Sure, you have a great relationship with everyone at work. You trust your boss. You love your coworkers. Never had a problem with Susan from HR. Everything is just hunky-dory.
Nobody expects an employment relationship to sour. But it happens, even to the best employees. That’s why you should put everything important in writing, and where possible, ask to get everything promised to you or expected of you in writing.
If you get called into a meeting with your managers to discuss ways to improve your performance, you should — immediately after the meeting — write a summary of the topics and action items discussed. Ask in the e-mail that the persons to whom you’re addressing the e-mail confirm that your understanding is consistent with their understanding. Send it to everyone that attended the meeting and blind copy (“BCC:”) your personal email address.
That e-mail could come in handy later when your boss is annoyed at you because you took a few days off for intermittent FMLA leave and now he suddenly expects you to have completed something that wasn’t addressed during your meeting or as part of your written performance improvement plan.
Refer to the e-mail when such an occasion arises. Keep a copy in your company and personal e-mail account should you ever have to (gasp) hire an attorney to try to resolve a dispute with your employer.
If you feel they’re short-changing you or that someone is targeting you for discrimination, bring your complaint to the attention of appropriate persons in writing. Be careful to go through the channels proscribed by your employer for complaining of discrimination or other employment-related matters.
But importantly, don’t provoke someone in an e-mail or letter. Don’t use hostile language and don’t personally attack. Simply state the facts as you understand them and ask for – or even better — propose a resolution to the problem. Sometimes others have a very different perception than you do of what happened, so it isn’t constructive to begin a dialogue with accusations.
On the flip side, send e-mails to praise or thank others when you believe that they have gone above and beyond in their duties as a manager or co-worker. This will demonstrate that you aren’t just a difficult employee that only likes to complain.
Your having documented your story along the way will reduce the need for a very untenable reliance on the “he said, she said” method of determining what really happened. Additionally, if your supervisors and coworkers realize that you take good notes and put things in writing, they’re more likely to rise to the occasion and communicate more effectively with you. Be savvy at work. Trust, but verify.