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Personnel Files Must Tell the Complete Story: 5 ways to ensure your employee files tell the complete story Printer friendly format
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 Imagine sitting down to finish the last few chapters of the gripping novel you’ve been looking forward to reading all day. You know the protagonist is on the brink of a major transformation and you turn the page with anticipation. But the page isn’t there. To your dismay, several pages are missing in your book. Of course, you could skip over the missing pages and go straight to the final chapter to try if to piece together the end of the story, but you’d miss important details of the main character’s realization and growth.

 
Incomplete documentation in personnel files is a lot like missing pages in a novel. Another manager may be able to piece the story together, but critical information would be missing. Piecing together information is dangerous because it could lead to assumptions, inaccuracies and worse, potential litigation due to errors. 
 
Personnel files must tell the complete story. These five steps can help to ensure your files do just that.
 
1.     Date stamp all documentation.
 
In order to tell the full story, all documentation of conversations with employees must include the date of the conversation, your name and title and the employee’s name and title. This information helps put the conversation in context and on a timeline, which is helpful if the employee experiences the same or similar problems throughout their employment.
 
2.     Write down exactly what was said.
Documentation needs to be verbatim. Writing down “Jim dismissed my feedback” does not tell the full story. In fact, a comment like this really doesn’t tell the reader anything at all. Write down exactly what Jim said and exactly what you said. Verbatim documentation helps you tell the full story.
 
3.     When you hang up the phone, document the conversation.
 
We’re usually in the habit of immediately and thoroughly documenting face-to-face conversations with employees. But, we must be just as diligent about documentation when it comes to telephone conversations.
 
A human resources manager explains how she made a documentation error that later cost her. She had multiple conversations with a former employee who had been terminated and was meticulous about documenting the conversations leading up to the termination. But she recalled failing to document an important telephone conversation:
 
“The former employee called me in the middle of a very busy day. We discussed the employee’s allegations of wrongful termination and his intent to sue our company, among other things. During the conversation I explained the company’s position and I reiterated a previous conversation where the employee was told explicitly not to take unapproved leave. The problem was, I hung up the phone, went on to my next couple of meetings and completely failed to document the conversation. When the former employee’s attorney called months later, I could not prove our telephone conversation. It came down to ‘he said, she said’ because I failed to document a conversation. Further, the file was incomplete and did not tell the full story because one critical conversation was missing.”
 
When you hang up the phone, document the conversation immediately, just as you would face-to-face conversations.
 
4.     Include exhibits in documentation.
 
You won’t always have physical evidence for employee files, but when you do, include it in your documentation as an exhibit. Exhibits might include copies of time cards as proof of chronic tardiness, a copy of an inappropriate social media post, copies of emails to customers as proof of unacceptable problem handling, etc. Exhibits, when indisputable, help you tell the full story.
 
 
5.     Document the action plan.
 
Your documentation needs to always include the action plan you gave the employee. This action plan might be one step; it might be twelve steps. State the exact action plan, as told to your employee, in your notes. Documenting the action plan helps you tell the full story of the conversation, right up to your bottom line expectations for action and/or improvement.