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When you receive a warning at work

When You've Gotten a Bad Performance Review

When You’ve Gotten a Bad Performance Review

It’s halfway or maybe even further through your orientation, and you haven’t received a lot of feedback either way. You think things are going OK, but your manager has called you in for a talk.

You’re nervous and have a bad feeling about this. Maybe it’s the way she asked. She seemed a bit uncomfortable. You enter and sit down, but she asks you to get up and close the door, please.

Sure enough, she starts with “How’s it going?” but soon assumes a “now-let’s-be-serious” expression and segues into “I have some concerns.”  The concerns are time management and prioritization. What should you do?


Accept Responsibility

When you are given a verbal or written warning or counseling, you are also being given a chance to turns things around and save your job.

It  never helps to be defensive when you are being counseled, even when you feel they are wrong or misinformed.

Chances are that your manager hasn’t directly observed your performance, but she has received feedback from your coworkers and preceptor. If she says “It has been brought to my attention” or  “Several people say…”,  do not ask who “they” are.

She most likely is not going to divulge names, and asking “who” complained may be seen as a way of deflecting or discounting the feedback she’s giving.

The best thing is to listen carefully, strive for understanding, and take it to heart.

When You are Blindsided

The feedback may come as a surprise to you, in which case you can say that you were not aware of these performance problems, but that you appreciate being given the opportunity to (now) improve.

Even if time has passed since a meeting with your manager in which you were taken by surprise, you can remedy an initially unfavorable reaction by circling back and giving this message:

“I’ve had some time to think about what you said, and I see your point.”

Ask for Clarification

Make sure you understand exactly aspect(s) of your performance you are being asked to improve.

Without being defensive or argumentative, ask for clarification.

“I understand that my time management is a problem. How would my performance  look different if my time management were improved?”

You can also ask for help.

“What do you think would most help me to improve my prioritization skills?”


Your nurse manager should provide you with an action plan. If not, ask for one! If not a written action plan in so many words, then be sure  you are provided with measurable goals. The best goals are SMART Goals.

  •  Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Your performance goal(s) should include all of the above in order for you to succeed and for you and your manager both to know if you’ve met them.

Close the Loop

Ask when you will meet again with her to review your performance. Ask if you can come to her with questions or guidance before that time if needed.

“I’d appreciate frequent feedback from you to see how I’m doing and where I can improve.” 

This makes the manager a partner and a coach and holds them accountable.

Make a point to stay in close touch informally with short office drop-bys, a smile, a wave.  The more closely you stay in contact with your manager, the better.

Preceptor Feedback

Ask your preceptor for at least daily feedback to evaluate your progress.

Informally, at the end of each shift,  ask for specific feedback.

“Now I was working on my time management today, can you give me feedback on how I did?” or “Can you tell me what went well today and what I could have done differently?”

This gives you timely feedback, and is also laying the groundwork for your next manager meeting. If your preceptor simply says you did “fine” four shifts in a row, it would be difficult for the manager to refute that, as you have officially received positive performance feedback.

Transfer to Another Unit

Sometimes nurses with perceived performance problems are transferred elsewhere as a means of transferring a perceived problem off of their unit.

But sometimes a transfer to a new unit or a different shift can be a good thing. It can provide a fresh start with a new group of coworkers.

Toxic Environment

You may come to realize that the problem isn’t you, but the work environment.  Maybe there’s a lack of support, or bullying, or some other form of a toxic environment.

Some work environments are selectively toxic, meaning toxic to new grads in particular.

Toxic environments do not magically right themselves and become supportive wonderful work environments.

Once you realize you are in a toxic environment, then the only thing to do is to strategically plan your exit.

Related Posts

10 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid     10 Tips to Succeed in the ICU     Student to Staff Transition

Nursing’s Dirty Little Secret  or maybe you want to see an informative, fun How to Recognize Atrial Fib  inforgraphic (it’s pretty cool)


Important Final Note

Remember, a warning is NOT the end of the world, and you are not alone. Many nurses receive them at some point in their career. I have.

To be more exact, I was Suspended.  When you are disciplined, you have to respond and then recover…and then move forward.

I recommend StaffGarden to get you started with your e-portfolio (online resume). They help nurses find jobs for free. Register with them and they will get you in on exclusive hiring events.  I know them personally and they rock enough for me to partner with them as an affiliate. Meaning I only sponsor products and services that I believe help nurses, and they’re on my Recommend List 🙂


Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth

Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question :) Or visit me at and StaffGarden where I also blog. Buzzzzzz…I’m a busy little bee !

About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

8 Comments on When you receive a warning at work

  1. If I received negative feedback and the source was an OR tech, I always made the point to my supervisor that it was only appropriate for an RN to judge the performance of another RN. I was reported once because when anesthesia asked for a hemostat, I handed over 2 of them. I explained to my supervisor that I liked to deal in even numbers with smaller instruments for safety reasons. The supervisor backed down and I never had any more critiques by a technician.

    • Love it. I also agree, only an RN can evaluate another RN’s performance.
      Whenever you can explain your rationale like you did, folks seem to accept it and settle down.

  2. Beth my very first write up in my life and this will show my age when I tell it goes like this. I was on orientation in CCU at a rather large hospital. This particular day I was sitting near the patient’s bedside with the tray table doing my charting. In walks a Cardiologist and asks, “How’s he doing”? So I gave an update on the patient, the Dr. seemed to be satisfied and left. A few days later I was called into the NM’s office and she presented me with a write up that says I didn’t stand up when the Cardiologist came into my room. Go figure.

  3. Love this post Beth! Such great suggestions. I will be sharing widely with new nurses with disabilities via

  4. Lorelei rodgers // June 19, 2015 at 4:26 pm // Reply

    Great article that shows the positive side of being chided by a supervisor. Love that you found a way to view it in a different, improvement centered way!

  5. Do you have any posts about how to leave a toxic environment. Will be a new grad and worry about the new nurse bullying.

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