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Warning email from boss? Confusing.


leseine7
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Why is December always a month of tension? Yeah, I know there a lot of reasons. I just need to get this out there.

 

I took on an Operations role 6 months ago in a totally new industry for me. I dove in enthusiastically, and I am being 100% honest when I say that I have worked harder (and done better work) in this position than I have ever done in any prior role. I've been through the ringer professionally, made a 180 a couple of years ago when I made the decision to leave my artistic/ performing aspirations and I haven't really looked back.

 

After finding my footing in the Dutch workplace in an admin role I did well and excelled in, but didn't see as a longterm career path, I finally found this role with a start up, working directly with the boss and his business partner. My boss is the co-founder and CEO. He's incredibly smart and experienced, he's only 5 years older than I am and he built the company in the US before moving it to the Netherlands, so I feel at home in the workplace and get along with my colleagues well. I've been told on numerous occasions that I am an asset to the company, have been "vital" to the growth thus far, and about one month ago my boss sat me down to say that after I return from my maternity leave next summer (I am about 18 weeks pregnant), they want to do whatever possible to make me comfortable balancing motherhood with this role. I've been working on a number of recruitment projects to help build our staff, one of the roles eventually intended to be an assistant to me - so I'll ultimately (as far as I've been informed) be in a leadership position. All of this is great, I've been going head-first into projects and enjoy the role and even the most mundane duties.

 

Therefore, I was really shocked when I received an email yesterday afternoon where my boss encouraged me to "take a day off for some extra rest" in the coming week. The tone of the email was very kind, but ultimately contained a list of mistakes I've made in the past month. I have always been 100% transparent with him if I felt I misstepped, and we would always discuss those moments positively - nothing he listed was detrimental to the company, and some of them were not even literal mistakes, but rather, questions I had asked for my own clarity that apparently indicated I am missing a beat. They were things I wanted to double check because I'm less used to doing those tasks and they are in regards to sensitive things like our finances, or a client set up. He listed these as "mistakes" but ultimately, I did not make a mistake. I asked for my own information and clarity before hitting the button.

 

The overall email read as "Hey, you're normally really awesome at your job but you're making too many mistakes and we can't have that, so take a breather." (That is my paraphrase). I've shared it with two or three closest friends to get their take, and they said it reads as concern, but not a lack of trust. However, he did say at the end of the email that "We need things to be very careful because these kinds of slip-ups could impact payroll or other consequential things in the future." To me, that is a warning that they are less confident in my abilities.

 

The email came as a shock after having just had multiple one:one meetings with him this past week where he seemed glowing and enthusiastic about work I was doing. I know that mistakes can be a drain on the company, but I feel like I don't know what to do about asking questions for my learning curve. 6 months is long enough to have made a good amount of growth, which I feel I have done, but it is not enough time to be 100% confident and never have to ask dumb questions now and again.

 

Anyway, my main concern is that this could be a red flag that they are monitoring me and this is the first in the way of "documentation" that could eventually lead to termination. Particularly since this level of concern was NOT discussed in person just hours before the email was sent to me. I will naturally be careful, but given the amazing feedback I've had so far, I can't help but feel more than a little thrown off about what this means for my upcoming months and if I can really trust all the positive feedback. With a baby on the way, I really need to know that I can openly ask questions and feel confident there and not like my moves are being tracked and documented.

 

Any thoughts out there are much appreciated.

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Is this CEO/company Dutch or American?
He's American (And so is the company). He moved to the Netherlands for his Dutch wife and the company thrives pretty well being here as a headquarters. All of our employees except one are American. There are (max) 5 of us in total.
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It's doubtful they are trying to generate a paper trail to fire you. It sounds as though too much anxiety/lack of confidence was coming through in the meetings. This can be perceived as you being stressed out. Or that you still need a lot of hand-holding.

 

Some questions are fine but too many out of curiosity or "learning curve" can be misunderstood as incompetence or an employee being overwhelmed. Perhaps they expect more independence/autonomy after 6 mos?

The email came as a shock after having just had multiple one:one meetings with him this past week where he seemed glowing and enthusiastic about work I was doing. I know that mistakes can be a drain on the company, but I feel like I don't know what to do about asking questions for my learning curve.

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It's doubtful they are trying to generate a paper trail to fire you. It sounds as though too much anxiety/lack of confidence was coming through in the meetings. This can be perceived as you being stressed out. Or that you still need a lot of hand-holding.

 

Some questions are fine but too many out of curiosity or "learning curve" can be misunderstood as incompetence or an employee being overwhelmed. Perhaps they expect more independence/autonomy after 6 mos?

 

 

That's definitely possible. The two questions he mentioned were things I asked for clarity because I hadn't done them before, so I was a bit surprised he would expect me to just know the answers on my own. I think my stress/ exhaustion in general could be apparent - first time pregnancy is def no joke but I haven't actually brought it up at all. Maybe he can just tell. He's a good guy, so I'm definitely not questioning him as a boss but definitely red flag about the future or how things are really going there.

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Ok that makes sense that he would mention "take a day off". Don't worry about it. Written memos are commonplace. Everyone's performance and activities are "monitored and documented", how else could they run a company? Relax and just consider it feedback sort of like a 6 mo. performance evaluation/review.

I think my stress/ exhaustion in general could be apparent.
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I wonder if he is concerned about your maternity leave and having to do without you while you're gone...so he is in fact laying the groundwork to release you. I say this because at one company I worked for, out of nowhere I got written up for a mistake someone else made, then a couple of weeks later I was termed for another mistake made by someone else...and it was because the COO wanted me gone so she could hire her friend in my place.

 

I would request a face to face to discuss his concerns. Get a feel for what his goal was in sending you that email. I could be way off base, but it would be better to know for sure than to go to your friends (or us here!) speculating and possibly reaching an entirely wrong conclusion...and then stressing about it.

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I wouldn't try and interpret what you or your friends or anyone here on this board think the email means.

 

I would take the email verbatim for what it exactly is, from his mouth: a listing of mistakes you've made, with a request that you take a breather and take into consideration that you have, in fact, made some mistakes that could be detrimental to the company.

 

This is one of those situations where you have, in writing, what someone is telling you. There is no room for interpretation.

 

Frankly, I would take all of this very seriously, and I'd look inside myself to figure out the mistakes I had made, and how to not have those occur in the future.

 

I get that you're saying that some of these were "questions" you had, vs. actual "mistakes". I can tell you that he does not think so. He told you that.

 

I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything for you because yes, he's put this in writing, and yes, he can add to this in the future and yes, he can add all of these emails together and make a future decision that you will not like. Take this very seriously if you want to keep this job, or want him to give you a reference for a future job.

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I mean... no part of me intends NOT to take this seriously. His email stated that the mistakes were not detrimental to the company, that he doesn’t want me to apologize and that I am and have been a careful, organized person by habit. But if I weren’t obviously concerned that this email is a legit warning of possible termination, well, I wouldn’t be posting here. I also am wary of staying in a job where I can’t ask questions on brand new tasks. There is literally no one else to ask but him. The ramifications of making a move without asking could be VERY detrimental.

 

In any case, I do intend to speak with him face to face. I’m trying to put my head on straight before doing so on Monday. Obviously that will tell me a lot.

 

For what it’s worth, I researched it more today, and it is actually illegal as per their contract with me, and the laws around pregnancy and maternity here (in Netherlands) for them to terminate me before or during my maternity leave. Then, when I return, they are required to give me 12 weeks in the office before any termination can be discussed. So, I do have time, but am trying to figure out just how serious all of this is and frankly whether or not I should continue busting my ass with this role if all the back patting is over. Will figure it out.

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I wouldn't try and interpret what you or your friends or anyone here on this board think the email means.

 

I would take the email verbatim for what it exactly is, from his mouth: a listing of mistakes you've made, with a request that you take a breather and take into consideration that you have, in fact, made some mistakes that could be detrimental to the company.

 

This is one of those situations where you have, in writing, what someone is telling you. There is no room for interpretation.

 

Frankly, I would take all of this very seriously, and I'd look inside myself to figure out the mistakes I had made, and how to not have those occur in the future.

 

I get that you're saying that some of these were "questions" you had, vs. actual "mistakes". I can tell you that he does not think so. He told you that.

 

I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything for you because yes, he's put this in writing, and yes, he can add to this in the future and yes, he can add all of these emails together and make a future decision that you will not like. Take this very seriously if you want to keep this job, or want him to give you a reference for a future job.

 

All of this plus - illegal or not - get your resume together now, make it letter perfect and start networking now. I would start going on interviews while you are on maternity leave unless by then (i.e. 5-6 months from now) this was a one time issue and all is golden. He does see the mistakes as detrimental -not to the bottom line -but to your success as an employee. I have nothing really to add other than this to how LHGirl put it other than my suggestion for these next steps.

 

Also I am unclear as to what back patting has to do with this? If that is your expectation in a work environment I would question why?

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Also I'd evaluate how and when and why you shared your mistakes. It almost sounds like you shared the way you would with a friend, not a boss. Did you just want him to know in case he found out on his own or did you want some kind of reassurance from him? I agree with transparency when of course he shouldn't learn of it from another source, or belatedly, but it sounds like you may have overdone it with all your transparency such that he started to lose confidence in you.

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I mean... no part of me intends NOT to take this seriously. His email stated that the mistakes were not detrimental to the company, that he doesn’t want me to apologize and that I am and have been a careful, organized person by habit. But if I weren’t obviously concerned that this email is a legit warning of possible termination, well, I wouldn’t be posting here. I also am wary of staying in a job where I can’t ask questions on brand new tasks. There is literally no one else to ask but him. The ramifications of making a move without asking could be VERY detrimental.

 

In any case, I do intend to speak with him face to face. I’m trying to put my head on straight before doing so on Monday. Obviously that will tell me a lot.

 

For what it’s worth, I researched it more today, and it is actually illegal as per their contract with me, and the laws around pregnancy and maternity here (in Netherlands) for them to terminate me before or during my maternity leave. Then, when I return, they are required to give me 12 weeks in the office before any termination can be discussed. So, I do have time, but am trying to figure out just how serious all of this is and frankly whether or not I should continue busting my ass with this role if all the back patting is over. Will figure it out.

 

Instead of wasting energy researching whether or not they can terminate you during pregnancy, why not spend that energy on the content of his email?

 

You continue to defend yourself, talking about "busting your ass" and "back patting". Instead, figure out what the mistakes were, why you made them, and how you can not make them going forward.

 

No one in the job market is going to coddle you or pat your back. I'm sorry, but you're starting to sound entitled, and that's a whole 'nother story.

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I think the problem with this kind of forum is that it is difficult to give every single detail. I’ve been trying to give as much context as possible without making an utter novel here, and some details did not seem necessary to state.

 

I think I’ve stated multiple times that I’m serious about making an improvement in this role and continuing to grow. My point was not that I need back patting but that it is incredibly confusing to meet with someone daily and receive praise to the point of “whatever happens after your maternity leave, we want to make sure you feel comfortable to come back and take this leadership role,” and then to receive that email. My point wasn’t “oh I want to go pout because I got negative feedback,” but to try to determine before Monday (when I’ll talk to him), if this is indeed an email letting me know they’re counting down the days.

 

I’m honestly trying to assess what’s going to happen from here (and yes, if I should just start planning to be let go,) and will in the meantime do whatever I possibly can to improve. But it also has to be a sane expectation, and telling me one day that everyone is happy and then emailing the next that there have been concerns of any level, is alarming to me. I appreciate the harsh feedback and didn’t mean to sound entitled. I’m trying really hard to make as much sense of it as possible before I have to face him.

 

As for the question about why I brought up the mistakes- I actually wanted to learn from them. My boss has been a great mentor as well as leader in this role and thus far has reacted positively to those kinds of conversations because those mistakes have never repeated again- it was easy to learn from them with some conversation.

 

I’ll take all of this to heart and do my best to implement whatever strategies possible at improving on the job, while also planning for the worst that sounds (at least from the opinions here) to be looming. Thanks everyone.

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I think the problem with this kind of forum is that it is difficult to give every single detail. I’ve been trying to give as much context as possible without making an utter novel here, and some details did not seem necessary to state.

 

I think I’ve stated multiple times that I’m serious about making an improvement in this role and continuing to grow. My point was not that I need back patting but that it is incredibly confusing to meet with someone daily and receive praise to the point of “whatever happens after your maternity leave, we want to make sure you feel comfortable to come back and take this leadership role,” and then to receive that email. My point wasn’t “oh I want to go pout because I got negative feedback,” but to try to determine before Monday (when I’ll talk to him), if this is indeed an email letting me know they’re counting down the days.

 

I’m honestly trying to assess what’s going to happen from here (and yes, if I should just start planning to be let go,) and will in the meantime do whatever I possibly can to improve. But it also has to be a sane expectation, and telling me one day that everyone is happy and then emailing the next that there have been concerns of any level, is alarming to me. I appreciate the harsh feedback and didn’t mean to sound entitled. I’m trying really hard to make as much sense of it as possible before I have to face him.

 

As for the question about why I brought up the mistakes- I actually wanted to learn from them. My boss has been a great mentor as well as leader in this role and thus far has reacted positively to those kinds of conversations because those mistakes have never repeated again- it was easy to learn from them with some conversation.

 

I’ll take all of this to heart and do my best to implement whatever strategies possible at improving on the job, while also planning for the worst that sounds (at least from the opinions here) to be looming. Thanks everyone.

 

You're missing the point.

 

Yes, he's saying that he wants you to come back from maternity leave, and I assure you, he very well knows that he cannot threaten your job while you are gone. You didn't have to research the legal issues, as I can assure you, he knows, from a legal standpoint, the issues.

 

He is also, at the same time, sending you an email letting you know that he's well aware of detrimental mistakes.

 

These are two separate things.

 

It's like a parent telling a child who just broke a vase that they still love them, but that throwing the ball in the house was a mistake. These are two separate things. The love doesn't just vanish, but the child better not throw a ball in the house again. Maybe a strange analogy, but there it is.

 

Focus on one thing: you are making mistakes, and he is aware of them. Either work on not making them, or worry about your job once you are back. No, he can't fire you while you're gone, but he can fire you once you're back.

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So LHGirl I think that is a great analogy and not strange at all.

 

Leseine I realize it seems like an about face. I think your boss realized on reflection that he might be misleading you with all his accolades and wants to set the record straight in writing. Also it could be that someone out of the blue expressed interest in your job so now he wants to make sure he has a paper trail in case he wants to replace you. Certainly have a talk on Monday. My strong suggestion is to do very little talking and lots of very careful and objective as possible listening.

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I think you need to discuss with him the process of how he would like you to pose questions for a brand new task that you haven't done before. This seems to be causing you the most anxiety and he listed some of your questions under "mistakes," so I would detail your position on that, how you were asking for clarity on a task that had not yet been performed, and ask him how you should go about obtaining feedback on tasks you haven't done yet so that everyone is confident in your ability to execute them.

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I think you need to discuss with him the process of how he would like you to pose questions for a brand new task that you haven't done before. This seems to be causing you the most anxiety and he listed some of your questions under "mistakes," so I would detail your position on that, how you were asking for clarity on a task that had not yet been performed, and ask him how you should go about obtaining feedback on tasks you haven't done yet so that everyone is confident in your ability to execute them.

 

These are my thoughts, exactly.

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  • 6 months later...

I realized that I never replied to this thread. I thought I would take a minute and do so now (several months later), I'm on maternity leave and have a beautiful baby girl, and all is going well.

 

The short story is: I was not fired from this job, and was in fact promoted before I left for my maternity leave, but I did learn some good lessons.

 

I do want to say, I was surprised by some of the nitpicking and criticism I felt I received in this thread. I was extremely vulnerable when posting my fears after receiving that email, and felt like I was somewhat torn apart and almost could not manage to say the right things (for example, for not stating every single detail of his email, stating my perceptions and having them be taken as fact, very black and white reactions to the subject matter - e.g. "You screwed up. He's telling you that. Better prepare to be fired"). Was I a bit defensive? Yes, absolutely! It's hard to seek comfort and rational thought from a forum at a time when what you probably need most is reassurance, only to be somewhat scolded for "making mistakes" and hearing you're going to lose your job, and having all your fears laid out as a definite outcome. I'm not sure how constructive that is, but it's also clear that I was not thick skinned enough in that moment to handle those reactions.

 

What I WILL say about the advice received here is that it helped me see that I wanted to be sure the worst possible outcome did NOT happen. I took very much to heart the positive and negative responses to what I wrote here and went back to work the following Monday braced for the worst. Maybe my actions can help someone else who is going through a tricky time at work, so here's what I chose to do in response to my boss's email:

 

1. First of all, I printed it off, read it, re-read it 100x and made sure I understood what mistakes I had in fact made. Most of them were very small (my boss had said in his email that the mistakes were not detrimental to the company, but "unlike me" and that he wanted me to rest up, and I took that to heart), and first-time offenses, so I made a game plan for how to avoid ever making those mistakes again. I still have the email saved in my desk as a reminder.

 

2. I emailed my boss back before the weekend was up (I'd received that email Friday just before close of business), saying something along the lines of: "Thank you for sharing this with me. I would love to sit down and discuss these topics with you in person on Monday morning - let me know what time will work for you!" (Reason being: an email can be read and analysed for days, and a meeting in person can be way more straightforward).

 

3. On Monday, he came right into my office and started off by saying he hoped the email was not misinterpreted as concern about my performance, that I was doing a great job and there was no question of that, and that he genuinely wanted me to know I could take some more time to rest. Whew. That was a relief. I had been burning the candle at both ends conducting interviews to build our staff, as well as building out our operations systems, and I was (I know this even better in hindsight) extremely tired doing all of that while pregnant.

 

4. In spite of his initial positive remarks, I responded that I wanted to be sure I understood how to avoid any concerns like this in the future, and I proposed taking a couple of online courses in my off time to help me have a better handle on some of the areas of the business I had yet to learn and wanted to be more confident in (I'm sure it won't surprise you to know that those were also the areas I had made the minor errors in). I also requested a second communications coaching with our coach on staff, with whom we all train when starting (most of our senior staff take multiple coaching sessions, and I was due for one). My boss responded glowingly to this, recommending some programs that had helped him and setting me up with a second coaching. I also heeded his advice to take a little time off by keeping it to a strict 9-5 day instead of coming in early and staying late. I'll admit having the extra half hour or so on each end made me feel a lot more focused and calm.

 

5. The second communications coaching I took was amazing - I went in vulnerable and wanting to build confidence no matter what state I was in - pregnant, not pregnant, sick, healthy, what have you. That coaching changed my life and gave me some wonderful tools for battling self doubt and anxiety. I also took the courses I had mentioned to my boss and began building my skill set slowly, taking on more responsibility in the areas I had been nervous about (and thus, asking far fewer questions to my boss and taking charge more).

 

By the end of the spring, I had hired my first direct report, and was given a glowing review by my teammates and my boss. I'll return to the office with more direct reports when my maternity leave is up and feel empowered and grateful for how things worked out.

 

Anyway, I thought I'd come back here and update because it feels good to lay it all out, and because it's another outcome. Yes, it's possible when a boss writes you that he/she has "concerns" that it's step one to removing you from your job. But your reaction TO that email can make all the difference in what happens next. I think if I had reacted defensively to my boss, or gone in dragging my heels and anxious, I would have probably had a different experience in the 6 months that followed. Taking stock of where things had gone "off" and choosing to dive in further made my relationship with my boss much stronger, my dedication to the work I do even better and my confidence in myself higher than ever.

 

Anyway, there ya go. Hope this is helpful to anyone having a tough period in a job, or is (at least) interesting to read!

Edited by leseine7
Confusing wording
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I suggest the site askamanager.com and it's almost impossible to give input when there are so many factors and it involves typed words, a history with details we might not know,etc.

 

Congrats on your baby and so glad all worked out!!

 

 

Thanks Batya! I agree, it was not an easy case to make a judgment call on, and I should have waited until the "dust settled" a little before posting all my anxieties. Thanks for the site suggestion, I actually checked that out months ago and found it quite helpful!

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