Recommendations for Dealing with a PIP

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Reader Question:

I was previously on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and just yesterday was given 90 days to improve or be fired. Honestly, I love my work however my boss has a low perception of me and I don't feel the situation is mendable. Still getting over it...

I have a master's and BS in engineering so I am 70% sure that I can find a new job, but I had a question about severance. Do you think I should hold out for ​the severance pay and is there going to be any?

Or, should I quit now because I'm totally over it and a little concerned how future employers will see it?

Human Resources’ Response:

What do you stand to gain by quitting now? You won't be eligible for unemployment. You won't have a paycheck while you look for a new job. And, having a resignation without a new job lined up won't make job hunting any easier.

Any recruiter or hiring manager who isn't as dumb as a rock (admittedly, some are dumb as rocks), will say, "Why did you leave your job without a new one lined up?" And, since they will call your former employer for a reference, they'll find out the truth. So you better tell them the truth anyway.

In other words, quitting only solves your own emotional problems about having to deal with a boss who has a low perception of you. Granted, a boss who doesn't think you're capable of performing can make performing difficult, but difficult is not the same thing as impossible.

Here's my recommendation: Stay in the job, actively look for a new one, and actively try to meet the conditions of the PIP. Because your company has a formal PIP program, it's highly unlikely that your boss will be able to make the decision to terminate you all on her own.

How to Deal with a PIP

Here's how you tackle a PIP:

See the PIP as a blessing. It's not often that a boss will spell out exactly what she expects of you. A PIP takes all the guess work out of it. Your boss has written down all of her expectations.

If you meet those, it's highly unlikely that they'll fire you. You may not want to work there anymore, regardless, but at least you'll have a job while you're looking.

Create a spreadsheet with everything you need to do. Take your document and open up Excel. In one column list every single expectation from the PIP. Across the top, list each week of the PIP period. Each week, write down what you did towards that goal, along with the date and time you did it.

With few exceptions, you should have something in every square every week. For instance, if one of your PIP goals is to sell $10,000 worth of product every month, write down each week how much you did sell

If one of your PIP goals is to communicate better with your coworkers, write down each face to face meeting you had. Record any problems solved via email. Or, if you followed up three times with Jane in accounting and she didn't get back to you, write it down. 

The goal here is to document everything. Communication problems are often part of PIPs, but the boss doesn't see all of the communication you do when she's not standing there watching your every move.

By writing this all down, she can't deny that you're communicating.

Believe your boss. So many people get defensive and don't believe the boss. "I don't have a problem with my attitude! She's the one with a problem!" It doesn't matter if your boss is off her rocker, she's still the boss. So, if she says you have a problem with something, you better act as if you do.

While it's true that being on time or having face time isn't necessary for a lot of exempt level jobs, if it's important to your boss, you better make sure it's important to you. Leave your house 30 minutes earlier if attendance is one of your problems.

Walk across the office to talk to someone instead of sending an email if face time is important to your boss. If your attitude is labeled as a problem, ask for specific examples and then fix those things.

Work isn't the place to express your individuality. It's the place where you do what your boss says so that you get paid.

Meet regularly with your boss and your spreadsheet. Bosses should want to meet with you regularly when you're on a PIP, but sometimes they forget. Make sure you schedule regular meetings if she isn't. This is absolutely critical to your success.

You don't want to spend 90 days working on your communication skills by talking face to face with people only to find out that your boss really meant she wants you to work on your delivery tone when you talk with others. Yes, she should have been explicit in the PIP, but sometimes bosses aren't great at communicating either.

Keep HR in the loop. It's a rare company that has a PIP program that doesn't involve the HR person. Make sure you keep her in the loop as well.

Work hard. Don't give up. I know it's hard, but please don't give up. It will just damage your reputation further. 

What about Severance Pay?

Severance isn't required in a situation like this. Some companies will offer it to you, but many won't. After all, it's your performance that is the problem. So, don't hold out for severance, but do hold out for the paycheck.

Remember you can keep looking for a new job even when you're on a PIP and you're not obligated to stay once you find a new job, but quitting without a new job lined up will not make your life easier. 

Note: Talk with your boss so that you know how long your company expects a PIP to last. Current legal advice to employers is that they not state the length of time an employee has to work on a PIP. 

This allows an employer to take action to fire an employee in as few as two weeks if the employer is not seeing significant progress. In your case, you need to exhibit early and significant progress.