nearly always you should talk to an employee away from others.

2. Build a good working relationship through your actions. If you need someone to volunteer for a nasty job in the next few minutes, will your supervisory communications enourage it rather than discourage it? That’s one good way to approach each supervisory correction–leave an employee feeling that you are supportive of him and his best efforts, even if you are not satisfied with his work or behavior at that moment.

3. Take your ego and emotions out of it. When I hear of inappropriate remarks by supervisors or managers–or when I have made them myself–I can almost always sense the ego or emotions of the person involved. Anger, hurt feelings, impatience, fearfulness, or a desire to impress other people or to be witty or show one’s superiority–all of those lead to ineffectiveness and inappropriateness.

4. Be specific. Make sure the employee knows specifically what was wrong about his or her behavior or performance and what is needed instead. Ensure the employee knows how to do it right and is committed to doing it that way.

5. Fulfill your supervisory role effectively. Every human will make a mistake now and then. The goal of correction is to reduce or eliminate those times, while building a foundation for cooperation and effectiveness in the future. That goal alone can provide guidance for how to do it the right way.

October 26th, 2008 Posted by | Supervision and Management | 4 comments


  1. Your examples of the wrong way sounded like you had been listening to my last manager! (You know who!)

    What about this one….An employee had misspelled a word in a document (one of those that spell check doesn’t catch) and it had been pointed out to the manager so it embarrassed him that he hadn’t caught it. He got a big dictionary and walked up next to her desk when she was working and dropped it as hard as he could on the floor next to her. Sounded like an explosion and everyone screamed!

    Another time he wrote something about talking on the phone too much, on the employee’s computer monitor with a dry rite marker. Even though it mostly came off, it left a shadow of the letters. She needed to be talked to, but that made her the victim and got her a lot of sympathy.

    He violated every one of your rules! I try to do it the right way all the time and have seen a big decrease in mistakes or other problems. Good post again. P.

    Comment by PAH | October 29, 2008

  2. Tina says: Thank you for your comment, PAH! I can promise you, the people who work in your section are very happy you are there! T.

    Comment by TLR | October 29, 2008

  3. Good post. I liked the post you linked to also. Managers seem to mess up the most when they are correcting or complimenting. IMO it’s because they feel self-conscious about doing it and get all nervous. It isn’t that hard to do right!

    Comment by MSGT | November 1, 2008

  4. Hi, I work for the city of Mesa, AZ and have enjoyed reading articles on this site. You seem to understand what it’s like to be a supervisor in the real world. I like the mix of topics too. So, thanks for some realistic information I can use.

    Comment by J.F. | January 8, 2009

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