There is a difference between a warning and an admonishment–but many supervisors don’t recognize the difference and fail to warn in a way that prevents a problem in the future.
An Admonishment Is Mild But Pointed Advice
An admonishment is a brief word of advice, counsel, maybe mild-mannered reproof. ”Becky, you do a great job when you get here, but you’ve been late three times now. We need you here on time, especially on the days you open up.”
An admonishment can also be delivered using a light tone and even a slightly humorous approach: ”Hey Ken, stop throwing trash in the parking lot, it looks bad enough without your generous contributions.”
For most situations, an admonishment is enough to get good results. I recall the thought in a book for police sergeants: “To a mature employee a suggestion is construed as an order.”
Unfortunately, supervisors and managers often think an admonishment is a sufficient warning and they are frustrated and angry when the employee does the thing again. If they want to make sure the employee doesn’t do it again, they need to warn and give consequences.
A Warning Is A Promise About What Will Happen
A warning can be formal or informal, verbal or written. “Becky, you’re doing a good job otherwise, but you’ve been late three times now. The next time you’re late I’m going to have to put it in your permanent record and give you a formal reprimand. I don’t want to have to do that, so be on time from now on.”
Or, “Ken, after the last incident with you throwing trash in the parking lot after I had asked you not to, I recommended a formal warning and HR approved it. This is your last warning. The next incident will result in loss of a day off.”
Employees Get As Confused as Supervisors
Last week an employee complained to me that she was getting in serious trouble because she continued to do something after she was warned not to. She said she hadn’t been warned, in fact her supervisor was laughing about it when he talked to her so she didn’t take it seriously.
The supervisor’s view was that a reasonable person would know his light-hearted remarks were a warning. I asked him if he had, in the midst of being light-hearted, told the employee what would happen if she did it again. He said no, but surely she realized she would get some sort of sanction.
Was that an effective warning or merely an admonishment? His HR Department and his manager viewed that he had not warned the employee because he hadn’t told her what would happen next. His manager told him that if he had warned her, it would also have reminded him that he had an obligation to follow through, whereas with an admonishment there is no follow-through mentioned.
The bottom line: The reason many employees continue their problematic behavior or performance is because they are admonished, but they are not warned. The reason many supervisors get frustrated with continual problems is that they think they are warning, but without consequences it’s just advice that the employee may not take.
I like the warning on the sign in the photo. I asked a police officer in that town, Griffin, Georgia (my place of birth), if many people hit the bridge. He said it happens now and then, but not nearly as often as it did when the sign just said, “Danger, Low Bridge. No trucks or loads over 16′ high.”
Knowing the consequences and knowing what actions will result in those consequences can make all the difference in what a person does next.