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Is a performance improvement plan the end of opportunity?

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Question: “I was placed on a performance improvement plan at work. I really think it’s a way to slowly fire me, and it’s such a morale killer to be under this kind of watch that I don’t have much enthusiasm left for the job. Does anyone ever come back from being on probation like this to do really well with their company and leave the black mark totally behind? I sure can’t think of an example.” – Violet, Insurance Researcher

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Mario R August 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

I was put on a PIP nearly 30 days ago and it has been an agonizing time. I have not been motivated to finish the work and every time I provided a result I have been yelled at and put down. I’m still not sure if I will be fired, but I feel I likely will.

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An January 22, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Hi Lynn,

I had my review today and amazingly they did find gaps in my work. I did not respond but smiled because there was no point in suggesting a rational argument to a irrational mindset. I have given up hope with the org. but not with myself. I am more determined but have no clue how. :). I find it funny … Any suggestions … The final verdict though is still pending which I guess will be negative ; it was all preset lol.

I have everything documented any suggestion will help.

Thanks again guys!!!

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Lynn January 25, 2016 at 9:15 am

An,
It sounds like we have/had similar situations. In my case, if I had the chance for a do-over, after the second fruitless PIP, I would have returned to my ‘hold item’, a former position (I work for the state, and you can have your position held until your probationary period ends). The constantly changing, never satisfactory (and unrealistic) ‘guiding’ critque was a huge blow to my self-esteem. It was a small redeeming ‘win’ to discover the 3 candidates who took the position after me (that would be a 10-month period) have all left or are strugging with the exact issue. It’s of small relief to find the fault was not me, but supervisory staff.
I can’t and won’t tell you what to do in your case, everyone is different, and we each have different goals. I will say no job is worth demeaning or undermining yourself over, and if you know you are qualified AND good at what you do, stick to that job but hunt for another. Other opportunities WILL come along, and you may find something better that you would have missed. IF there is no way to return to your old position, document, document, document. If you go to the Labor Board, you can “win” the right to collect unemployment (check the rules in YOUR state whether 1. there is a certain length of time you have to work, or 2. You have to be unemployed throughout the time before the hearing to have a hearing set), but that is always a last resort. If there is a ‘fair’, unprejudiced HR department, you can bring your documentation to them and see if you can be reinstated.
I REALLY wish you luck! It’s a tough thing when PIPs are not used in the in the manner intended. :) Hang in there!
Lynn

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Lynn January 21, 2016 at 9:26 am

An, I am glad that you were able to use the responses to challenge yourself. Best of luck in getting things turned around.
I personally did try to utilize the great ideas and perspectives, but in my case, nothing would have made a difference, a fact I never knew until after being retruned to a former position. Luckily, that turned out to be the best thing I could have asked for! :) I now work for a supervisor I have long held in high esteem, who knew the quality of my work from previously. So, I am hoping the best works out for you!

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An January 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm

I want to thank all the people who participated in this discussion. I was put in pip a month back and the first one week was humiliating. Since then I took this as a learning opportunity and did the almost impossible task to deliver 4 deliverables within a period of 30 days. I don’t know what will be the result but I have started enjoying the pressure to deliver. I will keep u guys posted as to what happened and what was the decision.

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Deborah October 5, 2015 at 9:34 am

Yes, people survive (and thrive) after a PIP. I didn’t know that before I worked in HR. I’m amazed by how many people have some sort of unfavorable documentation in the personnel file and have gone on to, not only long, but often very successful careers with that same company. Warnings and PIP’s are not the end of the road (most of the time…) I would be skeptical if the accusations are trumped up, but take a few minutes to be objective – look at the concerns from the company’s perspective; if the expectations are reasonable, and you like the kind of work you’re doing, use the moment to your advantage – It’s an opportunity to show what your made of! When you’re starting at the bottom, every improvement you make will look like a bigger gain.

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Lynn October 5, 2015 at 10:21 am

Deborah, every PIP I have ever received was utilized as you said, except for one I received when I took a traineeship. It seems certain administration (without pointing any fingers) made a point of letting me know they were aware of a pending diversity complaint against a former supervisor during a meeting regarding my progress. From that meeting on, I received several reprimands regarding my performance, some which were in direct contradiction with each other (I have every documented incident filed). These were cited in my first evaluation. As a result, I was removed from the traineeship on the grounds I failed to have a satisfactory FIRST evaluation! It severly affected my understanding of the term “traineeship” in relation to my agency, and I will not attempt it again unless it is for another agency/department. It was a clear example of how a PIP can be used to negatively impact an individual. And just for the record, my work history until that time was sterling. I’ve received many promotions based on my performance; ironically, nearly everyone who worked there during my tenure has left that department for greener pastures.

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Karen D June 18, 2015 at 4:15 pm

I’ve seen a lot of comments that seem unrealistically optimistic about the situation. And a few that were, perhaps, unduly pessimistic. The correct answer to the question is that it depends.

If the performance improvement plan is specific, with a road map of what is expected, what needs to be improved, and a timeline of what needs to be done, and has provisions for meetings and updates so the employee knows whether they are on track to meet the goals in the plan, then it is a sincere effort to help an employee whose performance is sub par.

It is embarrassing to admit one is falling short on the job. But if there is a clear path laid out and the employee knows what management expects, that employee should look at it as a sincere management effort to help them improve and turn things around.

The key is measurability, as somebody else mentioned. For a performance improvement plan to be useful, it must meet the above criteria of specific actions to be taken and measurable goals, Otherwise, it’s an empty exercise and an attempt to set up the grounds to fire an employee (not all states are at will and not all large corporations are).

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DJordan June 9, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Since I work for the fed govt every employee in my agency has a performance plan. We prepare self assessments to be used as input into our evaluations. I keep an online folder and drop docs and emails that support my accomplishments which makes it easy to prepare a self assessment at the end of the period. I would recommend employees prepare a self assessment and back it up with supporting documentation to show you are achieving your performance goals.

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Lynn June 19, 2015 at 8:29 am

I wish I had seen your recommendations a year ago! Excellent idea, and it makes things so much easier when inputting your own accomplishments on record. Thanks.

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Kimberly June 5, 2015 at 10:41 am

This happened to me. I was put on a plan last year. Instead of allowing it to be the negative thing in my life I used it as a chance to change my life. I went to a therapist to help me figure out what was going on with me and why I was constantly snapping at people. My therapist help me see that I had so much on my plate and I was doing so many things that it was no wonder I was snapping at people I had already done a days work before I ever stepped foot in my office.

My probation was over in March and I even got a raise because my boss could see all of my hard work to make positive changes in my life.

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Janet June 5, 2015 at 8:53 am

I’ve not personally been put on a PIP but i can tell you that we use it and it is a very successful tool. Of course, if your gut tells you otherwise, i would seriously trust your gut. I’ve worked in state government and private industries for many years, and I’ve seen people forced out in both. If used correctly, a PIP is helpful to both the employee and the employer. But the employer must be able to clearly identify the areas needing improvement. There can be no wishy-washy and it must be measurable. Good luck and show them you’re the best person for the job!

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Kaylie F. June 5, 2015 at 8:52 am

While the turnaround stories here are great, there sometimes is a problem with management. I was put on a correction plan for errors I did not make, but my manager did. That man threw me under the bus to cover for his mistakes. He never met with me at all (I had 5 minutes with him in one month’s time), skipped meetings, didn’t bother to turn in his work, etc. I left, but not before showing printouts of his lies and inadequacies to management. He’s still there making his current admin quite miserable. He’s gone through a string of them but upper management just ignores the situation. ALL of his admins and his subordinates can’t be incompetent. I look forward to the day when he eventually will be caught. Until then, he coasts along doing nothing and making others miserable.

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Lynn June 19, 2015 at 8:11 am

Our office had an Assistant Director who did the same….he drove people out by blaming his incompetance on others. I myself transferred to another area, but I have heard my replacement and others under his supervision also suffered the same fate (no one could WAIT to transfer/promote/leave once they fell victim to his actions); he ruined several people’s confidence and careers. He left the agency, but a year later we are STILL suffering repercussions from his actions. He was allowed to retire and collect his overblown pension, and we were left holding the bag and recovering. So sorry, and can totally relate to your situation. :)

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Madeline June 4, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Had this happen to me many a year ago. I’m now retired.
No matter what I did, management thought otherwise. Even though I was always on top of things, that’s OK. Someone will always find a way to bring others down.
Anyhow, I had the last laugh as I wasn’t let go or fired. The people that tried to do me in, was left holding everything.
Don’t let all this get you down, just hang in there and good luck.

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Madeline June 4, 2015 at 10:16 pm

This happened to not just once, but quite a few times. No how and what the department manager ever said to taunt me, I did what I have to do and no worry about anything. Even if management didn’t like how I was trying, someone always had some kind of negative comment to make. Many, many times, I would just laugh behind their backs knowing that I had the laugh on the manager and anyone else that thought it ok to torment me.

Just hang in there and good luck.

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Tesstarosa June 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm

Most employers in the US are at-will — which means as long as it’s not a discriminatory reason (race, sex, religion, etc.) they don’t actually need an excuse to fire you. Your employer didn’t fire you — they set you up with a plan to improve.

Frankly, the way you wrote your letter makes it sound like you don’t think you are doing your job poorly. Your manager(s) obviously don’t agree with that assessment or they would not have put you on a performance improvement plan.

Only you will determine if you will continue and excel at this position. Your current attitude seems to say it won’t work — you can’t even seem to admit you need to improve. If you want to continue at this company, you need to take a realistic look at what you being asked to do and, as others have said, go above and beyond where you can.

If you want to find a new job — go for it. Just make sure you are looking for the right job for you. It’s quite possible that the job you are in right now is not the type of position you want to be in. And, taking the same job in a different company is going to have the same result for you if this isn’t the type of work you want to do.

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Bhering November 25, 2015 at 1:54 am

They do need an excuse if they don’t want to pay severance. Do a google search and from news articles. If it’s vague complaints about your behavior, then it’s not because they want to make you a better employee. Companies have long gone given up training. You’re now told you need to self train. There’s a recent article how VW has double the workers of Toyota. Why do you think jobs have been outsourced to India?

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Mary June 4, 2015 at 4:55 pm

There have been many people in our organization who have been put on a performance improvement plan. Those employees who viewed it as an educational opportunity became better employees and even earned promotions. Those employees who viewed it as a slight or vendetta against them usually ended up leaving the company on their own. Also, it should be noted that leaving a company or being let go does not always mean that the employee is incompetent, sometimes it is just not a good fit for either party. Keep your head up and your attitude positive!

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Terron June 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm

It’s all about how you look at the situation. If you continue to think that you’re going to eventually be fired then your actions will follow suit and the fear of being fired is more realistic. It sounds like they’re trying to give you the opportunity to shine. I agree with what Mark said. Make sure you make the effort to go with the plan and take at least one extra step higher than what they are asking you to do/change and you should be good! You don’t necessarily have to leave the black mark behind and forgotten. Instead use it as motivation and a reminder to put forth the extra effort.
If you need examples, consider Michael Jordan who was dropped from his high school basketball team. Or Bill Gates, whose first company flopped. Or Thomas Edison, who found 1000 ways a light bulb doesn’t work before finding the right way. We all have mistakes or dark spots in our life. It’s all in how you recover from it.

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mary May 12, 2016 at 9:36 am

So you do admit that is a black mark. Well, that is not acceptable right? first put a black mark and then they make you jump over the hoop to be better. You can keep proving but the stigma stay with you and rips your dignity and morale. You are never viewed in the same way every again even in your own eyes. How does that help anyone.

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Tari June 4, 2015 at 4:24 pm

The comeback is totally up to you. I know the action is very demoralizing and possibly even humiliating, but you are/can be the Assistant you want to be. Don’t lose your own self-worth and value by actions of others. Show them your true potential and value. One way to gain some of that back is to join an admin group, such as IAAP, and start learning and sharing with other admins. This helps a lot to see ways to improve – which we all need to do – in how we look at and do our job.

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Van June 4, 2015 at 4:18 pm

I think if a employee is really dedicated to working for that particular company. That they should stick it out..
But keep your options open. I agree that if a plan was set in place to begin with you have something valuable to offer , and the company is giving you every opportunity to make things right.
Daily reminders that you are a VALUE to yourself to help you get through each day can help keep the down attitude at bay.

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Margie June 4, 2015 at 4:15 pm

It depends on the person and the circumstances. I’m the Director of Administrative Services at my company and had to put one of my receptionists on a performance improvement plan a few years ago with amazing results. Telling this person that they needed to improve, having weekly meetings with them, mentoring, sending them to classes, etc. did not improve their performance or attitude. Receiving such a formal document was evidently the wake-up call they needed and demonstrated that I was serious and that there were consequences to their actions. It created the catalyst needed to get them back on track, so much so that the person ended up exceeding my expectations and was promoted to administrative assistant within our company the next year. A year later, they landed an executive assistant position with a larger company. Your manager wants you to succeed. That’s why they’re spending the extra effort to help you by creating a performance improvement plan. My advice would be to embrace the changes they recommend and exceed their expectations. This is your opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong.

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Lynn June 19, 2015 at 8:26 am

Your actions are inspirational, to say the least. Had I been working for someone with your attitude, I would have not only done my best to excell, but been the most loyal employee any boss could ask for. I have worked with a few supervisors who have been motivational inspirations, and I have always performed so well, I have been promoted for my efforts/work. I currently have a supervisor who recognizes my value and effort, trusts me to act in his, and my unit’s, best interest, and rewards my efforts in many ways. This is a HUGE step up from my last position, where I was critiqued into a near-nervous breakdown. Micromanagement and demoralization was their name-of-the-game, and it almost put a serious dent into my career goals. Now, I am back to believing that the work I do, the knowledge I have accumulated, and the time I have devoted may once again earn me another promotion down the line. If not, I know I could work in my current position until I, or my boss, retire. I am of an age where THAT particular goal is within reach, but if I was in the right position, I could see putting that milestone off for a few more rewarding years in the work force.
It’s supervisors like you that motivate and inspire those you supervise. Thank you, and keep doing what you do…..the workforce needs more like you!

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Mark June 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

I have seen multiple people where I work be put on a performance improvement plan, do a phenomenal job at following the requirements, and turn into stars in their positions. It’s not uncommon for the annual reviews to mention what a great turnaround the person did. If a person accepts a performance improvement plan for what it is, an attempt to get the person to do a better job in the specific areas mentioned, and actually DOES what is directed, it can be a career changer for the positive. Here, the only time anyone on a performance plan was eventually demoted or let go, is when the person did not follow the directives in the plan. Take this as an opportunity to show them that you can be a top-notch performer.

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Kelly April 2, 2016 at 4:56 am

Hi Mark,

This was so helpful for me. I was just recently put on a PIP and it completely left me with a demoralizing taste in my mouth. The reason for the plan is do to my writing g skills. I have always struggled in this area since I was in high school. What’s interesting is that I knew I needed to improve in that area at my curgent job, and just didn’t make any changes to how I focused; I just did the same ol routine. I am pretty much on both ends of the stick; they want me and don’t want me. However, I’m taking it for what it is and have already made myself and action plan to prevale and concur. I work for the courts and having concise quality work in a timely manner is number 1. It was crazy how it happens, I mean I just had my 5 month review, that put me at 66% which is good, and just tanked after that. I just…ugh. nonetheless, they didn’t have to give me this chance and I am going to work hard to show them what I’m made of. They let me know that everything else was great, but my writing so thats giving my hope. I’m feeling like taking work home for a while will give me the upper hand to go over my work effectively to give them what they need. The funny thing is I have been in this situation before and did prevale to stay at the company another 2 years. That alone gives me the most motivation. The only thing that concerns me is I will be so focused on not making a mistake that I make a mistake…and this is just a “paper trail” to let me go. I don’t know. I’m just going to go with my gut, as they said, and take it for what it; a chance to show them I can hack it. Hopefully I will have good news in the next 30 days.

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