shocking criticism in an annual review, job-fair-style interviews, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Criticism in my annual review came out of the blue — and it didn’t come from my boss

Every year, my manager gives me a review, mostly glowing, with a few minor points to work on. Nothing big, but issues I know about and focus on the next year. My job requires extensive customer service skills, and in the 16 years I’ve been working (five at my current job), I’ve always been marked the highest in relating to the customers.

This year, my manager gave me my review, but prefaced it by saying that her bosses took a look at it first and made her rewrite it several times, even inserting a few lines that I might find surprising. Boy was she right. The higher-ups claimed that I had a significant communication issue with customers. I’m not quite sure how they came to this conclusion, since they have never even taken the time to observe me (I work in a different building). I now have to read two books on customer service and write a report on each one. I also have to ask others to observe my interactions with customers and observe them.

I was shocked. This “issue” came totally out of the blue. I’ve always heard that nothing on a review should be a surprise, that it should be identified well in advance. My customer service skills have always been something I’ve prided myself on, and now I feel demoralized and slightly insulted, to be honest. I was so startled by the news that I didn’t even make comments on the form, just signed it and walked away stunned. Other managers I’ve talked to were just as surprised as I was. Is there anything I can do to salvage my reputation, or should I just keep my head down?

Go back to your manager and say that you take the feedback seriously and that you want to do your best to address it, but that it’s difficult to do that without knowing specifics of the concerns. Ask if she can walk you through what this feedback was based on — and if she says that she can’t because she doesn’t share their assessment, ask her if she can help you find out. The tone you want here isn’t “this is ridiculous and I want them to prove what they’re saying with evidence,” but rather “if they say it’s a problem, I believe it, but I can’t fix it without understanding more about what they mean.”

You should also ask your manager how you can find out about concerns more quickly in the future so that you’re able to address problems right away, rather than only learning about them during a formal review.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My company is excluding everyone beneath a certain level from conference-related social events

I work at a medium-sized media company that once a year holds a four-day-long company-wide conference, which everyone attends. Out-of-town employees are also there. There are usually a series of social events and dinners–one for everyone, and the others just for the out-of-town employees and the executives. This year, my boss said casually, “You won’t mind if you’re not attending many social events this year will you?” She explained that they are under cost-cutting pressure to keep the invitation list to a minimum. Not knowing the details and feeling a bit awkward, I didn’t give much of a response.

It turns out most people under a certain level of seniority are not invited to anything this year. (I should say that I have a job with a lot of responsibility and am just a shade less senior than those who received invitations. I also have a large role to play at the conferences themselves, unlike many of my colleagues.) I feel demoralized by being excluded (as others must too). It’s not that the events are particularly helpful in a business or networking context since it’s colleagues only and more fun socializing than anything, but it feels discouraging not to have made the cut. How can I raise this with my boss without sounding like a whiner?

I’d be more concerned about this if you’d been singled out, or if there was no logic to who was and wasn’t invited. But it’s not all that unusual to restrict some events to people over or above a certain level in the company. In this case, I suspect it’s hitting you harder because it’s a change; you used to be invited and now you’re not, so it feels like a slight — but it sounds like it’s truly about keeping numbers down and nothing else.

You could certainly let your manager know that you appreciated attending the events in the past and that you hope they’ll be opened back up again next year. That’s useful feedback for your company to hear. But I’d try hard not to take it personally or be too bothered about it after that.

3. Job-fair-style interviews

What are your thoughts on internal “job fair” type interviews, aka an assembly line type interviews? I am a supervisor at a call center (in a suburban-bordering-on-rural area) and we’ve struggled with having not enough applicants. I thought posting an open interview like this, where anyone interested can show up during a certain time might suit us. I myself got a different pretty good call center job this way. If you have experience in this area, can you share your tips on making them effective? I’m not wanting to waste an applicant’s time on a bunch of personality quizzes or other pre-screening activities; just want to have a larger pool to select from.

If you’re having trouble getting applicants, I’m not sure this approach will change that — it might be worth addressing other factors first, like whether you can make the job posting more appealing (even just writing in clear, descriptive language and talking like a real person about the job’s pros and cons would be a huge step up over most job postings) and whether there’s something about the hours, pay, or other working conditions that might be a barrier. You also might think creatively about whether there are other places you could recruit applicants, beyond your current recruitment strategy, and you might ask current employees to brainstorm on this with you.

But if you do go the open call route, I strongly encourage you to do individual interviews with people who show up, rather than interviewing them in groups. Lots of good candidates hate group interviews, and they generally won’t give you the opportunity to probe too deeply into any single person.

4. Mentioning a side writing gig when applying for unrelated jobs

Due to upheavals and downsizing at my employer, I expect to enter the job market in the next 6-12 months. In my current position as a district manager, I among other things handle team management, training and supervision, opening of new locations, and act as a liaison with our clients. I’ve been with the company nearly six years, enjoy what I do, and will be sad to leave when the time comes.

Over the past three years, I have also become successfully active in the blogosphere, where my book review and author interview blog has led me to opportunities to publish my articles at award-winning fiction magazines, do behind the scenes work with well known editors, and accept invitations to be on panels at conventions. What started as a hobby has gone further than I ever planned or expected.

None of my blogosphere writing is at all related to my professional career, and I have been mostly keeping my professional life and my “alter ego” separate. However I am very proud of my recent writing accomplishments and would like to mention them on my resume. Is it appropriate to put on-the-side, volunteer writing on my resume when I am applying for and interviewing for management positions that have nothing to do with writing or publishing? What is the best way to do that, and/or to bring it up in a job interview?

Sure. I’d put it under an Other Experience or Community Involvement section, and if you’re applying for jobs that particularly want good writing skills, I’d highlight it in your cover letter as well. That said, be aware that you might face questions from some interviewers who will worry about whether this is a passion that will take priority over the work you’d be doing for them, whether your ultimate goal is to move into doing that work full-time. Most, though, will just find it interesting and evidence of good writing skills.

5. Answer re-do: An employee on my new team is undermining me with snark

I answered this question on Monday, but got a key detail wrong; I assumed the letter-writer was the snarky coworker’s manager, but it turns out that they’re peers, so I’m revising my advice:

I recently started a new job and learned through my manager that a person on the team had interviewed for the role I was offered. This is a new position that was formed as part of a restructure and from what I understand, the person who applied felt they were a shoo-in for the position since they have been working for the company for several years. I am completely new to the organization and the business.

Anytime someone from the team asks me a question, this person is quick to respond, “Why would she know? She’s new to the business.” I try to ignore it, but lately it has been making me feel insecure and has me wondering what I can do to protect my credibility. I tried involving this person in my business processes to diffuse hard feelings; however, they continue to comment on my limited knowledge of the business. I realize this person has more knowledge of the business but for whatever reason (I suspect poor people skills) they were not offered the job. I’m trying my best to learn, but there is no way I can get up to speed and know as much as they do, considering they have had longer exposure to business within the unit. It’s difficult enough to adjust to a new job. How do I deal with this?

Well, first, realize that your colleagues are likely to look down on your coworker for being rude and unprofessional, not on you for being on the receiving end of her remarks. They’re also probably aware that there’s a reason that you got the job rather than her (although they weren’t previously, her behavior now is certainly confirming for anyone reasonable that it was the right call). Beyond that, when she makes those comments, respond calmly with something like, “My thought on this is __.”

Depending on the dynamics, you might also consider (a) tipping off your boss off about the situation, and (b) addressing it with your coworker head-on. If you do the latter, you might try something like: “You’ve made several remarks questioning how I’d know the answer to questions people have brought me. While it’s certainly true that I’m new to the organization, I’m not new to the work itself. Do you have concerns that I can address for you?” And you might follow that up with, “I’d like to have a good working relationship with you, and I’d be appreciative if you’d let me field the queries that come my way without discouraging people from asking things of me.”

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    For #2, I can’t tell if the OP is an out-of-towner…it sounds like they aren’t, which would mean they were previously invited to one dinner and now they are not? If so, that sounds pennywise, pound foolish on the part of the company.

    1. MK*

      I agree that the managers is being stupid over this. To begin with, a change like this (for the worst) is going to feel like a slight to a lot of people. Secondly, not inviting people “under a certain level” is not the best idea, since lower-level employees are the ones who need to feel valued; higher-ups have high salaries and nice offices to compensate them. If limiting the invitation list was the only way, it would make more sense to invite those who were out of town (since they would be the ones at a loose end after the conference) and the people who had most to do with the event. But I think it’s idiotic to cut the cost of a team-building event by excluding members of the team. The thing to do would be to lower the cost in other ways, like finding a cheaper venue, substituting dinner for something more casual (drinks or coffee), etc. Honestly, even scrapping the social events alltogether might have been better than snubbing their lower-level employees.

      1. MT*

        I doubt scrapping the event would save much money. All of the people who traveled in are on the companies dime anyways. The event probably replaces a meal the company would have had to pay for anyways. You would never plan an event where lower level employees were invited but not the upper level ones. Selecting a few lower level employees who the most to do with the event would get tricky. Where would you draw the line. The best way of reducing the head count is just selecting a level and stopping there.

      2. Sarahnova*

        It’s clumsy, and not particularly well thought through as a cost-cutting measure, I agree. That said, it’s the decision that’s been made, any protest that the OP makes about it will have a difficult time not coming off self-interested, and I think Alison is right to point out that the OP is taking it significantly more personally than is necessary or, probably, helpful to her.

      3. OhNo*

        Yeah, it sounds like they’re not really understanding the impact on lower-level employees. I could definitely see a lot of lower-level people getting upset about this – especially if the events were meals that employees will now have to pay for out-of-pocket.

        If the company was really trying to save money, why not cut one of the events altogether? Or have one for everyone and one for just senior-level? That way it wouldn’t seem quite so much like the lower-level people are being snubbed.

        1. Cucumber*

          Your idea is a great compromise – one for everyone, one special senior-level. Also, it could be a cocktail hour vs. a sitdown meal.

      4. illini02*

        I can’t think of a nicer way to put this, but do people not understand that the higher you are in a company, the more perks you get? Its been like that every place I have worked since I was 15. The more senior you are, the more responsibility you have, but you also get more perks. Including, but not limited to: salary, time off, flexibility, etc. I mean, events aren’t even that rare. Most places the lower level people aren’t invited to the company golf outing. Its just a fact of life in business. Is it fair? Thats debatable. however, I think something like this isn’t really all that rare to be so personally offended. Maybe OP is mad because she feels the amount of work she put in to the conference makes her deserving of the extra stuff, but as someone else said, its very hard to draw that line.

        1. Betsy Bobbins*

          I think everyone is well aware that there are significantly more perks with elevated roles in a company. What people are responding to is the fact that this was a perk for everyone and now it’s gone, which stings especially to those that worked on the event itself.

          1. MT*

            The employee was paid for the work they did on the event. Why should one employee get a perk when a second employee at the same level was busy doing their job doesn’t get the perk?

        2. Empress Zhark*

          I think it’s also about feeling as if a perk is being taken away from the OP. They’ve been invited to the event before, and now they’re not invited. That’s not just the senior managers getting a perk, but a perk is being taken away from the OP.

          It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I think the OPs company would have been better to keep the dinner open to all – it’s not going to save them a great deal monetarily, but will cost them dearly in staff morale.

        3. Biff*

          I think it does depend a lot on your business. In a business with a ton of hierarchy, I can see what you are saying, but in flatter companies, it feels a lot different.

          1. ST*

            Thanks so much for your answer, Alison, and for the various comments people took time to post. In the grand scheme of things, I can see that this is not at all a big issue and I appreicate the reminders that taking things personally is usually the wrong approach. Upon further refelction I think it’s indicative of a general hierarchy-bound culture at my workplace, which saps morale. It’s amazing to me that making a gesture of inclusiveness–i.e. having a less costly social event but one that allowed everyone to participate–is overlooked by management while the effects of excluding more junior people can be so keenly (and negatively) felt. While it may not be easy to make employees feel valued all the time, I wish my office (and others I’ve worked in) would take greater care to avoid making people feel underappreciated. It’s not so hard to come up with ways to include everyone. Have people worked in places that have done that and have tried to foster goodwill without always falling back on hierachy? Does this happen? (Maybe I have too many delusions!)

            1. annie*

              OP, I feel you on this, as I’ve experienced a similar situation being a lower level but also being someone involved with planning/running an event. It was super awkward when the out of town guests would say “Annie, see you at the ice cream social tonight!” and I’ve had to be like, “oh, I’m not invited” or make up some other excuse. It just makes the company look weird.

              1. LD*

                Yes. Been there and had the same conversation on multiple occasions when I worked in a corporate communications role. Did a lot of the work, set up at the venue, communicated with all the invited staff, and then was expected to leave before the event….fun times.

  2. OP #3*

    Thanks so much for answering my question Allison! I think asking my current front-line team to brainstorm recruiting ideas is an excellent plan that hadn’t really occurred to me. I’ll plan some one-on-ones to gather feedback on that.

    Our current ads don’t mention pay. We start at about $15/ hr for non-skilled customer service positions, which is pretty competitive in our area. Does anyone have thoughts on posting that info in the job ad? As a small company we take it very case by case when it comes to salary so I wouldn’t want to turn off any highly skilled people who might be eligible for a higher rate. (Also whenever I see “Make $XXX an hour!!” or something the ads look very scammy and I don’t want to come off that way.)

    1. Chuchundra*

      I think anyone considering applying for a job like that is going to be more concerned about the pay than anything else. I think posting the base hourly rate would almost certainly help you.

      1. M. in Austin!*

        Yup. I took a job like this in college. The ad said it paid $10 and I’d never made more than $8 an hour! I only stayed 9 months though. Call centers (at least at the company I worked for) have a lot of turnover.

    2. Eric*

      Do you offer referral incentives for current employees? e.g. Any employee who refers a new employee gets $xxx (assuming the new employee stays for 6 months).
      Also, while “Make $XXX an hour!” can look weird, something like “Pay starts at $15/hour” or “Pay ranges between $15-$20/hour” does not.

    3. Fucshia*

      Definitely put the pay. Put a range if you want to keep it open or list several ranges if you have different levels. You say you take it case by case, but surely you have an upper limit. Or would you be willing and able to pay a very experienced person $50/hour?

      Do not use the word “competitive” in the ad. Give actual numbers. For jobs, competitive is code for “at the lower range of what everyone else pays”. When you are buying something, it means the opposite. :)

      Also add any benefits available and be truthful about scheduling and hours.

      Call centers can be known for being horrid, micromanaged places. If yours is not, advertise those traits. For example, the worst offenders monitor every second that the employee is not on the phone (even a potty break can get upper levels in a tiff about what you were doing). If you treat employees as adults that you trust to take care of their workload, work that into the ad.

      1. M. in Austin!*

        If you don’t micromanage or track every second of someone’s day, that is a huge plus!

      2. OhNo*

        I’m kind of curious how you would work in the “treats employees as adults that you trust to take care of their workload” into the job ad. Any suggested phrasing for that one?

        I ask only because the only way I can think of to do so is to make a comparison to other companies, which would seem weird to me in a job ad.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          I don’t know if you could work it into the ad, but it should definitely be on the company’s website if they have a careers/employment page.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “We try to be the opposite of what many people think of when they think of call center work. We hire professional adults and trust them to manage their own time and workload.”

      3. Biff*

        When I worked in a Call Center I would have loved to have had a REASONABLE quota to make that I could have achieved in a stretched out day — so, walk in the door around 8, take a thirty minute break for breakfast around 10. (Oh, btw, my call center job did not allow us to have coffee or tea or juice at our desks. It was MISERABLE.) And then work until lunch, and then work until the work is done. So long as there are people on the phones the whole time the call center should be open, I think giving people whatever control over their schedule that you can, and letting them have friggin’ tea at their desk could do a lot to improve QOL.

    4. Harriet*

      You should definitely put that in the ad. IME, people applying for call centre jobs want them to 1) pay well and 2) not be utterly soul-destroying. If you can provide at least a little evidence that number 2 doesn’t apply, you’ll be ahead of most of the other jobs of that sort.

    5. Empress Zhark*

      Another vote for putting hard numbers for a pay range. No numbers to me means you’re likely at the bottom end of the market rate (or lower) and you don’t want to advertise it. I don’t care if you say “competitive” or “market rate” or “negotiable dependant on experience” or “to be discussed at interview”. No numbers means, in my head, you’ve something to hide.

      I’d also put the expected weekly working hours if it’s part time, or making clear that it’s a full time position (or highlighting that you’re flexible and open to either part time or full time applications). Most people looking for jobs need to know if the wage will be enough for them to live on, and just putting an hourly wage without nay indication of how many hours they’ll be working gives no indication of how much they’d be earning in a week. If you’re only offering 10 hour per week, candidates need to know that upfront.

      What is your application process? Do you require candidates to fill out lengthy, often buggy online application forms using Taleo or similar? That could be another turn off – many people aren’t willing to fill out such lengthy forms, particularly if they’re viewing the job as a crappy CS call centre job which doesn’t even have the pay details on the job ad.

      Try and differentiate your call centre from others – they have a reputation for being soulless, Orwellian places where every movement is monitored and scrutinised. If your place of work isn’t like that, then say so. Does your company provide extra training & development, so employees don’t feel chained to the same desk & headset for years on end with no other opportunities? Do you allow candidates at least some autonomy over their work, some leeway in what they say to customers (i.e. allowed to have a personality rather than reeling off a script)? Do you have flexible shifts, opportunities for overtime?

      But also highlight the drawbacks of the role – it’s often been said on here that one thing job candidates want to know is the downsides to a particular job. If you have high targets to meet, then say so on the job ad. Don’t try and cover up the not-so-great aspects of the job, because you’ll end up with employees who are demotivated and feel lied to. Give people all the information and allow them to make their own mind up as to whether they want to work for you, rather than trying to “sell” them the opportunity.

      Consider listing the type of experience that would be a good fit. Many people find it difficult to think how their current skill set would be applicable to a job in a different field, so make it easier for them. Suggest on the job ad that if a candidate has experience in retail or face-to-face customer service roles they may be a good fit for this position.

      Ultimately – remember what the end-game of recruiting is – to find the best candidates for the roles you’re trying to fill, not just have 200 resumes on file. Having 10 motivated, eager candidates who understand what the work involves and are happy to do the job is surely preferable to having 150 applicants turn up at an open casting with no clear idea of what the job is, or if it’s the right fit for them.

    6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      We have not-a-call-center, and we are able to pay more, but we also share some of your issues in hiring our customer facing folks.

      I suggest avoiding the group appt interview if you can. Never done it and if you decide to experiment it may work out great for you but I don’t think it will attract your best applicants.

      DEFINITELY go out of your way to mention the benefits you offer that make you unlike the generally poor reputation that call centers have as places to work. I agree about posting the $hour range as other posters have said. That could be a good deal for an entry level person and will attract them.

      We go back and forth with posting salary. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. We fiddle a lot with our ads in order to get max applicants. For a frame of reference, we’re paying $35k+, no experience, and it is tough to keep our pipeline full enough for us to hire the quality level of applicants we need. We have good benefits, a lot of free food and an in house gym, ffs.

      The bad reputation of many call centers produces challenges in getting good people to apply for customer facing positions where they think the work even might be a call center.

      p.s. if you are inbound only, be sure that is clear.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I forgot to give you my best advice!

        Temp. Agencies.

        If you have not gone this route yet, please do not let the cost deter you. When you factor in all of the other costs of recruitment, and especially with the costs of a job going unfilled, temp agencies can be cost-effective.

        If you need 2, get 3 or 4 people in to start. Make sure you discuss, at length, your needs with the agency you choose. Interview possibilities first.

        Bring them in, start them as you would new employees and then see what happens next. It won’t take you too long to see who is actually good with your customers vs who seemed like they might be good. It won’t take the employees long to figure out if they like working with you or if they hate it.

        We have a deal with our agencies that if the employees do 3 months with us as temp, we can then hire them fee free at the end.

        Our hiring is 50/50, temp agencies vs other means . Temporary agencies allow you to bring on board people who you might have missed in applications because their resume isn’t as good as their actual performance.

        If you do this, ***take care*** of your temporary employees. I cannot emphasize this enough. We have a good success rate because we treat them very very well from the moment they walk in the door.

        (posting a 2nd time because it didn’t seem to take the first time. if this is a double post, sorry about that)

        1. MaggietheCat*

          +1 to *take care of temp employees* I was temp to perm my first job out of college and felt like at every turn my office found a way to be horrible to temporary hires! We were invited to the Christmas party but not paid for our time, (like other perm hourly staff /unbeknownst to us until we got back to the office), and then not given gifts (as ALL other perm staff). I would rather not have gone!

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            First of all, it’s the right thing to do.

            Second of all, if you are hoping to get perm employees, you need to treat temporary employees as potential recruits or they will decide they don’t want to work for you long before you decide you want to make an offer.

    7. The Maple Teacup*

      For the love of all that is good and holy state what the pay range is!

      As a job seeker, I will avoid applying at companies (if I can help it) that don’t list that information. I spend X amount of time writing a tailored cover letter/ résumé and then, hopefully, going to an interview. I like knowing ahead of time if the effort is worth it. Plus if you pay a bit more than competitors, that can lure good candidates to your side early on.

      1. Sabrina*

        I said the same thing, didn’t see your post before I posted mine. In my town the going rate for call center customer service is under $10/hour.

        1. Sabrina*

          Nevermind I haven’t had caffeine yet this morning and my reading comprehension skills are apparently nil.

        2. Lisa*

          Exactly, people assume call center = not worth the aggravation, because often the pay is low so they won’t bother applying. But I would consider a $15/hr call center job, because it shows they are caring about people enough to pay well. I would; however, say ‘Starting at $15/hr base; $18/hr with previous call center experience.’

    8. Sabrina*

      What cities are these customer service jobs that pay $15/hour? No, for real. Where do I have to move?

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Good heavens, if $15/hour is only pretty competitive, I am desperate to know where this place is!

        But on topic, I strongly encourage giving the pay range to attract better people.

        1. Mike C.*

          Well, it’s more complicated than that, and the wages are being raised gradually, but they will end up $15.

            1. Wren*

              It doesn’t actually rain all that much. It is is just cloudy the majority of the time. On the other hand, not many call centers in the city proper. Land is really expensive.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                Other parts of the state can be quite dry (where I live, we’ve had less than 3 inches of rain so far this year), and while we won’t get the $15/hour, the state minimum wage is still pretty high (ok, the highest in the US).

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I am in the Philly area and you can’t get anybody reasonably qualified to do anything for less than $14-$15 an hour, including unskilled warehouse work.

        Once you hit $15 to $16, the quality and volume of applicants changes dramatically. If we were a larger employer, we might be able to have a level of jobs under that (kind of a bridge between fast food/walmart wages and two steps beyond that), but it doesn’t work for us.

        Also, we’re in the suburbs and South Jersey public transportation is terrible. I’m sure the part where somebody has to have car transportation affects what minimum salary they can accept also.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Okay, ff you HAD to take public transportation to get half an hour away, how long would it take you? (Answer is probably however long it took to walk the route instead).

            And taxi service is ridiculous. How long by taxi? However long it takes to walk the route. We tried to get Son #1 to work by taxi in an emergency, starting 2 hours early and after x cabs didn’t come or screwed around with him, he had to walk to work and be almost 2 hours late.

            I used Uber last month to try out the new shiny . How long does it take to get regular Uber? The amount of time it takes you to give up on that and pay up for Uber Black (which comes) instead.

            This is so bad for social and economic mobility, I gives me sad. :(

            1. Melissa*

              I spent a little time in South Jersey as a child and my extended family still lives there, including a cousin I visit relatively frequently. The only public transit that is relatively reliable is the PATCO from Philadelphia to Camden, from whence my cousin picks me up in her car. Oh, and I sometimes take the RiverLine from Trenton to Camden, but it was such a PITA to take the subway to the NJ Transit, then NJ Transit to the RiverLine, and then get picked up in her car…much easier to take Greyhound to Mt. Laurel or Philadelphia.

        1. Catherine in Canada*

          Echoing the transportation issue. I know from having lived in a suburb-to-rural area, that transportation is a big deal.
          Can you offer a shuttle from some/a few transportation hubs to the workplace? That might increase applicants.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            When we get big enough, you betcha.

            That’s on my dream list and is win/win. Everybody wins.

            1. Biff*

              Consider buying a couple of vans and asking employees that live in the right places to volunteer to drive them (trusted employees that have been around a long time.) I think that there can be some creative thinking that can help bridge the gap.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Hmmm indeed.

            I put on my thinking cap and this is what I came up with.

            We’re just across the bridge but we are across the bridge. Under a certain $ level, people can’t afford to cross the bridges for a daily commute, adding up the cost of the bridge tolls, gas, wear and tear on the auto + headache medication.

            That would mean that we are in two separate job markets until you get to (whatever $) threshold where the cost of commuting becomes not as significant.

            I don’t know. My experience is only based on our experience, but that make sense.

            1. Sabrina*

              The hmm was more “maybe I should transfer” our HQ is in Radnor, but I work at our Omaha office.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Radnor? Radnor has to pay well. I will eat my hat if you can get anybody on the Main Line to work for less than $15 an hour in an office building environment.

                But, hello, it’s the Main Line, the oldest money part of the Philly area and home to multi upscale college campuses. If you want to live somewhere different and could do the transfer, I think you might really enjoy it. I don’t think you’d come out ahead financially, but it’s a nice place to be + lots and lots of different companies in the Philly area when you are looking to change.

                1. Sabrina*

                  That doesn’t surprise me. We’re in the “Regency” area of Omaha. And that’s not an ironic name by any means. I’ll have to look at the job postings. Thanks :)

            2. Melissa*

              Haha my cousin was just debating the merits of taking a job across the bridge vs. the pay raise she’d get. She lives in South Jersey, was working up near Mt. Laurel and considering a job in Philly. Plus IIRC bridge traffic isn’t pleasant in the morning.

      3. Felicia*

        Toronto, if you have experience, and it’s a big company. But that’s because minimum wage is 11$

        1. Al Lo*

          Calgary, too. Most fast food places start at around $12/hr. Minimum wage is $9.95, but because of the good economy here, most service jobs have to pay more to retain people.

    9. C Average*

      Re: letter #1.

      This sucks. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this nonsense.

      I’d talk to your manager, as Alison suggests, and emphasize that the feedback you’ve received simply isn’t actionable as given. Without knowing which wrong thing you’re supposed to stop doing and which right thing you’re supposed to start doing, how are you ever going to address the behavior that the higher-ups think needs to change?

      My hunch is that you’re dealing with a kernel of dislike from a specific person or people, and that’s what’s really at the root of this. I’ve been through that. I have no good insights on how to deal, but I can commiserate.

      Some years back, some very harsh (and fairly vague and non-actionable) feedback about me made its way through an unauthorized channel back to me. It was from a much-admired director at my company. I thought long and hard about whether to pretend I hadn’t heard it and keep my head down and try to just do better. It nagged at me, though, so I eventually reached out to her, telling her it didn’t matter how I’d gotten the feedback; I just wanted to understand it better so I could fix the things she thought I was doing wrong.

      She told me she’d meet with me to provide some details, but never followed through. I gleaned enough from our back-and-forth to determine that it really wasn’t about my work; she thought I was too old for my role and just not hip enough. Which, in retrospect, was true, but the feedback still felt insulting and irrelevant to my work. I found a different role, fortunately. She and I still cross paths from time to time. We coexist professionally, but man do I loathe her. I wouldn’t pee on her if she was on fire.

      I guess I would tell you this much: if you suspect this is something similarly quasi-personal in origin, try not to let it sap your confidence too much. This is one person who doesn’t admire your work. If you are surrounded by other people who do, that counts for a lot, too. It ought to REALLY count at review time, and it stinks for you that it didn’t.

      1. Artemesia*

        When someone not in your direct line of supervision, but above you, who doesn’t have a lot of experience with you, reaches over your supervisor to insert this kind of vague negative stuff into your review, I would infer that a paper trail is being prepared to dismiss you. Your own supervisor may be lying or not, but this is the sort of ‘evaluation’ that is getting ducks in a row for dismissal.

        I would do all the things that others are recommending about soliciting more concrete feedback and identifying specific targets, but I would put a job search into high gear immediately and get yourself out of there before these ridiculous book reports are due. That assignment is designed to humiliate. And the fact that you perceive yourself to be particularly good at customer service suggests that this is not really the issue. I realize you might be fooling yourself but the criticisms would ring more potentially true to me if you said something like ‘I hate dealing with customers but feel I do a good job.’ It seems unlikely that someone who enjoys customer service and sees themselves as doing a good job is so inept at it as to require senior management to stomp down and assign book reports about it. They are on a track to fire you, probably for reasons that have zero to do with customer service.

        1. Lamington*

          that happened to a coworker on a previous boss. Boss told him people complained how he handled a project a year after it was done and how he was unpersonable. He had been in the position for years. after his yearly review, he was laid off.

        2. Mike B.*


          Giving you the books and seeing if you can glean some strategies from them to put into practice, fine. Book reports? That’s the company saying “We don’t trust you to learn this material without being explicitly tested, and we also don’t value your time.” They want to make you unhappy enough to quit before being fired, in other words.

          This is most likely not enough of a paper trail to actually fire someone after five years of glowing reviews (which I hope you’ve saved), but the wheels are in motion. Get the job search in gear and beat them to the punch.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Well said. I agree 100%. This job is probably over. OP’s supervisor is either in on it OR does not know how to stand up to her bosses. Why-oh-why would any supervisor allow their best employee to be taken away from them?

          I am not getting a strong read on this supervisor. But from what is said here, this supervisor is not going to stand up for you, OP.

          The way Alison said to frame the question is excellent, because this will bring the truth to light. You will be able to tell where things are at by the answers you get.
          You get more run-around, then you know that you will not win, no matter how well you do with this “homework assignment”.

          I have seen companies do this so many times. Retailers are the worst. It could be that you have been there too long. Or they think you are getting too comfy. Maybe you part your hair on the wrong side. No, wait. It’s the beige shirt you wore three weeks ago. My point is don’t personalize it. They have probably done this to other people before you and will do it again in the future.

          I hope I am wrong. Follow Alison’s advice and keep your eyes wide open. Let us know how it goes.

      2. anon for this*

        +1. Going through this at current job. An important client who I did some minor work for criticized a senior manager’s work and told him that he was disappointed and praised mine in comparison. I know he was not really praising my work but was using me as a junior person as a stick to poke the senior manager, but now the senior manager hates me. I am thankfully not his direct report but better believe I am updating my resume.

        1. Catherine in Canada*

          You know, when I read this, my first thought was that “they’ve got the OP confused with someone else.” I mean, they don’t know you, they don’t work in your building, they may have put the wrong name (yours) to a different face.
          Are there others in the same position as you?
          Is there anyone else with a similar name/appearance/height-weight-build-hair colour?
          I would definitely follow up for more detail on what exactly this criticism refers to, but I’d also make sure that they’ve got the right person.

      3. Vicki*

        It’s even more “fun” when the vague problem / personal issues “feedback” comes from your own manager. You can’t get more specific information (there isn’t any), you can’t diffuse with your manager’s support (he started it), you can’t find out what the real issue is (he won’t tell you).

    10. C Average*

      Just an idea, but what about holding an open-house informational function in the evening? It seems to me that a lot of people who might be interested in jobs like this may already have less desirable jobs (fast food, retail, etc.) and limited ability to schedule around an interview during normal workday hours. If you could educate them about your business in a way that fit into their schedules, you might find some good prospects this way. (Free food and drink is always a good incentive, too.)

    11. Jazzy Red*


      You should say that the pay rate starts at $15/hr. That way, any people who are more highly skilled than your beginners might not ignore you.

      People work for money. And benefits. Tell them upfront what these are.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I will never, ever, ever understand why some people don’t make the connection that more money = more highly skilled employees. Ever.

        (OP3, I am not saying this is you! Since by all accounts you do pay quite fairly. It just seems to be my own boss’s idea that “well, if I pay minimum wage, I’ll get people who are really motivated!” when that is not so much the case.)

    12. Angela*

      As someone that does payroll at a call center, put the money in the ad! And our reps would fall over dead if they knew a call center paid that much. I’m assuming you live in a higher cost of living area because my company has 10 locations and none of them start at over $9/hr. Some of our floor managers don’t make $15/hr, and the ones that do are very tenured (7+ years).

    13. Chris*

      Whatever else you do, put the salary, at least the minimum. On principle, I don’t apply to jobs that don’t post salary, unless it’s a super niche position.

    14. Former Cable Rep*

      I used to do inbound call center work for a cable company. Definitely do put what the salary range is and whether the position is full or part time. Also indicate whether it’s inbound or outbound call center work, a lot of people see “call center” and immediately think of outbound sales calls.

      I went to call center work from doing minimum wage retail work, and I loved how much faster the pace was. Very little down time made the work day seem short and made it easy to keep up my energy and enthusiasm. I specifically look for fast paced environments because I hate having to look busy with nothing to do, so I know I prefer when a job ad mentions the work pace.

      Also at the pay range for a call center, your candidates may be using public transportation. If you’re on the bus line, that might be another good thing to mention.

    15. cajun2core*

      As others have said, put in the salary. You may have people that are already employed and think the job pays very little and are not applying for it. I did tech support (call center style) for 11 years and loved every minute of it. Also what others have said is true. I would *never* be able to work in a place that tracked call measurements extensively. Figure out some way to say you don’t micro-manage. Also just google your company name and see what kind of reviews you have on-line as an employer. There was one employer in the town I live in that was a call center (financial) and I was about ready to apply to them when I saw online what an awful place it was to work. Just had another thought. *IF it is true*, put something along the lines of “we have a low turnover rate in our call center.” That will show that people like working there.

      Just don’t put in an ad, “We are hiring 200 people” (seriously, that was in an ad I saw once). This is what caused me to do some investigation and find out that this company had a very high turnover and was hell to work for.

  3. Chuchundra*

    While your advice to #1 is reasonable, I doubt it’s going to help much. When higher up intervene in a review like this in such a ham-fisted way, it almost certainly signals that the axe is being sharpened and the cut is coming sooner or later. Time to brush up the resume.

    I mean, she has two write two book reports? Book reports? Is she going to be reading these books and writing the reports at work or is she going to be expected to do this High School work on her own time?

    1. K*

      Agreed, it really sounds like they’re looking for a way to get rid of her.

      #1, update your resume and be prepared to jump ship. There might be more ridiculous requirements coming down the pipeline.

    2. Gene*

      Assuming the OP isn’t exempt, this is a mandatory assignment. If she does ANY reading or book report writing (???) not during normal work hours, she’s owed overtime. Since it sounds like she’s going to be shown the door shortly, I’d choose the densest, thickest CS tomes I could find, read like a dyslexic second grader, and type the reports one fingered were I her.

    3. Adam*

      At the very least I think she deserves an explanation of what they think the problem is. Saying “You have a communication issue” is like saying “You need to improve your cooking/writing/whatever.” It’s a statement that’s beyond vague and could pertain to any number of things, and even if there is a problem reading two books and handing an assignment in to teacher isn’t going to zero in on it.

      So I’d definitely go back to your manager and ask for some clarification, but I’d also update my resume and keep my eyes open.

    4. neverjaunty*

      Agreed – and if it helps, OP #1, this sort of thing is not usually about a real problem set out in your review, it’s a higher-up with a bug in his/her ear about something, often completely blown out of proportion (e.g. you didn’t agree to do their Very Special Protege a favor outside of your job duties, so you get smacked with “does not cooperate well with peers”).

    5. A Dispatcher*

      I agree. At first I was thinking maybe the higher ups got a direct complaint about the letter writer, possibly from someone very influential and/or someone personally close to them which would explain their intervention, but the book report thing is just too weird. I suspect whatever damage was done is irreparable and things will probably only get worse from here.

    6. Mike C.*

      I came to post about the book reports specifically. How patronizing is that?

      “We don’t trust you to read the material, so we’re going to make you write book reports, just like when you were in school. Why? Because we think you’re still a child and need to be treated like one. Remember to hold hands with a buddy before crossing the street!”

      1. OhNo*

        I want to know what they intend to do with the book reports after they’ve written them. Mark them up with a red pen? Check for spelling and punctuation errors? Grade them? If they grade them, what kind of grade does the OP need to get to keep their job? Are we talking “get an A or you’re fired”, or is this based on completion only?

        Seriously, no part of this makes sense to me.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          It’s not about the book reports. It really sounds like they want to build a case against the OP so they can fire her.

          OP, I agree with the other posters who are telling you to update your resume. In fact, I would start job hunting right now. Note that looking is not a commitment to take a new job. It’s more a fact-finding exercise right now, but if you do get pink slipped, you’re ready to find your new job.

          1. CEMgr*

            Keep in mind that failure to complete good-quality book reports on time is a surefire valid “reason” to fire her…..for anyone who may be looking for a defensible reason.

    7. Anon*

      ^I agree 100%, they are making vague false accusations to get rid of her. The book reports requirement sounds like an attempt to get her to quit. It’s harrassment and it will surely escalate.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        I have seen similar things happen in three different places where I’ve worked. It has usually involved an employee who has plateaued in their career path and is now making quite a bit more than people doing the same job but with less years under their belts. Upper management wants to cut costs, doesn’t want the appearance of being ageist, and so constructs a flimsy “bad performance” excuse to make the employee’s life hell to try to get them to quit.

    8. junipergreen*

      For OP1, how does your company gather feedback for reviews? If you don’t have a sense of that, maybe seek out a better understanding of why the higher ups were brought in to review your performance. Did they look at others in the organization, people at your level, or just you? Is this a standard process or a little unusual? What prompted their involvement in the first place?

  4. Bea W*

    This year, my manager gave me my review, but prefaced it by saying that her bosses took a look at it first and made her rewrite it several times, even inserting a few lines that I might find surprising.

    I hope you can sort this out. Do these managers have a reputation for this kind of thing?

    This happened to me at my last job. In fact the Big Boss had a rep for doing this, rewriting reviews, and usually in a negative way. If you were on Big Boss’ Random Rectal Ripping Roster at review time, better brace for the worst. I was an unfortunate victim of this and the things she put in my review were ridiculous, twisted, or bald faced lies spanning many detailed paragraphs. After nothing but good reviews since hire and at my previous jobs, I was both shocked and furious.

    I arranged a meeting with HR. Big Boss was invited but had some excuse last minute why she couldn’t make it. That behavior was also typical. She hide in the corner rewriting people’s reviews and never speak to them or meet, not even when invited by HR. She left her line managers to handle it.

    Keep your cool as Alison suggests, but be very (quietly) aware of any signs that they’re trying to feed you a load of crap and whether this kind of thing has happened to other people. My work place was toxic as feck, and the rewriting reviews to skew them one way or the other was just the tip of the iceberg.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      This, exactly. The same thing happened to me. When I asked for examples of my allegedly horrible behavior, my boss refused to go into any detail. The OP is also exactly right that nothing in a review, good or bad, should ever be a surprise.

      In my case I was pregnant, so some of the responsibility was on me. I was more emotional than normally typical for me, and I was a bit high strung at times. But that review was an out and out attack. I could see the writing on the wall. HR wouldn’t let my boss fire a 40 year old pregnant woman, but as soon as I was back from maternity leave I would have been axed for the first missed dotted i or crossed t. I was able to move to another department, where I still work, so it all worked out for the best.

      1. Wasting Jimmy Buffett's Time*

        The same thing happened to me! My boss and I hadn’t really gotten along since I’d started. I replaced his long-time office manager, whom he loved and didn’t want to retire. He confessed that he probably wouldn’t have been happy with anyone as a replacement because he missed old manager so much, but that didn’t keep him from being a total nightmare to work for. (No written objectives or goals to me, I was supposed to “anticipate his needs” without ever being told what those needs were. But when I tried to be proactive and work ahead, I was being presumptuous and over-stepping my bounds. So I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.) I was pregnant with my second child and literally left work every day and cried in my car all the way home.

        He was about to leave for an extended trip (which I organized, TYVM) and called me into his office for an “informal review” in which he let me know, again, that I wasn’t meeting these nebulous objectives or his most basic expectations. And that when I returned from maternity leave, “we” were going to have to seriously think about whether “we’d made a mistake” by hiring me.

        Yeah, no thanks.

        That night, I put up resumes online, got an interview scheduled, did the interview, got the job and handed my boss my two week notice when he got back from his trip.

        It was a sweet, sweet feeling.

        1. Bea W*

          Sounds like my last job. Insubordinate when I didn’t properly mind read, and super insubordinate when I was proactive. Never regretted getting out. Even when I got a lay-off notice 3 months into my new job, that was still better than if I had stayed. That particular manager did not fire people. She would just torture them until they either became defeated and lost all hope of escaping or resigned. It was horrible. There were days I would just hide my face and sob at my desk.

      2. Rat Racer*

        Happened to me too, but in the opposite direction, where my boss told me that the office administrative assistants were complaining that I was “intimidating, uptight and ‘abusing my power'” (as her chief of staff). I had worked hard – really hard – to build solid relationships in this department because I really liked the administrative staff members and because those relationships were a key component of doing my job well. I was shocked and devastated to hear this indictment of my personality (no one has ever in my entire life called me intimidating! I usually get criticized for being a pushover) and asked boss for more context or examples so that I could alter my style and repair any relationships that had soured. She refused, saying that providing that information would be a “violation of trust.”

        That boss was all kinds of crazy sauce, and she was later fired, but long after I quit. My advice to the OP, is to seek out clarification (if you can get it!) as Alison suggests, but also to recognize that sometimes reviews are completely unfair, and don’t let this bizarre criticism from left field change the way you see yourself or value your skills. It may not be about you, it may be about your boss, your boss’s boss, or some other mysterious political situation over which you have no control.

        Hang in there!

      3. Frances*

        Yeah, I was dinged on a vague “people say you don’t seem like you want to help them” complaint at a previous job, but my manager refused to provide further details. I spent weeks racking my brains trying to figure out any point at which I could have given that impression, and was paranoid the entire rest of my time there that anytime I couldn’t help someone right that second it would be misconstrued as unhelpful.

        Since I’ve gotten a little emotional distance from that job, I actually now think my manager was the one who had the real concerns but because she wanted to keep me as an ally (she arrived last to our team, and some of my coworkers were openly hostile to her) she tried to blame it on mysterious other people.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah, my former team lead was told in a review by her new acting-manager that he’d heard vague negative things about her, and even though he hadn’t seen anything himself, he was going to give her a poor review. She asked for examples, he couldn’t provide them — he’d just felt a nebulous vibe. She (and I) were laid off shortly thereafter.

    2. Kate*

      This whole comment section makes me feel marginally better, because something very similar to this just came up in my performance review. Direct manager thinks I do a great job, with some areas that could use some work, but Head of the Office took over my review and TRASHED me throughout. Like you, there was a long list of things throughout the review that were “ridiculous, twisted, or bald faced lies spanning many detailed paragraphs”. The Head of Office and I have a particularly bad relationship- history of harassment and blatant abuse- so I wasn’t completed shocked about how it turned it out when I found out she wrote the review, but still deeply disappointed since I had hoped she had turned over a new leaf after senior management sent her for major counselling.

      I haven’t responded yet. We have a comments section at the end, but I’m really struggling with how to respond. I don’t particularly want to use the comment section to make an itemized list of all of the ridiculousness (that just seems petty) but I can’t ignore it either.

      1. Boo*

        That’a awful. I’d totally do a concise, factual, bullet-pointed list in the comments responding to each issue before signing it.

        1. Bea W*

          That’s exactly what I did in my response, and I included all the supporting documentation to back it up.

          1. Always Learning*

            In this situation too I’m wondering why your manager is out to lunch. That person needs to find a way to make this work – manage big boss’ expectations, turn their vague ramblings into actionable things for you, and clarify and address big boss’ concerns. If the message from your manager to you is “management is crazy, just ignore them” or “management is crazy, take this opportunity to explain to them why they’re wrong”, your manager isn’t doing you any favors.

            1. Bea W*

              ^^^This 100%! It was actually the comments like that (and worse) from my direct supervisor that sent me running to spiff up my resume and find a way out! Big Boss was bad, but my manager was the layer between us, and she made it infinitely worse with the way she chose to manage being the middleman. Big Boss didn’t actually interact with me (or other non-management) directly unless I had to ask her for a signature, which made the whole thing even more weird and messed up.

              I consider my manager to have been complicit in the dysfunctional of it all. She was a victim of the bullying as as well, but she was making some deliberate choices, and it was her name on that review, not Big Boss. She owned it just as much.

          2. Bea W*

            To be clear, I responded only to the points raised in the review. I did not go into other awfulness or anything that focused on the Big Boss’ behavior. I pulled out each inacurate statement, copied it into the response section and then wrote my response. It took hours of work at home to have it ready in the short time I had.

            If you aren’t sure how to respond start by saying anything, whatever comes into your head. Then take a break and go back and edit liberally, deleting anything that is attacking and does not just dispute the statements from your boss. Edit multiple times. If you have emails or documents to back yourself up, refer to them for help crafting your responses. Get a trusted friend to read it over and give you feedback.

            1. anon-2*

              Three times in my life I’ve had to respond to horrible reviews.

              One was a paste-up job – which (long story short, will be a “Dinner Table story”) and I was exonerated.

              The second – I was put on probation, about to be fired. Three on the staff got the same thing. Turned out the boss was trying to make room for a buddy on the staff. He succeeded. Two of us quit within a week. I replied with my feet. They actually had to call a truce with the third guy on the staff to get him NOT to leave.

              The third – I refused to reply. At all, go tell HR that I think this is a paste up — it was — and the end result was expungement of the review.

      2. Natalie*

        This woman sounds like a total nightmare. I hope you’re out there looking for something better – this isn’t normal, but it will mess with your head the longer you’re there. Even if it takes a while, looking can help you feel less stuck, too.

      3. Biff*

        I think at the point that higher management is paying to send someone to major counselling as opposed to firing them, the problem is too entrenched to deal with.

        1. Anon 55*

          I’m surprised that someone so bad was sent to counseling. That has only happened at one place I worked at; a VP who would yell so loudly you could hear him one floor up and down the hall as well as throw things (but not at people! which was his defense) and use his size to intimidate others. He was sent for anger management and it worked for about a month. Then it was back to the same old, same old.

          Every other time I’ve been somewhere when someone desperately needed to be fired or taken behind the woodshed it was: ignored, dismissed, turned around and retaliated against the person who was complaining or suffering because of this (perhaps you aren’t cut out for a position where your boss screams at you half the day and ignores you the other half, are you sure you want to be here?). If you are Steve Jobs then I will give you a pass on whatever ridiculous behavior because you are the reason the company is so successful. If you are the employee in the mail room who signs for Steve Job’s packages you are not allowed to be anything but pleasant, polite and productive.

          I did get the privilege of sitting in an upper level meeting when one company was trying to figure out why turnover was so high. It never occurred to them that the random tyrants in various departments were directly responsible for 80% of the turnover in the company. All the various complaints to HR about these tyrants were made by employees that were simply poor employees and insane, per the tyrants and no matter what proof was given, the tyrant’s word would trump it. So the best and brightest decided to start a fitness program to help retain employees because there was nothing else to fix at this company. Yay…

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      My most recent review was similar to #1’s. My manager actually took a highlighter to my review to make very clear which parts he wrote and which parts he was forced to revise. (The writing was already on the wall and I’ve since gotten out of that department so I’m no longer in that higher-up’s reporting structure.)

      OP, were the changes to your review a surprise to your manager as well? If yes, it sounds like you have a good relationship with your manager, and whether you should start job hunting immediately depends on a) how much sway your manager has with the higher-ups (because if she is willing to go to bat for you, she may be able to protect you from the axe) and b) how much you want to advance in the future, because even if your manager can protect you from getting pushed out, she probably isn’t going to be able to get you promoted if someone upstairs has an issue with you.

      If your manager knew the higher-ups were downgrading your review well before the review was actually given, and didn’t tell you, I’d say get out as soon as you can, because then not only are the people in charge trying to get you out, but also your manager isn’t doing much to help you with that.

    4. Vicki*

      I have a friend this happened to. The group director didn’t like her. Everyone else got along with her well and she did her job well but the director changed her review because he had a personal issue.

      She started job hunting and left within 3 months.

  5. Always Leaning*

    OP #1, your manager sucks. She needs to own what’s in that review and be able to talk effectively about it with you. If her bosses have an issue with your work, your manager needs to know that, understand what the issue is, and work with you on it. Having it come up for the first time in a review is bad, but your manager deflecting all responsibility for this feedback to her bosses and sending a signal to you that she disagrees with it in TONS worse. Her bosses have a concern, she needs to address it, and that means she needs to be ready to explain the context for this feedback and help you understand what you can do to improve. If she’s not on the same page as her boss, she can’t be effective as a manager.

    And, yeah, book reports? If this was your manager’s idea, I think even less of her. If it was the big boss’s idea, you manager still should have worked out something more relevant and reasonable before this got to you.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I think this is a fantastic point lost in the outrage. The problem isn’t the upper management – it’s the direct manager. I see 2 possibilities of what happened:
      1. The boss really does disagree with what was written and allowed herself to be steamrolled.
      2. The upper management is right (and it bothers me that nobody is taking this into consideration). Direct manager sucks because she didn’t give timely feedback when issues occur and didn’t give feedback of specific incidents at the review. Instead, she let the upper management be a scape goat so she could be liked by her employees.

      I wouldn’t want to work for either one.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Even if upper management is right – what’s with the book reports? That’s a weirdly infantilising detail. And a “communication problem with customers” is so far beyond vague as to be functionally useless, even without the kind of specific feedback you’d really want here.

        OP certainly needs to request specific feedback ASAP to get clarity here, but I do have a sneaking suspicion none will be forthcoming because this has little or nothing to do with her interaction with customers.

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          My total guess is that they aren’t “book reports” like we’re in 4th grade. I’ve seen people asked to write up key take-aways from books they’ve read (as part of a development and mentoring program). It’s usually 1 page (or, if someone is working on presentation skills, they might deliver it with a presentation). If the direct manager isn’t great, he/she probably couldn’t explain why they wanted her to read the books or what she should bring back from them.

          Alternately, if they really want 4th grade-style book reports, that sucks and helps no one.

      2. Creag an Tuire*

        TBH, I was reading the direct manager’s comments as: “I’m so sorry. I not allowed to say this straight out, but the Big Cheese has decided he hates your face and there’s virtually no chance you can save your job. Update your resume.”

        1. Cucumber*

          Yes, me too: it sounded to me like a personal problem on the part of the boss.

          That’s not to say I disagree with either of you, Sarahnova, or Grumpy Boss, that there absolutely are weak sauce supervisors who get steamrollered, or who don’t appropriately talk to their reports before a bad (but accurate) review comes in.

          Sometimes as a supervisor, you’re in a position where you absolutely know something is unfair, and although you push back on it, because it impacts your reports’ work and peace of mind — you ultimately have to toe the line or start looking for your own position to be replaced.

        2. anon-2*

          Yeah blame it on someone else. But assuming direct-manager truly had little to do with it, then this ambush appraisal is what is called in baseball – a “purpose pitch”. It’s not done to correct things that need correcting, it’s a baseball thrown to knock you down at the plate.

          Whenever I had one of those things, I would suggest to the manager that it be used for hygienic purposes, and leave the room. If the manager signs off on it and it isn’t his/her opinion — just say “Shame on you” and leave the room.

          It’s a rare “humble pie eating” action – but I actually had a review expunged and re-done after a stunt like that.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Probably nobody is taking it into consideration because of OP’s statements that 1) the senior managers have not observed her work, 2) other managers were surprised, 3) this came out of the blue, 4) as OP describes it there don’t seem to be specifics about the problem, 5) this is a brand-new issue after years of contrary reviews, and 6) the remedy is to write two book reports. Obviously, no one of those things is a horrible red flag, but as a group, and particularly with #4, it sounds a lot less like OP #1’s senior management is addressing a sudden and serious problem.

        You’re right that OP #1’s manager is not blameless in this. The having to go back and rewrite the review several times implies that the manager was trying to stand up for OP – but did it in the wrong way, i.e. washing her hands of the problem, rather than insisting OP be given more specific feedback on the details of the problem and assisted her in fixing it. “Read these books and write a book report” is not any kind of PIP.

        1. AVP*

          But a lot of those (#’s 1-5) could be more about her direct manager not doing her job, not the upper management.

          1. Laura*

            Not #2 – other managers who have observed her work are _also_ surprised about the bad feedback. That’s not the OP’s manager not doing her job, that’s validation that the OP probably was doing well by the lights of the managers who observe the situation on the ground.

            1. HM in Atlanta*

              It takes a strong manager, when faced with someone else upset staff member, to say, “Well, let’s look at that feedback. You remember when X happened? That’s an example of what they’re saying here.” It requires that manager to have a great deal of knowledge about her day-to-day work responsibilities, to have observed her customer interactions multiple times, AND has to be willing to take the time to coach and give feedback to someone who is upset – and isn’t an employee that reports to them.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, but “other managers I talked to were surprised” could really be a case of “it’s not their problem and they don’t want to have an awkward conversation by agreeing with the criticism,” which is pretty common.

      4. AVP*

        I think that the book report assignments have undercut the upper management’s credibility, which might be why no one is taking their review seriously. But I think either of your points could be correct, which leads me to another life lesson – even if your feedback/criticism is airtight and supported by examples, the manner of delivery is just as important as what you say.

      5. Bea W*

        It’s not necessarily a problem with one or the other. If the review is accurate, the problem could be with the direct manager not communicating well or also with upper management not communicating their concerns well with the direct manager. If the review is not accurate, the problem is with both the manager and upper management. How the manager chooses to handle it with the employee will determine how much the manager contributes to the problem.

        I think there are more than 2 scenarios – and none of them are good
        3. The boss agrees with upper management and has failed to communicate that to her employee
        4. The boss disagrees and the steamrolling wasn’t much of a true choice due to toxic office politics or bullying by upper management.
        5. Other – I’m sure there are more. Situations like this are rarely so black and white.

      6. HM in Atlanta*

        2. The upper management is right (and it bothers me that nobody is taking this into consideration). Direct manager sucks because she didn’t give timely feedback when issues occur and didn’t give feedback of specific incidents at the review. Instead, she let the upper management be a scape goat so she could be liked by her employees.

        This so much!! Every year, I’m dealing with employee complaints after review time that all begin, “my manager doesn’t agree with this and Director/VP/HR made him write these things; you need to fix it”

        …and I do fix it – by dealing with the manager who would rather be liked than provide useful feedback to the employee.

      7. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree — I think it’s totally possible that upper management is right and that they stepped in because the direct manager hasn’t been doing her job and telling the OP about the issues … which happens all the freaking time.

        Not saying this IS the case, but saying it’s absolutely a possibility that the OP needs to consider.

        And yeah, the book reports is weird, but it’s possible that the direct manager mangled that — it could have been upper management saying “suggest she read these books for help with her approach to X and maybe then you and she can talk about them” and the manager turned it into book reports. Who knows. I’d want more info.

        1. Sarahnova*

          There’s some incompetent and/or shady management going on here, that’s for sure.

          BTW, OP, you can try to find out if people really do think this by asking a range of people, politely and specifically. “I’ve received feedback that I could improve my communication skills with customers, and so I’ve been doing some work on that area; I’d really like to get your view on what I do well there, and also what I could improve”. If people only say positive things, ask specifically for more. “Thanks for the feedback; what would you say I can do better?” The key is to present this calmly and neutrally, and to respond to any comments with the same neutral and accepting mien. You can also consider asking someone who’s known to be blunt. This won’t necessarily get around the “people not wanting to have an awkward conversation” thing, but it’s your best shot of finding out if there *is* a problem you currently don’t realise. Sucking it up and framing it as, you know you have a problem and just want more info will also help circumvent this.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      I agree. Your manager is falling down on this one. Either they don’t know what is going on or their boss is pushing them around, neither of which is a good thing. Time to look for a new job.

    3. junipergreen*

      “I’ve always heard that nothing on a review should be a surprise, that it should be identified well in advance.”
      I agree that it’s on a manager to make sure nothing is a surprise, especially in office cultures where check-ins are infrequent or formal.

      But, while the manager is not an innocent here, she also might be getting pushed out of the review process. She should be helping the OP understand why this process was hijacked, and outline what she’s doing to correct it or prevent it from happening again.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      I’m not sure I agree with this. It depends on how this was presented to the OP. If the manager said, “Look, this criticism is BS, and you’ve clearly demonstrated your value to ME,” and is straight up about what this means (either “I’m going to keep going to bat for you, and you should do the stupid book reports to keep the big cheese happy” or “As awesome as I think you are, I think Big Cheese wants to drum you out, and I will be happy to serve as a reference for you if you need to start interviewing”) — I would not only not think the manager was a wuss for refusing to own the parts of the review that she doesn’t agree with, I would think this is an awesome manager who cares deeply about her direct reports. She would be someone whom I would follow to another company in the future and/or recommend for openings at other companies, too.

      If the manager just said, “I think you’re a star, but Big Cheese doesn’t,” then that is a little bit wussy in that the manager should own what the review *means* to the OP. Or if the manager knew about the impending negative feedback long before it was actually officially handed down, and didn’t say anything earlier to the OP — that is wussy too.

  6. BRR*

    #1 Ugh at them. Put there’s good advice above on what to do. Just make sure if you’re non-exempt you’re not writing book reports on your own time for free. They’re requiring it of you.

    #4 If you’re not already, start job hunting.

  7. Illini02*

    For #2, I’m on the side of “Don’t take everything personally”. To me it sounds like they really are trying to cut costs, and their basis of who is going and who isn’t doesn’t sound arbitrary. If you are at this level, you go, otherwise you don’t. Does it suck that you are used to this perk and now you don’t have it? Absolutely. However, there are a lot of other cost cutting measures that companies take that could impact you far worse than not going to a couple of happy hours after a conference. Even you say its nothing that is going to help your business. If you and your uninvited colleagues want to go out together after, no one is stopping you. But it really doesn’t sound like something you should be personally offended by.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      +1. I once worked somewhere that decided not to buy coffee for the office anymore as a cost cutting measure. That’s a whole lot more demoralizing than telling people below a certain seniority level that they aren’t going to be included in a couple of after hours events.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I once worked somewhere that if we wanted office supplies, we had to hike uphill both ways, in the snow! So quit complaining, OP!

        More seriously, I wonder if this is one of those companies where there is already a cultural divide between certain groups of employees where some feel less valued. “Only senior managers” isn’t and shouldn’t be taken personally, unless it’s a company that makes it clear they think of anyone below senior management as fungible.

        1. Cucumber*

          But indeed, some people do work in companies or organizations like that. Take academia (please, take academia)!

        2. Chinook*

          “I wonder if this is one of those companies where there is already a cultural divide between certain groups of employees where some feel less valued.”

          I hate to say it but my experience is that this is true of most organizations. The divide is usually between the staff that do the actual work of the organization and the staff who support them (think AAs, receptionists, office manager, accounting departments, etc.). I see it huge right now in my company because I straddle the line (I am just like like an AA but am not one, partially because they wouldn’t be able to justify having it as a contract position but also because I have full independence complete with “signing authority” or program changes). The company I work for is great but one would never think they treat their office staff like they would their engineers, project managers and control centre operators. We are more like office furniture – a necessary expense but an expense none the less.

          The difference with OP #2 is that they have moved the line on who gets this perk and it really does put your nose out of joint to realize that the company doesn’t value you the way they once did.

  8. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-Are you able to gauge if your manager agrees with the comments or added them in to save her own skin? I would go back to my boss and ask for clarification, in specifics. I don’t know the relationship that you have with your boss but maybe you can find a way to allow her to say “I completely disagree but I had to put it in” or something like that. Or maybe there is an issue and I mean in the singular that has gotten blown way out of proportion. I’m sorry. Nothing sucks like an unexpectedly bad review. I would start looking for a new job though with the addition of book reports. That’s just crazy talk.

  9. Julkaco*

    #1 – Dust off your resume and start networking! Once someone in charge decides to target you, your time is limited whether or not you’ve done anything wrong.

    I once had a manager who decided to expand our client base by courting a particular class of client. She made promises. A typical transaction would go like this: A would contact us for our services on behalf of B and submit the particulars of the transaction. My job was to review the particulars and make sure that the transaction could be completed legally. (My name and my license were on the line so I had to get it right.) Often, B would not have the apparent legal authority to carry out the transaction despite having represented to A that he or she did. I would then request the documentation that supported B’s claim of legal authority; the transaction would not be allowed to continue until that was submitted and reviewed. On several of these occasions, A would contact my manager who would come into my office, take the file, and then finish up her phone call with A (in front of me) and promise that the requirement would be removed. Then she would order me to remove the requirement on the strength of A’s verbal assertion that the authority existed. I always refused.

    It wasn’t long before she was threatening to fire me at least twice a week for poor customer service. She refused to define what she meant by “poor customer service” simply stating that there had been complaints and I’d better shape up. After a year-end review which complimented me on a number of items, but slammed me on the point of customer service in a vague and generic manner, she put me on probation and told me to improve my skills in customer service, with no concrete guidelines for doing so; she fired the receptionist who had assisted me with production (this created a backlog in production); I had a coworker whose duties were carried out under my instruction, mostly outside of the office–she took away his computer, which made his in-office prep work nearly impossible (with the effect of increasing the backlog). In short, she made my last few months there hell.

    I found out later that she had held secret interviews by phone and outside the office and had hired someone–who was not at all qualified for my job but who she felt would do what she wanted–before firing me for poor customer service (still completely unsubstantiated.)

    1. Lizabeth*

      Wow…just wow…

      Small comfort: karma has a way of catching up with people like this. You may not hear about it when it happens but you KNOW it will happen.

      1. Julkaco*

        Karma was definitely at work here — she was fired by corporate a few months after I left, then the office was shut down, and then the company went bankrupt. I was happy to have missed all that.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This stuff makes me smile. These people that think they are messing up other people and in the end they get sooo messed up.

          But we all know if the work is not done the way it is supposed to be then the company could be in jeopardy somehow. The manager knew this and continued fudging and fudging.

    2. Mike C.*

      You mentioned the issue of legal authority, have you reported this work place for trying to go around those requirements?

      1. Julkaco*

        There are a number of scenarios where a person might act on behalf of another person — under Power of Attorney, as Personal Representative of an estate, as Trustee of a Trust, etc. Most of that paperwork, however, is not a matter of public record or is not easily located unless you know the County where it is filed, and must be submitted by the person exercising the power–not really a problem for most people once they understand the reason for the requirement. The problem was that she never explained the reason, just promised to take care of it.

    3. fposte*

      Yikes. Sounds also like it was just your license on the line so there wasn’t even someplace regulatory you could have blown the whistle to. Good for you for standing firm, and good that you’re out of there.

  10. Sophiabrooks*

    #1- I had this happen in a customer service job, and it was not about letting me go, but about a raise. They had a formula based on your score, and I had been there so long that the raise I would get by that formula would make me too expensive. My direct manager out and out told me this in the review, though, so I am not sure I have any advice. But I didn’t lose my job, and no one was actually upset with me.

    1. Jane D.*

      How horrid. I’m assuming having this type of raise tied to performance as well as longevity is supposed to be in place as a measure to retain key employees. It is then the opposite of motivational to not honor the system that they put in place. Why even have that sort of bonus structure at all if they aren’t going to honor it?

      Was it a particularly difficult fiscal year, like raise freezes across the board, or some other extenuating circumstance to excuse this?

    2. Jeanne*

      This totally. It happened at my old workplace all the time. The raise was determined first and then the review was written. If no money was available, your review was crappy to show you didn’t deserve one. Pushing for details got you ridiculous statements like I don’t have to tell you what you did wrong.

      If your boss thinks you do great work and the higher bosses have never seen you work then something else is going on. The book reports are because they have no real suggestions to improve your work. So now it’s your choice to work for a company where they refuse to be honest with you or not. They could have just had your manager say We like your work but the money is not available for your raise.

      1. krisl*

        Wow, that’s awful. My company has sometimes given low raises with good reviews, but that’s in tough economic times, and they say outright why they’re doing this.

    3. Judy*

      I worked one place that if your raise put you above range, then they just made a bonus of the amount. That way you got the money at least that year. It helped keep you from being too expensive.

      1. anon-2*

        Or what is done – they create a special grade and promote you into it. OR, raise the upper end of the scale.

  11. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    The scenario I’m envisioning for #1 is that some customer who didn’t get something they wanted – maybe a customer who’s friends with the higher-up – complained to the boss’s boss about the OP but asked not to have their name mentioned. I could imagine it as a situation where the customer made unreasonable demands but that didn’t come across in the retelling… E.g. requesting some service that the OP’s company doesn’t provide, but describing it as “she was very unhelpful and wouldn’t accommodate my simple requests.”

    Of course I have no idea if this is what actually happened, but it wouldn’t be the first time…

    1. Artemesia*

      I have seen something like this in an entirely different profession. A very important person made a query on behalf of a friend who had been disciplined by a manager appropriately (when the manager was hired he was in fact told that he was to reign in certain types of misbehavior that had been occurring — so he did his job and ‘managed’ some employees who were not productive) But one of these subordinates whined to VIP who ‘just asked about it’ and this set the organizational high level flunkies in to abject witch hunt mode to please the VIP (who might actually have just been asking but she was so powerful that her every twitch was a command). This guy was investigated and cleared of the wrongdoing suggested, so they started over with a new investigation and kept dogging him until they pushed him out. For doing what he had been asked to do and doing it well.

    2. Kassy*

      This is exactly what I thought when I read the story. I also worked in customer service and was generally rated very positively – but there is always the occasional customer who is frustrated that you “won’t” help them (probably because you can’t) and that you “aren’t listening” (when you get to that point that you are simply having to repeat yourself because THEY are not listening) and that you are “rude and unprofessional” (because you didn’t just give them what they wanted on the spot). Complainers who are persistent enough can get very high up the food chain, and the people up there are often not familiar with the most common complaints and how to decode them. Although if this is the case, it was really crappy of them not to ask for OP’s side of the story (my manager always did if it the complaint was egregious enough).

  12. GrumpyBoss*

    #1 – I know this is a very unpopular opinion around these parts, but is it possible that the upper management is right? Your frustration is clear in your message, so I have to wonder how apparent it is to the other managers you’ve discussed this with. Rather than asking for clarification, is it possible that it is coming out as, “can you believe this? I can’t. Ridiculous”. Have you asked directly about specific incidents and how they would have preferred you handled it, as AAM so kindly spelled out in her answer?

    The way you received it sucked. I’d be mad too. Heck, I’d probably update my resume like others have suggested. But don’t let an opportunity to improve your performance slip by because you are upset at how the information was delivered.

    1. Jane D.*

      They might be right, but it’s kind of cagey the way the direct manager presented it. Since she didn’t explain it to the employee with specifics, it comes across to me like she’d rather blame it more on her bosses than to have a conversation about it. Without the specific examples, it’s hard to know whether they are right or wrong, and some of the solutions to the problems are rather childish. Read two books on customer service and write reports? There are numerous theories regarding how to interact with customers and without knowing which areas or techniques in customer service the higher-ups want to see improvement in, it’s difficult to know which sort of books to look for in the first place.

      I agree with Alison that at this stage going back to the direct manager and asking for clarification is best, removing as much emotion from it as possible. “Now that I have had time to reflect on my review…” If you better understand the areas for improvement they are seeing, you might be able to tackle it more constructively. I would fight the urge to just “keep your head down” because it’ll be better to work toward solving whatever issues the higher-ups are seeing and show progress even if you end up looking for another job elsewhere.

    2. Magda*

      I think even if OP#1 does have customer service issues, the management is still in the wrong. OP has gotten positive reviews up until now, and acknowledged the “minor points” that her manager had brought up in the past. To me, that indicates that she can accept criticism and is willing to work on things. And OP is absolutely right that there should not be surprises in her performance review. If she was having issues, particularly if they are as “significant” as upper management claims, she should have been spoken to when they occurred. Dropping a bomb on her during the performance review is a failure of management.

      The fact that her direct manager did not take ownership of the criticism inserted by the upper managers is also a problem. “My bosses made me re-write this and you might find some surprising things” sounds to me like Direct Manager is all but openly disowning the criticisms. It’s possible that Direct Manager is wrong and the upper managers are right, but in that scenario you still really can’t fault OP for being frustrated with such mixed messages.

      And finally, OP’s managers lost me when they assigned the book reports rather than directly telling her “you messed up on situation X and we need you to do Y going forward.” I think the book reports are passive-aggressive busy work at best and designed to humiliate at worst.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I wondered that myself but there is too much here that is crazy stuff. A book report? No explanation of what she did wrong? No comments through out the year to the effect of “X and Y are sagging, you need to beef up those two things.”

      It’s not one thing, it’s everything combined that leads me to believe that OP is probably doing a fine job and something else is running in the background.

  13. soitgoes*

    For #1, I wonder if upper management is trying to come up with a way to get rid of the OP, since she’s coming up on 5 years there and might be eligible for a raise or promotion. I’ve had a lot of customer service jobs that conveniently laid people off or started piling on the reprimands right before a raise was due.

    For #3, if possible, you should find out about what the locals think about the company. If employees start at $15 an hour and you’re still not getting good applicants, there’s something wrong with the way the callers are being treated once they’re hired. Do you enforce strange, inconvenient scheduling? Is there a manager who’s particularly bad? Are they calling for a product or service that’s scammy or controversial? Are they held to unrealistic sales quotas? Penalized when people hang up or ask to be removed from the mailing list? Another thing: job fair-style interviews eliminate candidates who are currently employed unless you schedule them for 7 pm on a weeknight or a weekend afternoon. Is it the office’s typical practice to not consider the logistics of people who currently have jobs, or are they looking for that unicorn of a highly-skilled person whose schedule is fully wide open?

  14. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Something stinks, LW, and I don’t know what it is, but it’s not you.

    “I now have to read two books on customer service and write a report on each one. I also have to ask others to observe my interactions with customers and observe them.”

    Are you ten years old?  This request (and I’m a little surprised Alison didn’t comment on it) is completely controlling, inappropriate, ridiculous, and condescending.  I also would like to know what the point of it is.  Are you going to get a grade?  Who is going to review it?  More importantly, how is it going to be assessed?  Because if you don’t know what they’re looking for in a book report, how are you supposed to write it and show you understood what they want?  (This is where I smell a trap.)

    Alison is right.  They have to get specific, if they think something is wrong.  And if they can’t…?

    Remember the LW who had her bathroom breaks times and monitored?  She was eventually fired.  I’m sorry to say but I think that’s where this is going.  More importantly, it doesn’t sound like your higher ups have a concrete reason to do so, and this is all they have.  In my experience, people like this get totally defensive if you ask for specifics, but Alison is right that you have to do it.  Criticism is pointless if you can’t point to a specific transgression.

    I would be shocked, however, if they could come up with a concrete example of what they mean with your performance.  If they had it, your boss would have told you at the time, and you wouldn’t have written in.

    1. AVP*

      I don’t know about that – obviously the book reports are lame, but isn’t a big part of customer-facing jobs having your interactions observed and critiqued? I know teachers have regular classroom reviews from higher-ups, and every time I call customer service anywhere there’s a little disclaimer about your call being recorded for training/review purposes. So if she’s looking for particular things she might need to improve on, that part at least seems like a reasonable suggestion. (Although I would think they would want to assign the observers, not have the OP ask her colleagues, since it’s harder to get impartial feedback that way.)

      1. Kelly L.*

        But the lack of observation in the first place is part of why the review is B.S. These higher-ups have never seen the LW work. Now they’re wanting what sounds like her peers to critique her work, but (a) that’s abdicating their own responsibility to have any clue what they’re talking about, and (b) the peers might well have been the ones who started the undermining of her in the first place. I’ve definitely seen workplaces where peers backstabbed each other to get in with the higher-ups.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, but it’s entirely possible that they’ve heard enough troubling reports or complaints from people who HAVE observed the OP that there’s a pattern they feel comfortable addressing. If the direct manager sucks (and there’s decent evidence that she might, by the way this was handled), it’s very possible that the complaints are legitimate and the direct manager is the one who has horribly messed up here.

          1. Mephyle*

            Granted it’s possible, but what I think makes this scenario so unlikely is that they’re not truly addressing it. Everything in OP’s account points to that they have no clue what (if anything) OP is doing poorly. If they were addressing the problem, somebody would be able to give OP an idea what went wrong, what needs to be changed.

          2. soitgoes*

            But if that’s the case, wouldn’t there have been a note along the lines of “We heard that there’s this thing you’re doing”? Plus, the direct manager is so willing to pass the buck that I’m sure he or she would have said, “So-and-so said [whatever] about you” if such an easy explanation were available.

  15. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Agreed.  It’s ridiculous to have your peers evaluate you and vice versa.  It’s not the peers (I don’t think) who have a problem with the LW.  It’s the higher ups.  If they want the LW to turn their criticisms into action, they have to be the ones to observe it themselves!  

    The higher ups could be right, but even if they are, this is a horrible and cowardly way to go about correcting the LW.

    AVP, I completely agree with you that customer service interactions should be monitored and evaluated.  But that’s not what’s happening here.  There’s no way for the LW to improve on anything because “communication issues” are about as helpful as hearing “your management skills are bad.”  Meaningless, especially when those higher-ups haven’t directly evaluated the LW.

    Also the vagueness in the criticisms and the book report expectations are what make me think it’s a trap.  Without giving the LW specifics, ANYTHING s/he does from here on out can be criticized as poor employee performance.

    I can’t remember who suggested it above, but now I’m thinking it’s a disgruntled customer who didn’t get what s/he wanted.

    LW, are you around to weigh in? 

    1. Jane D.*

      The vagueness may be coming from the direct manager rather than the higher-ups. The direct manager prefaced the review by saying her superiors made her rewrite her review “several times.” They might have had several specific instances that may have direct, actionable solutions, or they might not have. We don’t have enough to go on because we were not involved in the conversation between the manager and the higher-ups, and it sounds like the manager didn’t pass along the specifics or mention the lack thereof to the OP.

      At this point, the best solution is for the OP to have a follow-up conversation with her direct manager on specific instances of issues in the past year so that she may better understand how to generate progress moving forward. Based on how her manager handles the follow-up may provide clues on where this miscommunication is happening–with the direct manager or the higher-ups. It’s entirely possible that there is a legitimate issue to be addressed and the direct manager may be trying to avoid an uncomfortable, direct conversation by saying her boss “made” her rewrite the review.

      Even if the direct manager disagrees, it would be better if she could say, for example my supervisor had an issue with the way X was managed and would have preferred Y moving forward. While I thought X was fine, the company is trying to promote Z image. At least that is somewhat constructive and the OP may take of that what he or she will.

      Or, this could be the higher-ups being wishy washy or not very specific or trying to prevent a bonus or…any number of things, but there’s no real way to infer that from the way this was originally presented.

      Hopefully OP is able to glean more from a follow-up conversation that he or she may work with.

  16. JoAnna*

    #3 – please don’t advertise for a “Tech Support Genius” and list the pay as $13.29/hr (which, for this area, is ridiculous). I saw that ad yesterday and just shook my head. Geniuses at tech support can and will find jobs that pay a lot more than $13.29/hr.

  17. JayDee*

    LW #2: it sucks that this is their chosen method of cutting costs, but I’m not sure how much you’ll gain by resisting it in even the most calm and professional of ways. Instead, maybe try to organize an outing for the employees who are not invited to these events. Find a restaurant in town with moderate prices and plenty of room and invite everyone to gather there for dinner one night after the conference. It’s low key and a good way to get some socializing in without the bosses around.

    1. anon-2*

      That might make things worse, of course.

      Remember, the damage is already done to morale. You can’t fix it with a two-bit do-over.

  18. Chris*

    #2 — I’ve been interested by some of the comments on this. I’m a bit surprised, actually. I think doing this is a TERRIBLE idea. Everyone in a hierarchical situation knows how things work, but when an event or privilege or whatever that was always open to everyone is suddenly restricted, you have an instant morale torpedo. Regardless of reasons, regardless of the intent of management, what you have created is a wall, with important people here, unimportant people there. That’s how it WILL be perceived, by most workers. I face it daily in my current job, as important training courses (online, at that) are restricted to people above my position level. And how do you get promoted to those positions? By having the training that’s in those courses.

    If they wanted to cut costs, which is understandable, then either have one cheaper event, or one slightly more expensive “executive event” and a cheaper open event for everyone else. What may seem like a casual, unimportant thing to an exec or manager can easily feel like being spat on for someone in a lower position. The morale hit something like this will have is not worth the savings, IMHO.

    1. anon-2*

      Oh, it definitely has the effect of spitting on people.

      I think the event should be as inclusive as possible, especially if cost is a factor.

      Because AAM liked, at one time, to compare hiring to dating, let’s compare it to having a wedding. You can go fancy – and expensive – have the best champagne, caviar, a symphonic quartet playing music, a ten course meal — but then, you have to exclude people.

      Or you can do it on the cheap – no fancy floral arrangements, a DJ, a buffet meal, no open bar, and standard domestic champagne for the toast – but you have the luxury of including everyone who ought to be there — everyone who’s important in your life.

      Unless you get your jollies out of writing to people saying “oh it was a small wedding” (and subsequently, possibly writing those not invited out of your life) — you might want to be all-inclusive. Same with a corporate social event.

      The destruction to morale, as I said, cannot be “fixed” with a do-over.

  19. Eudora Wealthy*

    #1 Perhaps this is a lesson to all of us that we should send (approximately) quarterly notes to our managers outlining all the wonderful work we’ve personally and singlehandedly done (with concrete examples) and then ending the note with, “I am so happy that I work in an environment where I’m allowed to thrive and help my company be successful. Thank you!”

    Call it preemptive.

    1. Angela*

      In my company we actually track our accomplishments and all 1×1 meetings with a performance toolkit (really just a spreadsheet). Every time I have a conversation with my manager that discusses goals, outcomes, etc. this conversation is documented in the toolkit. For example, there was a request from another department for a report that was out of the ordinary, extremely urgent, and very time consuming to compile. I have this documented in my performance toolkit that I collaborated with another department and had a quick turn-around for a time-sensitive report. There was a lot of complaining about the amount of time tracking all this was going to take, but I felt so prepared for the self-assessment portion of my review last time and could easily justify a higher ranking since every accomplishment throughout the year was documented.

  20. Cassie*

    #1 – I can imagine one of my coworkers writing this letter. Our boss tends to throw in superlatives (best employee ever!) into performance evaluations, only taking into account his personal experience with the employee. Even when there are mounds of complaints by stakeholders and other staff about her lack of customer service skills and how she has bungled this project or that project – he’s just not able to have difficult discussions with her. (It’s not just other people complaining about her; there have been a few incidents where she has blown up at him too).

    So it takes a committee of managers to put together a summary of the complaints against her with some suggestions on how to improve. Which in my opinion is a ridiculous way of doing it – you’re sending the employee mixed messages about her performance. If she’s really struggling, stop telling her that her performance is superb!

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