should I ask for a lower salary, my boss wants me to inflate people’s performance ratings, and more

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

1. My boss wants me to inflate people’s performance ratings

My organization really prioritizes feedback. Every month, each employee gets an individual meeting with their manager to talk about progress, performance, goals, and ways the organization can better assist the employee in achieving his/her goals.

I oversee about 20 remote employees, and I report directly to the executive director. Last week, I started working on formal performance reviews, and he asked to speak with me about my scoring. He told me that while he agrees with my scores, he thinks it will anger and frustrate people to receive a satisfactory or average mark, and therefore I should give higher scores to keep people happy even if they don’t deserve it. To me, this seems to defeat the purpose of performance reviews. I tried to explain my position to my boss, but he didn’t agree. I’m hoping to revisit the conversation soon and I’m looking for advice on how to explain to him that feedback is completely useless if it’s falsely high.

I love that our organization gives feedback, but there’s no point if I can’t discuss concerns. I know that he’s my boss and what he says goes, but I feel like it’s really important to be able to give accurate feedback. (And his personal management style tends to be “don’t give feedback until there’s a huge issue,” which I tolerate but don’t agree with.) Any advice on how to convince my boss that accurate feedback is essential? He wants our team to be successful — I just wish he’d see that accurate feedback is the only way to get there.

Wow, your boss is incredibly wrongheaded here. The purpose of feedback is to talk to people accurately about how they’re doing and where they could do better. What he’s suggesting is a horrible disservice to employees, because it would deny them the benefit of actually knowing where they stand — and potentially sets them up to be blindsided by the consequences (which could be anything from what kind of raise they receive to whether you have to let someone go at some point). It’s also a horrible disservice to the organization, because it means that people aren’t being set up to succeed in their roles (which requires being aligned with you about how they’re doing and where they could do better) and people will get worse results because of it. It’s also potentially laying the groundwork for legal hassles later — if someone is led to believe that they’re doing a great job when they aren’t and then ends up being fired or denied a promotion or given a lower raise than their peers, and decides that reason is a discriminatory one (i.e., based on their race, sex, religion, or other protected class), you’re going to have a hell of a time defending yourself against a discrimination lawsuit if you have written documentation saying their performance is awesome.

You should point all of this out to your boss. You should also point out that the way you “keep people happy” isn’t by blowing smoke up their asses — it’s by treating them well and, among other things, being honest and up-front about problems and areas for improvement. You also don’t treat people well by ensuring that lower-performing coworkers don’t get feedback about the problems; in fact, most high performers will tell you that that will quickly demoralize and frustrate them, if not drive them out of the organization.

But I don’t have high hopes here. Your boss’s thinking is so disordered on such a major piece of managing well that it’s hard to see his leadership of the organization going well in the long-term.

2. Should I ask for a lower salary?

I’ve spent my career at small companies, knowing I make less money there than in “corporate America.” I have enjoyed the intimacy and the variety in the work I do. Even with a smaller salary, I’ve always been comfortable in my life and am not greedy. When I was hired, my boss agreed to my salary expectations. But from then on, she frequently let me know that I made more money than other people in my department. As such, I did not ever ask for a raise and made sure to never complain about my salary, even though I heard gripes from my colleagues regarding discontent with theirs.

Fast forward six years, I was laid off. I feel the salary issue may have been one of the causes on why I was one of the first to go.

I was recently offered a job where I asked them to match my ending salary. To my dismay, they made a higher offer – so much higher that I am uncomfortable. This is for several reasons. First, should there be a layoff I don’t want to be in that situation as I was before. Second, that prior atmosphere was so demeaning, and I am terrified of experiencing that again. Lastly, I have many years of work left, and would like to stay with a company. I don’t want to max out (even with annual adjustments). Are you allowed to negotiate down?

Accept the salary they offered you. If it was higher than they were comfortable paying, or if it was outside their typical salary structure, they wouldn’t have proactively offered it you; they would have simply matched your last salary, as you asked them to do. They offered you a higher one because they want you fit appropriately within their existing salary structure and don’t want to pay you less than others at your level (which is smart, both in order to retain you long-term and because otherwise they risk opening themselves to later perceptions of paying less because of your race, sex, religion, or other protected class).

Don’t be haunted by one bad experience. This company is making you an offer in good faith; there’s no reason to ask for less (and doing so would come off pretty strangely).

3. Should I limit the use of “I” in cover letters?

I have seen a bunch of articles cautioning the job-seeker to limit the use of “I”, “me”, “my” in cover letters, but I’m having trouble rephrasing my sentences without falling into the trap of sounding like an informercial. I was wondering what your take was on this. Any suggestions?

That’s terrible advice and makes no sense. The whole point of a cover letter is to talk about why you’d excel at the job. There’s no way to do that if you’re avoiding talking about yourself.

4. My boss brought up my absences in every performance review category

When I received my performance review, my boss was bringing up just one thing over and over and over: missing too many days.

Team player – bad because I was not there enough. Customer service – great with people but she misses too much work. Knowledge of job – Has knowledge of job but she misses too much work.

Can he do that? It seems that he should bring it up under one category.

Legally? Sure (assuming that you weren’t missing all those days due to FMLA or another legally protected form of leave). Should he, from a management perspective? It depends. It’s certainly possible that if your absences are really numerous, they’d truly be part of any reasonable person’s assessment of your performance in these areas. Or, if you didn’t really miss that much work, it’s possible that your boss is being a little obnoxious. Regardless, though, it doesn’t really matter: The message for you that’s coming through loud and clear is that your boss has serious concerns about your attendance and wants you to make pretty significant changes there.

5. Can employees refuse to go home when it’s slow?

I work in an emergency and specialty animal hospital in Connecticut. If I send non-salary employees home because it is slow, can they refuse because they want to “make their hours”?

Nope. That said, if you’re finding you often have to send people home because it’s slow, it’s worth reexamining how you’re scheduling people. If it happens regularly, you’ll start losing good people who will be rightly annoyed.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.

    #2:

    There’s a few things that are bothering me a about your experience.

    The first thing you should understand is that your previous boss was gaslighting you. S/he is a cheap, lying piece of crap and you would do well to stop taking their words seriously. If you were truly being overpaid as your boss was claiming, why weren’t your wages reduced? Did you ever see what your co-workers were actually paid? I’m willing to bet that your boss said similar things to them as well, and in a culture where “talking about money is rude”, it’s trivial to take advantage of those with less knowledge. Your former boss pinched pennies through fear and canned you when it was easy. I’ve been in a similarly bad job and after a few months in a decent one you’ll begin to see this for yourself.

    Secondly and more importantly, working for a paycheck and wanting to be paid well for your work is not greedy nor does it make you a less moral person than someone who willingly takes a smaller salary in exchange for nothing. Money is certainly not everything, but as Nick Naylor said in “Thank You for Smoking”, “Everyone has a mortgage to pay.” There is no shame in that.

    Congratulations on your new job, and cash that paycheck guilt free.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      “Gaslighting” is way overused atm , but lord god, if the word was ever appropriate, it sure is in this situation.

      OP, please read everything Mike C wrote 100x and try to purge the mental game played upon you from your thinking.

      1. Lisa

        I totally agree about the gaslighting. Some bosses are just like this. If OP were really overpaid by market standards, then he would have found someone else for the role. But OP wasn’t, just making more than what was offered to others in different roles. But I agree that the boss was probably playing this mental game on everyone, or worse using you to play it on the others. Prob told them that he couldn’t give them raises, because you were being paid so much. Don’t let one bad boss translate into you not knowing your worth. Your worth is pretty much what market value is. You were still worth it for 6 YEARS even with his griping. If you got the boot after 1 year, then yeah .. I could see that you were paid too much for him. But 6, no. Take new job paycheck without a second thought.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Right, and there’s another piece of evidence that you weren’t being overpaid: You were offered significantly more at your next role. That’s data. It may be that your new company has unusually high salaries… but it may be that you were underpaid in your previous role.

      2. Anonymous for Now

        Except for it’s not really what gaslighting means (unless OP thinks she is actually insane based on the former boss’s behavior).

        1. Lisa

          “Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity”.

          I think most gaslighting refers to perception or memory more than sanity. Him telling OP that she is overpaid enough, makes her thinks she must be. That his truth is the only truth, and even though she knows what market value is – over 6 years of him telling OP this, she started to believe it. Also, gaslighting doesn’t have to be a mental game that has the boss plotting away all hours of the night trying to find ways to make OP feel this way. It could just be putting OP down enough, which had the effect of feeling like they are overpaid and not worth it. Again, changing OP’s perception of her worth with repeated mentions of being overpaid over a period of 6 years.

    2. rando

      “Working for a paycheck and wanting to be paid well for your work is not greedy.”

      This. Your boss tried to make you feel guilty to manipulate you, and it worked. You did not receive a raise for six years! If you had written in years ago, I would be telling you to look for another job.

      Reasonable workplaces reward their employees by compensating them well, through paychecks or otherwise. It looks like you have an offer from such a place, so accept it! Save more, donate more to great organizations that need money, take people out to dinner more, and enjoy! You are not greedy.

      1. Artemesia

        This. There are greedy people in business, like the CEOs who manage to get 400 times as much as the typical worker and whose compensation means that there will be no raises this year for the people who do the work. I know of a CEO who was paid a huge bonus such that the profit targets that were used to reward the highly skilled professionals were ‘missed’ because although they generated the business increases specified for the raises, all the profit went to the boss and so the ‘profit targets’ were not achieved once the new CEO was ‘rewarded’. That is greed built into the crony based system of top compensation processes. Getting paid a decent wage is not greed.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      +1000 for the gaslighting. It wasn’t nearly as big a deal, but at one job I had a co-worker who I heard was talking crap about me, which was a shame because I had been fond of her before that.

      Fast forward a couple of years, I run into her, and she said that our boss, who was the one who told me of the previously mentioned badmouthing, had told her the same thing, but about me! Now, it’s possible the ex-coworker was lying, but she seemed pretty sincere, and the former boss was pretty insecure and manipulative, looking back on it.

    4. SJP

      + 1 on this Mike hit the nail on the head.

      Your old boss sounds like an actual ass and was under paying you and guilt tripping you about it! This new company has clearly seen your worth and is paying you what your skills etc warrant! Accept it and it’s awesome a company has been fair

    5. LBK

      I’m not sure I would use Nick Naylor as a role model, but I totally agree with the rest of this. I find it interesting that you refer to it as a “smaller salary” rather than saying you were underpaid – because you were. You enjoyed some benefits that balanced it out in your head, but you were underpaid, plain and simple. You’re now being paid the right amount. Don’t feel bad about that.

    6. Victoria, Please

      Also, OP, take care to rebuild the confidence that your former boss undermined so seriously. Do not take a hat-in-hand, yessir attitude to your new job. Take an “I can do this, I can do it well” attitude.

  2. GrumpyBoss

    #2: your previous boss was a horrible person and sounds like she did a number on you. Seriously. To make you feel bad and guilty for a salary that you negotiated and she agreed to is passive aggressive at best, flat out hostile at worst.

    Think about if the situation was reversed. What if you had accepted less money than everyone else on the team – and then constantly reminded her of that fact? Do you think that behavior would be tolerated? This is one of those cases where it is not OK just because she was your boss and you were her subordinate. Absolutely disrespectful.

    Long story short – take the money that you’ve been offered. It was offered because someone believed you are worth it and that the company can afford it. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.

    1. Dan

      Heh. At my last job, I had a boss who would make snide remarks about my salary… which was offered (and no negotiation on my end) by *his* boss. (Bitchy boss’s position didn’t exist when I was hired, he was low level management that was added as a new layer later in my tenure.) He would always make comments about what I got paid, how I must be a good negotiator, etc. Hell, one day he even whipped out my resume to “make sure” I didn’t lie about my credentials (my MS was “in progress” when I was hired, and I said so in so many words.) Sorry dude. I never understood it.

      Truth is, me and his boss (my then immediate boss) had a talk, they made me an offer, I liked it, and took it. End of story.

      What a dick. Nobody really liked him.

      1. Observer

        That boss sounds like a piece of work. But, #2, don’t take it as a sign that you should worry. It’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t about the salary. The whole resume thing is just bizarre and a sign that the guy just had major issues.

    2. Artemesia

      The quickest way to convince a boss you are not a valuable worker is to accept a subpar salary or to negotiate a lower salary than offered. What does that tell the boss? ‘Poor me, I am nowhere near as valuable a worker as you think I am.’ This will color the way you are viewed on the job as well as limit future promotions and raises.

  3. Dan

    #2

    I’ll pile on, but in a good way :) I actually share your concerns, about being paid too much and thus being first to go during a RIF. During my last job hunt, I had two offers — a good one, and a great one. I think the good one was a bit desperate, and I actually passed on negotiating with them, because for their offer to be better than “great” offer, they’d have to come up *really* high. I took the great offer with no negotiation.

    AAM’s right. They made you an offer that’s fair. Take it with a smile :)

    1. Ivy

      Companies can indeed set pretty different salary levels for similar jobs, don’t be misled by your experience with one company.
      Some years ago I was looking for a job in the midst of a recession and I had set my desired salary a bit lower than the previous job to increase my chances of finding something. I was lucky to find a job pretty quickly – after interviewing with 2 companies. In the first one when I mentioned what salary I wanted they basically laughed at me and said it was too high and they can’t afford it. The second company hiring manager also laughed but in a good way and said I am setting my sights too low. The salary they offered me was 2.5x the one I asked for – I took it and never regretted it

      1. OP #2

        Cheers all for your fantastic advice. I have accepted the offer… With full intent to work my butt off like before. A close friend advised, “If they offered you just a few grand above your current salary, would you say yes? Then why wouldn’t you say yes now even though it’s a pay grade beyond that?”

        There’s a lot of comments along the lines of being taken advantage of, which is a separate story with reasonable arguments on both sides. Ultimately, the job did give good experience from other high levels in the company… and I’m glad to be where I’m at. Really appreciate everyone’s anecdotes.

          1. Not So NewReader

            Ditto from me, OP. You will see variations on this manipulative behavior again. “OH, I can’t come down on the price of the car because I have oh-so-much money invested in it.” Just to make you feel bad for even asking. The right response is to move on. And you did. Congrats on your new job and enjoy being recognized for what you are worth.

        1. TrainerGirl

          Congrats OP.

          I understand your concerns. I turned down a job last summer because they offered me over $25k more than what they stated the initial top of the range was. That made me very nervous, because 1) they knew the job was priced ridiculously low and couldn’t get desirable candidates at the salary they wanted to pay; and 2) I’d be the first one laid off if cuts were made because the raised the salary so high.

          I did get an offer from them, and agonized about it before declining. Turning it down was the best decision I could’ve made, because I recently started a new position that’s head and shoulders above the position I turned down, and I got offered more money to boot. But this time, the salary they offered was market rate. I even negotiated for a slightly higher salary, and it’s been a long time since I was comfortable doing that.

          Cheers on your new job…take that higher paycheck because you’re earned it.

    2. Vicki

      I will counter.

      _Sometimes_ companies lay off the highest paid employees.
      Sometimes it’s the ones who they think are paid more than they should be (which doesn;t mean highest paid).
      Sometimes you’re in a group that simply has “too many people”.
      Sometimes every manager is told to cut and they flip a coin. Seriously.
      Sometimes, an entire group is laid off or a project is eliminated.
      Sometimes, it’s the most recently hired people.
      Sometimes, it’s people just this side of 40.
      Sometimes it’s the remote workers.
      Sometimes it really is “dead wood” (but not as often as you think).
      Sometimes, someone didn’t like you.

      Never assume.
      Say thank you.

  4. Dan

    #4

    Yup, your boss is sending you a message, one that you should listen to carefully. Truth is, attendance hurts you in multiple aspects of your job.

    At my last job, we had ratings in specific categories, and an “overall” rating. For a long time, I used to think that “overall” was supposed to be an average of the component scores. In reality, it’s not. What it is, is a rating almost independent of the components, and is probably the most important thing — it’s your boss’s general impression of you, period.

    Bringing this back to your review, the flip side is that you boss could give you great “component” scores, and then give you a bad one overall, because overall he’s not happy with your performance, and it’s bad enough where he cares that much.

    As AAM says, your boss has serious issues with your attendance. You need to listen carefully to that message.

    1. GrumpyBoss

      I’ll chime in with some tough love. It’s very telling that the OP’s reaction is, “can he do that?”, rather than, “wow this is limiting my career potential – maybe I should examine why I’m missing work so much”.

      Some people need to be hit over the head with a hammer to get the point.

      1. Canadamber

        Well I mean maybe the OP is just sick a lot, but otherwise yeah. It’s generally considered a bad idea to miss work constantly! :o

        1. Zillah

          I’m someone who does tend to get sick a lot, so if that’s the case for the OP, I really sympathize. But, I also think that when that’s the case, you need to be as proactive as possible about addressing it, including maybe looking for jobs with generous sick policies, the ability to work from home, or which have more flexible hours. Because if it’s a job where you have to be there at a certain time with no real wiggle room, that’s not necessarily the right job for you if you’re prone to sickness.

          I do realize that this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s something to keep in mind as you’re looking for a job.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Good point, but the OP’s reaction was “Can he do that?”, not “I was sick X days last quarter, and I didn’t use all of my sick days” or “I missed X days last month, but still completed all my tasks before their assigned deadline” or something like that. As GrumpyBoss said, they seem more concerned with making their boss be nice to them than fixing their boss’s perception of them.

            1. AdAgencyChick

              This is EXACTLY the reaction I had to reading the letter. I would think an often-sick employee would be asking, “How can I help my boss understand that I need to take all of my sick days because I do, in fact, get sick a lot?” The phrasing of the question as “Why is my boss bringing up my attendance so much? Can he do that?” feels more as though the OP doesn’t understand why poor attendance would be a problem.

            2. LBK

              Exactly this – I find it very telling as well that the OP didn’t even mention whether she actually WAS out a lot or why, just whether or not the boss can bring it up this way. If this were a false accusation, I’d expect a LW to usually say “I was out because I have a chronic condition” or something like that. It sounds like it was valid but the OP is just trying to get it not put down in writing so harshly.

              As Alison points out, focus on the real issue, which is improving your attendance. If you do that, you remove your manager’s ability to repeatedly state it on your review.

              1. Allison

                I also wonder if they discussed the absences with the manager. Did they say they were sick? Did they disclose a chronic illness? Have they ever produced doctor’s notes? I feel like the attendance is definitely a problem they need to address, but there also needs to be a discussion on how to minimize these attendance issues down the road, if only to the OP’s manager knows they’re serious about fixing the problem.

            3. AnonAnalyst

              Yup, this exactly. Fellow person who gets sick a lot, and also suffers from a chronic illness here, so I feel for the OP if she’s in a similar situation. That said, I loop my manager in when I need to to figure out how to make sure my work doesn’t suffer.

              OP, the bottom line is that the boss thinks your attendance is enough of a problem that it’s impacting most aspects of your work. Regardless of whether you think it’s a fair view of your work, the reality is that as long as you’re working under this manager, if things continue as they have been it will continue to be a problem. Period. I would caution you to rethink your perspective and, instead of focusing on how you feel you shouldn’t have been dinged for this issue on multiple dimensions in your review, try to actually hear the feedback because as others have said, the message is coming through loud and clear.

          2. Allison

            If OP does get sick a lot, they could also take steps to boost their immune system and prevent illness. More sleep, better diet, more exercise, vitamin intake, hand sanitizer, etc. If it’s a chronic illness, that’s another story, but I still think that people with chronic illnesses should do what they can to manage their symptoms *as well as* work for employers who are flexible on when and where work gets done.

            OP could also have been missing work for other reasons, like childcare issues or problems with transportation. Whatever the issue is, it’s clear they need to make some lifestyle changes if they want to succeed in that job.

            1. AdAgencyChick

              Yup. For whatever reason that attendance is a problem — even if it is illness — I would argue that OP needs to do whatever s/he can to a) show that s/he’s trying to minimize absences and b) show that s/he’s trying to minimize the impact of necessary absences on the work flow.

      2. chewbecca

        I was on the receiving end of that tough love once. The difference is that I took it seriously, and made actions to correct my attendance issues. No hammers necessary!

      3. Vicki

        Can he do that? Sady, he can.
        Should he do that? No. If X is a large problem, make a section for X. Otherwise, you look like a redundant jerk.
        Can you do anything about it? Not in this lifetime.

    2. Mister Pickle

      +1 (with a bullet)

      My guess is that the boss was trying to make the point that the frequent absences were causing problems in every aspect of the job. If true, this would imply that the boss put some care and thought into the evaluation. Which would imply that the OP’s job is on the line.

    3. Artemesia

      Exactly. In this case, the message I would be getting is ‘my attendance has me in line for firing.’ Arguing about the performance evaluation is off the mark; the message is loud and clear. If there is a reason for missing so much work like a serious illness, then some sort of accommodation needs to be negotiated. If due to factors under the OP’s control then shape up before it is too late.

  5. Anthony

    #5

    The employees absolutely have to comply with your request that they go home, but in some states the employer may be on the hook for paying them for some of their hours (if you are forcing them to go home you may have to pay them for a minimum amount of hours, so if they leave before that minimum is up, you would still have to pay them for those hours even though they didn’t work that long).

    1. LBK

      Yep – this is how it is in Massachusetts. If you’re scheduled for 3 or more hours and get cut before you hit 3 hours, you’re entitled to at least minimum wage for the difference in time between the amount you worked and 3 hours.

    2. Artemesia

      Regularly sending people home early means they really suffer as they aren’t earning the money they need to scrape by (these always seem to be low paying jobs in the first place) and they also don’t have that time free to work a second job. Add the commute into that and you are chewing up their time without compensation. The first step to take is to review scheduling and try your best not to overschedule so that workers are not penalized.

      1. Terra C

        # 5 – Gosh, yes. If an employer scheduled me for only minimum hours, I’d be free to plan for the rest of my time (including take on extra work elsewhere, if I require X-amount of $ to cover my household bills.) It’s one thing to have hours reduced in advance, when scheduling is made, but if I have already blocked off those hours in a day to devote to Job A, then Job A sends me home without warning in the middle of the day, I am blocked from doing Job B—which I’d have already informed I was unavailable for due to my commitment to Job A. Forcing employees to lose significant income—for some, without warning, making it then impossible to pay their rent—is a horrible, horrible practice, guaranteed to create not only ill will but vary precarious positions in the lives of human beings with families and responsibilities.

        1. LBK

          I completely agree that if it’s a pattern, then it needs to be addressed, but if it’s one off instances then there’s not much you can do about it. And some places have extremely variable traffic where you really won’t know how the day is going to play out until it’s happening.

          1. Judy

            I would also think that those places wouldn’t know that traffic wasn’t going to pick up in 20 minutes, either though.

            Original scenario is Emergency Animal Hospital. If you send someone home, how can you know that there won’t be 10 patients walking through the door in 30 minutes. It’s one thing to let people go 30 minutes early, it’s another to send them home 1/3 of the way into the shift.

      2. AVP

        Plus, if they have to commit to paying for childcare that they won’t need (for hours in which they aren’t earning any money)…oh dear.

      3. Anon for this

        Yeah, this was my first thought, too. OP, I get where your question is coming from, but it felt to me like it was coming from a place of “I have the power to do this, right?” rather than “How do I deal with overstaffing without hurting my employees and destroying morale?” Come on. Once in awhile is one thing, but this doesn’t sound like once in awhile.

  6. AnonyMouse

    I thought the juxtaposition of 1 and 4 was interesting here….obviously they’re not exactly analogous situations, but one is an issue where a manager’s trying to give performance reviews that are “too nice” and the other is one where an employee feels their manager was too harsh with them over one issue. I think Alison’s advice for the first question is spot on, and it’s also good for OP#4 to remember. It might be really annoying to get a less than stellar review over one issue, but in some ways your manager is actually doing you a favour by being clear and up-front about his concerns. It’s obvious that your attendance is really on his mind, and if he just pointed it out in one section of many and gave you a good review overall, it would be easier to brush off or not take seriously. But now that you know it really bothers him, for whatever reason, you can take steps to deal with it – whether that’s working on missing less work, or having a conversation with your boss about the reasons you need to be absent and what you can do about it.

  7. Vee

    If you’re promising X amount of hours a week, you really should be honouring that. It was infuriating when I was in school and was told I’d have XX hours for the week and I budgeted accordingly, only to keep getting sent home because it was quiet. I get employees have to comply, but I looked for another job once it started becoming regular and they lost a good employee.

  8. Cheesecake

    #2 Do you deserve a crappy house and cheating partner? No. Just like you don’t deserve a low salary. Why would you negotiate down?

  9. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    #1
    Dunno, I wonder if it is possible that the OP’s reviews might be demotivating. That environment sounds like an awful lot of formal feedback. What I hear the boss saying is “lighten up on the people a bit”, which, maybe I’m too much like the boss and have to think about that.

    If there’s no reason for the boss to be interfering, if the OP is running a positive and motivated staff and this is her method, then he should mind his own beeswax. If the OP’s staff is stressed and feeling like nothing they do is ever good enough, perhaps she should consider the boss’s POV.

    1. majigail

      I have definitely seen employees get really upset when on a scale of 1-5 with a 3 being average they got all or mostly 3’s. If the OP’s employees are used to mostly 4’s with some 5’s, then a whole bunch of 3’s will be a really rude awakening, true or not.

      1. Franny

        I’m that person. I just received a review with nothing but 3’s. I know I’m not perfect and that there are things I need to work on, but can you honestly tell me that there is NOTHING that I am better or worse at? Even if my supervisor spent a lot of time thinking about my review it makes you feel like they rushed through it. Even my attendance was rated as average and I very rarely miss a day (maybe once in the last year).

        1. Helka

          Agreed. My last performance review was all 3s on a 1-5 scale, even when I’d given my boss examples of ways I’d gone above and beyond in my job, and even when he wasn’t able to give me any kind of a coherent answer on “what could I do to move this to a 4?” It was incredibly frustrating.

        2. CAA

          “Average” or “Meets Expectations”? There’s a big difference, and if your boss’ expectation is that you come to work every day, then by doing so you are meeting expectations.

            1. Observer

              Assuming a reasonable employer, “meets expectations” allows for taking time that is part of you package. (Unreasonable employers are another whole kettle of fish.)

              Exceeds expectations?
              Plans vacations around business needs
              Doesn’t take unexpected leave
              Contacts that boss in a timely and appropriate (as defined by the boss!) manner, when there is a true emergency (generally only in conjunction with other markers.)
              Being willing to cover for others
              Arranging for coverage when you will be out
              Responding graciously to emergencies

              This list is not comprehensive, but just some things I could quickly think of.

              If a boss can’t give a description of what it wold take to move up a notch, then you have a problem.

            2. Language Lover

              I tell my employees that there are some categories in which they can’t get 4s or 5s. Attendance is one of them. I expect them to be here, on time. And I expect them to try to get coverage if they can’t.

              If they don’t do that, they can get dinged but I can’t envision a scenario where someone would merit a 4 or a 5 in this category.

              My policy tends to be 3s are good and an employee should be happy with 3s but I do give out 4s as well where they have their strengths. If an employee doesn’t have anywhere that is a strength, then I would question my hiring decision. So far that hasn’t been an issue.

              1. YaH

                Then there shouldn’t be an option for 4s and 5s on the review in those categories- it should be structured so that it’s either a “there are no concerns regarding your attendance” and “there are concerns regarding your attendance”. It’s really unfair that the most someone could earn would be “meets expectations” when there’s an option on the review form for them to potentially earn a higher score.

              2. NurseB

                I find that outside of what employers should expect of their employee. I was given a “5” for my attendance because I missed no days from calling off, I came in when others couldn’t be in the office due to weather, and I came in on my day off when others called in sick. If I had received a “3” I would have had a serious discussion with my supervisor as to the ridiculousness of the system. I received 3’s, 4’s and a few 5’s, which I think is a good review. I may be average at most things but there are things I kick butt at and my review should reflect that.

          1. Judy

            And then there’s the hook that “we expect that of you based on past performance”, not “we expect that of you because you are in role X”. So you’re saying since I’ve done good solid, sometimes great work, I have to do much greater work to get exceeds expectations compared to the guy in the next cube?

            I think that’s where forced rankings become problematic.

          2. Joey

            Showing up everyday is usually a minimum expectation, sort of similar to being eligible to work. It’s that basic of an expectation .

            If you’re leaning on showing up everyday as a reflection of your good performance good luck with that.

            1. Elsajeni

              If that’s the case, though, it would be nice to have the scale you’re scored on reflect that — every other trait can be scored Exceeds/Meets/Doesn’t meet expectations, but attendance should just be Meets/Doesn’t. I think part of the reason people hate the “Well, I can’t rank you Exceeds Expectations for attendance, because near-perfect attendance is my expectation” thing is that it brings down their average or prevents them from scoring all-Excellent, in a system where “straight A’s” are the only thing that gets rewarded. If there’s one trait on the review where it’s impossible to score Exceeds Expectations/5 out of 5, then the range of scores that can earn rewards should reflect that, and ideally the scale for that trait should be adjusted to only include the scores that are actually possible.

        3. Observer

          On many scales 3 is not “average”, which is a not a useful metric, but “meets expectations.” Given that reality, why would showing up to work be more than “meets expectations”, unless never took any of your sick or leave time or you showed up even under genuinely, extremely trying circumstances.

          1. Helka

            The problem with an attitude like that is that taking appropriate leave time when ill is part of good performance, and is good not only for the individual but for the business. You want your employee with the flu to call out, not come in and infect everyone else!

            1. C Average

              I think maybe what the attendance rating gets at (or should get at) is, does this person’s attendance create problems for the business? That’s going to depend not just on the frequency of absence, but on how it’s handled and whether the employee’s approach to absence meets the needs of the business and displays a basic conscientiousness.

              Everywhere I’ve ever worked, I’ve been considered highly conscientious in terms of attendance, and I have definitely never been a martyr about dragging my sick or on-vacation ass to work no matter what. Here are some things I’ve done to be effective with regard to attendance:

              –in shift-work environments, I’ve been generous about covering for other people when they needed to be out. That way, when I found myself needing someone to cover my shift, my colleagues were willing to cover for me.
              –I’ve let my management know when I was going to be out, using the method they preferred rather than the one I’d prefer. (I live and die by email and hate the phone, but if my boss wants a phone call when I’m going to be out, my boss gets a phone call when I’m going to be out.)
              –When I’ve needed time off for a planned absence, I’ve asked (not announced) way in advance, and have made it clear that “no” was an acceptable answer. And I’ve been a good sport when the answer was “no.”
              –I try to plan my vacations and other planned time off around the business’s needs. When I worked retail, my family and I celebrated Christmas in February. No big thing, and actually kind of fun for everyone.
              –I try to structure my work around planned time off, winding down projects before I leave, doing all I can to hand off ongoing projects smoothly, not leaving loose ends for other people to tie up.
              –(This is controversial, but I’m throwing it in anyway.) I’m almost never truly off the grid. If there’s a work emergency, even if I’m off, people know they can reach me if there’s something only I can take care of. And I’m happy to do so.

              Because I do all of this stuff, I can take a guilt-free PTO day for the pure hell of it pretty much when I want to, and I absolutely do.

            2. Observer

              I don’t think you understood what I said.

              If you take appropriate sick leave, then you don’t deserve to get dinged. But you also don’t deserve “exceeds expectations” or “outstanding”. You deserve “meets expectations”. Coming in regularly IS a basic expectation.

          2. Worker B

            Somehow questions #1 and #4 got conflated. The first is about the manager who is rating employees monthly on a scale of 1-5 and putting them at 3 or lower, whatever that means, while the other is about the boss bringing up absences in a performance review.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Well I hate scored reviews anyway. We finally did away with them after I threatened to burn them.

        I don’t want employees who are happy to be a “C student” which is how most people read a 3 on a 1 to 5 scale, no matter how you try to explain it to them otherwise.

        God forbid you give an otherwise good an employee a “needs improvement” 2 or 1 on something they actually need improvement on. Tears!

        Tell them they need improvement, received well. Score them a D or an F (again how it is internalized) and they are mess.

        The bottom line on any process is, how is it working out for you? Is it producing the desired results?

        1. De Minimis

          It may have to do with the employees’ previous jobs, I know at one of mine a “Needs Improvement” was basically a polite way of telling someone they needed to start looking for another job ASAP.

        2. PEBCAK

          This was my thought on reading the letter as well. The numeric or letter grade ranking system may be the issue, not the content itself. Perhaps a more qualitative review of “Areas that you are doing great” and “Areas that need improvement” would be more constructive.

        3. Marcy

          This is exactly how I feel. I’ve always gotten 4’s and 5’s in other jobs and then suddenly a job I liked decided that it was impossible for an employee to get mostly 4’s and 5’s and that it should be mostly 3’s. Yes, they explained a 3 is “meets expectations” but it is not. It is average. I could clearly see I did more work than my coworkers, worked harder, wasn’t on personal calls half the day, etc. but here we were, all 3’s. When most people get a 3, what is the average score? A 3. I was also working in state government. That meant my file, including my evaluation, was public record and could easily be checked by future employers and compared with applicants in other departments receiving 4’s and 5’s because their department didn’t have this asinine policy. That meant I could not easily compete with them for jobs even though I might be a better applicant. I left because of the stupid policy rating me as average. I’m back to 4’s and 5’s and it makes me feel appreciated. High performers with other options will not tolerate an evaluation full of 3’s. It’s insulting. And to those who say there are certain categories where only a 3 is possible, like attendance? I’m not so sure about that. How about those of us who come in on a weekend and/or stay late during the week to cover for another employee who is out on extended sick leave? If I am putting in more hours than expected and not eligible for overtime pay or comp time, then the least you can do as a manager is give me a 4 on attendance. A better system is to remove the numbers and just use comments. It’s more honest because the manager can’t hide behind a numerical score and has to give some sort of feedback and the employee won’t be fixated on the number and miss the message.

      3. Tenley

        To employees who are not used to having to hit all sorts of strange metrics monitored every second (like in a call center), it could be very strange to get rated by a manager every month who, as best they can tell, believes everyone under him is mediocre caliber at best. I think that’s how this might be coming off — why would a company even bother to hire people who were D or at best C students.

        1. Taz

          With call center metrics, you need a thick skin to not take it personally, and in any case call centers aren’t known for employee morale. A manager coming at you rating you on a scale of 1-5 every month in several areas and approaching it in this form is more difficult not to take personally; there are other ways to productively address how employees might improve, but the approach taken so far might have deteriorated relations to the point employees aren’t going to hear this manager anyway.

    2. Sunshine

      It does sound like a lot – every month? That level of frequency would be exhausting. And what’s the point if you can’t be honest? They probably need to rethink the entire process.

      1. Artemesia

        This is a morale busting approach to feedback. I agree that frequent feedback is a great idea but monthly feedback should not be a set of grades but rather specific feedback ‘Claude, your work on the Arbuthnot case was outstanding, we really appreciated that you went above and beyond to get that done.’ and ‘The late filings on the Moreno case have cost us with the client; we need you to alert us if there is a problem that is slowing a case down so we can get you some help to meet the deadling.’

        Frequent graded scores just feels like harassment and not useful feedback which should be coming as needed not monthly. (Informal specific feedback might even be typically coming weekly) A formal graded review should not occur more than every 6 months and one year is also reasonable. Monthly is just a way of beating up on people and does not constitute ‘feedback’ in any really helpful way.

        1. Arjay

          I wasn’t sure if there was a difference between the monthly feedback meetings and the “formal performance reviews” the OP is working on. My original interpretation was that they have monthly informal meetings, but that the formal scoring and reviews only happen annually. I think I just read into it because if you had to start on these last week, it sounds like this is all the managers could ever work on.
          Regardless, I agree that the formal score is less important than the delivery of helpful, specific feedback and goal setting. Whether the boss is insisting on grade inflation or truly believes that the OP is grading inappropriately, the messages communicated about strengths and opportunities can be the same.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            I had that read too. Again, maybe I’m too much like the OP’s boss but monthly feedback with even informal ratings is just too much for me. A monthly meeting with naturally occurring feedback, sure, but the…….

            Eh, I should just stop talking. I give and receive feedback constantly, constant flow. I think I’m just allergic to formal things that other people would do well in. “This month you did better with your TPS reports”, not for me but:

            If it’s working, work it.

        2. Worker B

          It can be morale-busting — especially as the OP refers to a “satisfactory or average mark” (suggesting this in fact is more akin to an A B C D F approach than a “meets expectations” approach). The whole feedback thing is strange, because turn the situation around — the OP receiving feedback from a superior — and the OP is defensive and not at all liking what the manager is saying, when that manager’s feedback isn’t even in the A B C D F format that the OP is providing to his/her employees.

    3. Juli G.

      I also wondered that since OP said boss doesn’t give great feedback himself. I wondered if OP is being too harsh and boss is not doing well at making that clear.

      I’ve had managers have a difficult time giving out the best score because now “people will think that’s all they have to do”.

    4. Kyrielle

      Also depending on what the text said. I mean, is everything “average” but the text is all upbeat and positive about how good they are, in such a way that maybe it sounds like ratings are deflated?

      Is #1’s boss being over-nice, or are they back-handedly pointing out that #1 is being too critical in their eyes of the actual performance? (That is, do they want higher ratings because average performers might be demotivated if told they’re average, or do they think these people are above-average and might be demotivated by being told they are “only” average?)

      Either #1’s boss has a bad way of managing (inflating the values), or they are not in alignment about how #1’s team is performing. Neither is good…but the latter might be fixable, and might also call for a different approach to discussing it, to find out what #1’s boss’s view of the performance is and why.

  10. Gina

    For #1 I’m confused about who made the policy of meeting monthly with the people you manage to discuss goals, how the organization can help, etc, because if the executive director only gives feedback if there’s a huge problem, you would think he have stopped the process by now. Also what have his and the Op’s meetings even been about so far? But if he’s so afraid to give real feedback, then the OP has to wonder about her own performance. Maybe he’s heard from her reports that her feedback is unfair and that she doesn’t give them what they need to do their job, but instead of addressing that, he tells her she’s doing fine but let’s inflate the scores a little “just to keep them happy.” There might be real problems with her management that she assumes don’t exist because it’s never been addressed, except him not addressing issues is the whole point here.

    “Just so they’re happy” is sometimes code for “I don’t have the spine to tell you the real reason.”

  11. BRR

    #3 This advice might come from articles that fall into the category of trying to be edgy to separate themselves from all of the other job search articles. Writers won’t get paid for writing what’s already been written or when nobody views their articles so they need to separate themselves out and do something “out of the box” to garner more page views.

    #5 It’s kind of piling on but sending people home is pretty crummy. They’re counting on the money from the hours you told them. If you do this you’ll find high turnover, low employee moral, and most likely poor performance all because of being treated poorly.

    1. Tomato Frog

      I would say the advice from #3 is an old and well-established piece of idiocy. Teachers have been telling kids this for years. It’s one of those bits of advice that may have served a constructive purpose occasionally, in certain contexts, but for the most part just results in really tortured syntax. (I know. I’ve edited some of that syntax. *shudder*)

      1. BRR

        I thought three might also be just bad advice (haven’t had my coffee yet so me no write good). I didn’t see that one when I first started looking for job hunt advice. I mostly saw send the hiring manager your materials or make a fancy resume to stand out. Then I thankfully found AAM pretty quickly.

      2. Leah

        #3, did the article give examples of how to achieve this feat of grammatical engineering?

        I think that Tomato Frog’s fear of tortured syntax is well-founded. What they might be trying to say is to vary sentence structure so that they don’t just say, “I…” every time.

        While trying to find an example of this advice online, I did come across a gem telling recent college grads that cover letters are for talking about the company, not themselves, with no further information. Yes, cover letters need to convey that you know what the organization is all about and how you fit in specifically, the advice as given would encourage people to write a cover letter summarizing the info available on the company’s website.

  12. The Cosmic Avenger

    Also, OP#1, I think you meant to say “My organization really prioritizes overemphasizes insincere feedback.”

    There, fixed that for you.

  13. John

    #2 — you need to remind yourself of the value you offer your organization. If ever a manager mentions your allegedly high salary, that should prompt you to calmly explain all that you bring your organization that makes you a veritable bargain.

    In your new job (congrats!), you need to be showing (and reminding) them that you are delivering outstanding work (and, ideally, offering some strengths none of your colleagues possess) so that if layoffs come they will immediately realize they are getting too great a value for what they’re paying you.

    While a huge salary might put a target on your back (and I mean way outsized), during times of layoffs managers will look at who they can most live without. They’re not going to sacrifice an outstanding contributor over a few thousand dollars.

    1. AB Normal

      “While a huge salary might put a target on your back (and I mean way outsized), during times of layoffs managers will look at who they can most live without. They’re not going to sacrifice an outstanding contributor over a few thousand dollars.”

      This. I’ve been in 3 companies that had drastic layoffs; in all 3 cases, I was kept while colleagues with the same title and earning 1/2 – 2/3 of my salary were let go. Salary level is one criterion for deciding who to let go in case of workforce reduction, but I can tell from experience that your results, dedication, work ethics, have much more weight than just the salary figure.

      1. OP #2

        Exceptional points on employee value. Hence the source of my fear- I was in the office every weekend during last December to meet a deadline (the holidays!). I’ve rewritten our procedures; made presentations; trained employees; gotten on my hands and knees in paperwork when it was necessary. I stayed late to help other departments when they were short handed. In short, if it was asked, my answer was yes.

        This is all one-sided, of course. My fear is, given all else being equal (if you’re lucky enough to have a team of hardworking, intelligent individuals), it may come down to simply numbers.

        That’s a risk everywhere though. So I’ll just set my bar higher and work hard.

        1. Observer

          So, your answer was always yes, and you never asked for a raise in 6 years. And you were the only one who didn’t gripe about your salary, either. So, your boss kept on making nasty comments about your high salary – which you didn’t extract at gun point – instead of appreciating what she’d gotten.

          Your manager doesn’t understand value OR management.

          And, you were NOT fired because you were the highest paid person among a group of equally valuable people. This just convinces me that you were fired because your boss saw you as any easy target.

          Bad (read stupid) bosses will do that, regardless of whether you are paid a high salary or not. And, good bosses will recognize the value that a good employee with a high work ethic brings to the table.

        2. ThursdaysGeek

          And if you’re really concerned, keep living on the salary you were getting, and save/invest the extra you are now getting. So, if you’re laid off again, you’ll have a nice nest egg to keep you going while you look for your next, good paying job.

        3. Not So NewReader

          OP, you did not ask this directly, but if I were in your shoes and had a genuine concern about being steadily employed, I know what I would do. I’d write a budget that allowed me to save up 6-12 months income so that I would be prepared for that dreaded layoff.

          I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a safety net. And I would encourage you to get/keep a safety net. But the reason is not because “this company will mess with you like the last one”. The reason IS because it is just a good habit.

          Side benefit: It helps to ease a weary mind. Which is what you have, OP, a mind that is sick and tired of the BS from the last place you worked.

  14. Diet Coke Addict

    #5….I think everyone in shift work has once or twice gone home early because it’s slow, or there’s too many people and not enough business, or whatever. But is it happening frequently enough that people are refusing to do it? If it happens once in a while, lots of people are happy to have an extra three or four hours to run errands or be with their families. But have a good hard look at what people were promised when they started the job (casual 8-12 hours a week? Or steady 30-36 hours per week? Both are part-time, but very different) and see if they’re actually getting it. Hiring someone to work part-time for 30 hours a week, and then sending them home twice a week early so they’re only getting 20 hours can be immensely frustrating and a big hit to their paycheque and breeds resentment–as does the practice of only sending certain people home early, which can look like favoritism.

    Look at the actual needs of the business, and the actual hours budgeted to people. You can either bump people down to casual part-time, or be more upfront about the actual hours needed, but constantly sending people home to the point where they’re refusing to go can lead to LOTS of other problems down the road–like your people quitting to go to a place that will let them work.

    1. De Minimis

      I’ve had to take various animals to vet emergency clinics over the years, and from what I can tell the workflow would be really tough to predict. There are probably long stretches with not much going on, and then you have a bunch of people showing up.

      1. PEBCAK

        Yeah, but there are solutions like:

        1) Having people call in before their shift to see if they are needed rather than showing up and getting sent home.

        2) Using salaried employees to absorb the fluctuations in demand.

        3) Using overtime for non-salaried employees.

        And so on…

          1. Windchime

            Exactly. I have had to use the emergency vet service before, and based on what they charge, it seems that they could afford to pay the receptionist and the technician for a good chunk of their shift if they even have just one visit. It’s super, super expensive (at least it is at the clinic where I take my pet).

              1. Windchime

                Me too. I wouldn’t take any of it back,either; I was sure glad that the emergency clinic was there when my poor old cat had reached the end of his life.

        1. Bea W

          1 is tough in any kind of ER environment for humans and non-humans alike. It goes from quiet to crazy without warning. That’s just the nature of the work. You can’t risk being understaffed in an ER.

          I’m curious under what circumstances people are being sent home because things can change so quickly in emergency services. Is this during regular business hours on days with already low non-urgent (scheduled appts) volume so that people who would normally be seeing non-urgent cases are idle? Those may be days where you can make the decision before the shift starts although the same complaint will happen, people will be losing hours.

        2. the_scientist

          Agree, agree, agree. Human emergency departments seem to have this figured out, although I know that overall shortage of nursing staff is a problem in some regions. OP #5, you should look into how emergency departments schedule and handle staffing to see if you can borrow some ideas- I would imagine that the use of *salaried* staff and overtime are the keys here, as well as analyzing long-term trends to figure out what times tend to be the busiest and staffing accordingly. Emergency veterinary clinics are super, super expensive, and I assume that’s because the staffing costs are built into the fees the vets charge- maybe the solution is fewer hourly employees and one or two salaried ones- but there will be days where you’ll need to eat the cost of being “overstaffed”, and that should be built into the fees you charge.

          Plus as everyone else mentioned, it’s not really good practice to frequently cut your employee’s hours. Your good employees will be hightailing it out of there post-haste, and the long-term costs of high employee turnover is probably more than what it would cost to have a couple of salaried employees.

    2. BRR

      The OP could also just ask if anybody would like to go home. Some people might cherish the time more than the money and other vice versa.

      1. De Minimis

        I used to love going home early, though in my case they did it to avoid overtime once I’d hit 40 hours for the week.

      2. CTO

        This was how my retail job used to work. If things got slow, the managers offered the option for people to go home (usually giving priority to the people who had started their shift the earliest). They didn’t do this very often, so many of us appreciated the occasional opportunity to get home early. If someone wanted to stay for their whole shift, though, they were never forced to leave early and never given a hard time about making that choice. The managers always had a running list of projects for us to do when there was downtime.

        Done correctly, sending people home early can actually be a morale booster if it’s rare and never forced.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yeah. When I did this kind of work, they’d often ask us, and yeah, starting with whoever got there first. And you got whichever you wanted without rancor–to stay because you needed the money, or to leave because you wanted the time off.

  15. Mister Pickle

    #1 is simply bizarre. I thought AAM’s answer was especially fine.

    The only thing I can think to add is, if you address these points with your boss, don’t just do it verbally – also write them down on a meeting agenda, or an email. It’s a blatant CYA move, for sure.

  16. John

    #4 — this is a reminder that attendance (translation: reliability) is fundamental. I’ve had relatively strong performers who have attendance issues and I’d rather take a chance on filling the role with someone who brings a bit less to the role and is 100% reliable. I suspect most managers feel this way.

    What good are great customer service skills if you’re not there when the customer’s account is blowing up?

    What good are strong collaboration skills if you are missing from key points in the collaborative process?

    1. Joey

      those that are unreliable don’t always get that being absent isn’t a free pass on the work they didn’t do when they weren’t here.

  17. OP #2

    Really appreciating the perspectives from everyone here.

    Funny how significantly your superiors can alter your outlooks. I’m slowly learning that some boss-employee relationships are like bad romances- hard to see at the time and it’s more fearful to let go than to acknowledge there might be something better out there.

    1. LBK

      That is exactly what working for a bad employer is like. Hopefully this is the start of getting out of the shadow your old boss has cast over you.

    2. Mike C.

      It’s almost exactly like an abusive relationship. Sure, one isn’t normally dealing with issues of physical or sexual violence but emotional abuse is quite common, not to mention the power a boss has over your finances.

      Luckily, you’ve done the hard part and you’ve landed in a better place!

    3. Not So NewReader

      Mild Stockholm Syndrome type of thing? Sure that happens a lot. It’s like you stop believing in Santa, because you are surrounded by people with blacken hearts.

      The thing you have going for you, OP, is that you are a very strong person. I bet this new place will just LOVE you.

  18. Blue_eyes

    #3. While I agree with Allison’s advice, one thing you could watch out for in your cover letters is varying you sentence structure so that not every sentence begins with “I.” This is mostly a picky style thing, but if every sentence begins with “I” it can start to sound repetitive and often means that you aren’t using many complex sentence structures.

    Instead of, “I was the Chocolate Teapot Manager. I managed a team of 10.”
    You could say, “As Chocolate Teapot Manger, I managed a team of 10.”
    or
    Instead of, “I am a very efficient worker and I am always looking for ways to optimize systems and procedures.”
    You could say, “Efficiency is very important to my workflow, so I am always looking for ways to optimize systems and procedures.”

    1. Kai

      Exactly. I think this is where the tip about not using “I” comes from–it’s not about avoiding talking about yourself, but avoiding repetition in your writing style.

    2. Meg Murry

      I agree with the sentence structure point, and I also think another important point is that you need to write the cover letter about how you would be an asset to the company, not just why you want the job. I’ve helped proofread too many cover letters that basically said “I am a rock star and I want to work for your company so you should hire me”. The emphasis needs to be “I am a rock star and here is how I am going to be a rock star in the new position and help the company become a rock star in the industry .”

      The cover letter is not supposed to just be about how much you want the job. Its about how much they should want you in the position they are hiring for. I’ve had better luck with flipping the focus – “Hiring company is a industry leader in X, here is how I am also great at X and why you should hire me to keep being strong at X.” This is the same reason objective statements on resume don’t make sense – they are all about what the job seeker wants, but its not the hiring company’s role to make the job seekers dreams come true – the hiring company is in it for what the job seeker can do for them.

  19. Jubilance

    My first thought when reading #2 was “this is a woman”. It just struck me as something a woman would experience that a man wouldn’t, that would be a classic example in “Lean In” – being made to feel guilty for being paid what you’re worth. OP#2 you had an absolutely horrible boss who did a horrible number on you. It’s not a crime to be paid for the value you bring to the company. DO NOT TRY TO NEGOTIATE DOWN. If anything, i could see that being a red flag to your new company, cause who doesn’t want to make more money?

    1. SJP

      Im not gonna lie, i thought exactly that too about it being a women. It unfortunately (in some work places) will only happen to women.
      But Jubilance is right, it will come off as a red flag to them if you say “can I have less money please” because who doesn’t want more money/be paid for what they’re actually worth!

  20. INTP

    #1: If the boss’ issue is just with how people will react to seeing “satisfactory” or “average”, maybe you could bump everyone up one category in their overall rating but still address concerns. Instead of “Your performance score is average and here are my areas of concern…” it becomes “Your performance score is good but here are the areas I’d like you to work on.” People who were already “good” would become “excellent” and so on. You are able to retain the important content of your reviews but keep your boss happy by getting rid of the particular words he seems to have a problem with.

    If he wants you to get rid of all critical content or give everyone the same rating so no one feels bad or something, though, that’s crazy and I’m not sure how you can save the productiveness of your reviews.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The problem is that if you need someone to make changes and you rate them “good,” you’re muddling the message. If they later get fired (or even if they don’t), you’ll have done them a real disservice by misleading them.

      1. Leah

        I agree. In high school, I had an English teacher whose feedback on my report card was that I needed to keep pushing myself and not rest on my laurels. Well, I got an A on everything (A+s weren’t used at my school) and told that my work was excellent. He had some other teaching issues but this definitely stood out to me.

        This is why I think “compliment sandwiches” (giving negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback) are rarely effective in school or the workplace.

        1. Kyrielle

          That to me actually seems potentially pretty honest and appropriate, not mixed at all.

          If you are doing everything that is expected at or exceeding the level expected in school, an A (or A+ depending on the school) is the correct grade. If you are capable of even more than you are doing, _way_ above and beyond the requirements, I can easily see a teacher legitimately telling you that. Their job is to teach you, to get you to stretch and grow – *even if* what they are presently teaching you in is met and more-than-met by what you are doing.

          Of course you can skate by doing “just this much and no more” that gets you the A – but are you learning to full potential if you do that, but you could have done more had more been required?

          Yet to require more of you *because* you could do more, while only requiring the norm of a student who couldn’t do more, is unfair. (Trust me: I actually had that done to me, only I think she was wrong about my level of ability, but it sucked that I could do the same level of work as someone else and get a worse grade.)

          1. Judy

            Like my daughter’s spelling tests. After the weekly test, they test on next weeks words without seeing them. If they get them all right, then they do challenge words for the next week. My girl figured out that if she got them all right on the pre-test, then she would have to study much more advanced words and then possibly get B’s or worse in spelling. But if she missed one on her pre-test, she’d always get an A the next Friday. She figured that one out in first grade, the second week she did challenge words and missed 1 out of 10. (It doesn’t help that the grading scale they use is A = 94-100, so on any test with fewer than 16 words, missing 1 is a B.) You’d think they’d spot them 50% at least for knowing the first 10 words.

            1. danr

              This is as silly as the folks who get their annual reviews on a curve and HR is forcing the curve. Each test should be graded on its own, and all of the numbers added up and averaged at the end of the grading period for the grade. And congratulations to your daughter for figuring out the system.

  21. TotesMaGoats

    OP#2-Clearly this job has done a number on you. There is nothing greedy about being paid what you are worth. If how much money your new job wants to pay you bothers you that much (and maybe that’s something you need to do some reflection on), commit to donating a certain amount to charity every pay check. If the amount of money is really an issue, then give away however much you need to make you comfortable to one of the millions of worthy charities in the world.

    1. Jessica

      Or if the issue is fear of losing your job because of your high pay, you could take the portion that is beyond what you would have been willing to work for and put it in savings to help assuage your fears.

        1. OP #2

          Very true- and I think I will have a great amount of enjoyment from putting money into both my savings and to charities.

  22. illini02

    #1 While I agree you shouldn’t artificially inflate people’s scores, my question is are you being a bit harsh on those scores. I had a great boss once, but he flat out told everyone that he rarely gave exceeds expectations (which was the highest mark). As much as I liked him, I felt like that was a bit misguided because while everyone might not be a total superstar, I think many of the people I worked with would be considered doing more than “meeting expectations” in some categories. He tried explaining it as “well, some people see meets expectations as a C on a report card, but its not how I see it”. Its really a perception thing. I look at meeting expectations as basically doing the bare minimum to get the job done, he looked at it as working hard, but not being the top 1%. Is it possible that your boss thinks you are doing that type of thing? I can attest that we weren’t that happy when review time came around because of how he chose to do that, and maybe your boss is trying to avoid that.

    1. Helka

      Ugggh, my boss takes that same attitude! In our first performance review, he smugly told me that it’s really difficult to get a 4 or a 5 from him and he has really high standards for them, and then he went on to be unable to tell me any kind of concrete success markers that were actually relevant to what our department does. It’s been incredibly demoralizing to bust my butt and still get “meets expectations.”

  23. Alien vs Predator

    #1

    My company recently fixed this problem, but it took a company-wide overhaul of the performance review system. Senior management had to explain to everyone that from now on, most people will be about average. And that is not a bad thing. Truly exceptional reviews will be few and far between, because that is a reflection of reality.

    It sounds like this is probably not going to happen in your organization. Though, you could pursue it I suppose if you have sufficient authority/political clout in the organization.

    That said, just because you have to inflate people’s scores a bit, that doesn’t preclude you from talking with your direct reports about things that can be done better. It’s all about how you frame it. To me, if you make it part of a “continuous improvement” initiative, you might still be able to accomplish what you are trying to, but still successfully navigate the politics and optics of the whole thing. It will require more effort on your part, unfortunately, but given the situation you’ve described, I think this is a reasonable work-around.

  24. Ash (the other one)

    Re: #1 — This is exactly why we just voted at my new organization to get rid of performance reviews all together. Instead, we will be doing goal setting and continual feedback, but no rankings or anything of that sort. And promotions, bonuses, etc. will be decided separately. I am eager to see how this works, but it seems like a growing trend. Employees hate performance reviews. Managers hate giving them. And that apathy tends to defeat the purpose…

  25. Julie

    #1 I worked at a company where every month they had to give us a review and our raise was based off of that. When that review system first went into place, I had a boss that alway gave me 90% or higher. She would say I was doing everything right and so I thought I was. I had to move so I transfered to a different location within the same company and had a new boss. She would do the review, and I would see that I was only getting 75-80% and I was doing the same thing. Her feed back would be that I was doing great with just minor things to work on but I didn’t feel like that called for such a poor score. I talked to my Co-workers and they told me that she felt that giving all of us great scores would look badly on her and that she would be making us look good. So because of that she purposely gave us average scores. What ended up happening is I could care less what the review said because I felt it wasn’t really based off of my work performance at all. It was just based off a number that my manager thought would be good for her.

  26. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    #1 – perhaps there’s a directive from up above dictating an inflation in performance ratings. This can be done for many reasons — sometimes, a manager is told in a given year “It’s your group’s turn to take the fall”, and this maneuver is a “make up” for actions in the past.

    And it could also be that your peoples’ skills sets are determined to be in very high demand, and a positive, even if inflated reinforcement will keep them in the fold and prevent them from jumping ship. If someone gets a bad performance review, but is a highly valuable employee (and relatively irreplaceable one, too — don’t believe the B.S., some people are not easily replaced) just the same, he’s/she’s going to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

    mrs. Anon-2 and I had a huge laugh over the situation where a guy quit his job “unprofessionally” – but in reading between the lines of his angry manager’s post here, they needed two people to replace him and had to ramp up the workload of others in the office. Yeah you don’t quit a job unprofessionally. But what were they doing to HIM?

    Getting back to reviews, it’s called “marketplace forces.” What gets written down may in fact be determined more by that than actual employee performance.

    #2 – yes, I had that happen to me — where a company might offer you more than you expected or asked for. Don’t sweat it, just cash the checks and be happy. As was said – the company may have a set salary structure –“pay bands”, etc. – and they have to fit you into that, and it should come as a pleasant surprise. And, they may not want to lose you in a few months if you have services or skills that are in high demand. They may not want you coming in, then learning you’re STILL underpaid.

    Also – politically – it’s very difficult to negotiate salary increases with existing employees; a manager has to go to the wall for someone who has been grossly underpaid for years, has to “eat humble pie” with the employee, go over his level and defend himself at not addressing the issue earlier. Some companies also have a “no raises unless you have a resignation letter” policy.

    So it’s much easier to get all that out of the way, resolved, no distractions, BEFORE a new hire comes through the door. It is less likely to be an issue later on.

  27. JMegan

    #1, speaking as an employee, I hate it when I get performance reviews that I know aren’t true. If I’m doing poorly at work, I know it. So if I get an above-average review when I know perfectly well that my work is awful, I take it very personally. As in, can’t they see that I’m not doing well? Can’t they see that I need help? Do they not care at all about my performance?

    Leaving aside the issue of whose responsibility it actually is to help a struggling employee, I can tell you it really sucks to feel like your work isn’t even being noticed. If I can come in sit at my desk and look at lolcats all day and still get a good performance review, there’s not much incentive to do anything but come in and look at lolcats all day.

    Obviously-inflated performance reviews are, well, obvious. And they demotivate high performers and low performers alike, because if your work isn’t reflected in your review, good or bad, there’s really no incentive to improve.

    I hope you can turn your boss around on this. If you can’t, then document, document, document. Make sure you have his instructions on how to complete the reviews in writing, as well as your own reservations about it. You’ll definitely want to CYA in case this comes back to bite you in the future. Good luck.

  28. Mimmy

    #4 – I’m in the minority here on this one. While I agree that the OP needs to be more mindful of the impact of his/her attendance, does it really have to be brought up in every. single. item?

    1. cuppa

      I had the same thought, but I think it depends on the position. In my job, it would most likely just fall under reliability. But, in a client facing position with relationships, it may really have an impact on customer service. Or maybe your absences have affected your ability to be trained on something and now your skills in another area are not up to par. Or, maybe the manager is working it in a lot because they are planning on letting them go. It just really depends, and without more detail it is hard to know.

      1. AnonAnalyst

        This is a good point. In my role, I think it would also come up as a reliability issue, assuming I was still completing most of my work (which can be completed offsite, during non-business hours). However, some roles really do require you to be there and most or all of your work has to be completed onsite during business hours, so your ability to accomplish what you need to is pretty much completely dependent on your attendance — I can see this showing up particularly in positions like receptionist/front desk roles, where a large part of the job is being present to answer calls, greet visitors, help out with other tasks in the office as needed, etc. Depending on the size of the organization, it can also be pretty disruptive to arrange coverage for those roles when someone is out, so if that’s the case in the OP’s organization, I can also see that contributing to the manager’s comments in the review.

    2. Observer

      If it’s affecting every. single. item. YES.

      In two of the three examples the OP mentioned there was a clear and direct negative impact – she wasn’t giving customers the service they needed and collaboration was not happening, even though her skills are great – BECAUSE SHE WASN’T THERE TO DO IT. Even in the case of “product knowledge” her boss is telling her that it doesn’t do much good to have all that knowledge if she’s not there to use it / share it.

      Bottom line is that she seems to think “Yeah, I have an attendance problem, but I’m awesome on other in other ways and my boss has to acknowledge that.” Her boss is telling her “Your awesomeness in all of these areas is being seriously compromised by your attendance problems.”

      1. Helka

        It makes me wonder just what her attendance is like that it’s causing that many problems. I mean, are we talking someone who’s routinely late to work or early to leave? Are we talking someone who has problems getting to work that need to be remedied?

        1. Observer

          I was wondering the same thing. As others have noted, though, the fact that the OP focuses on “can he do that” rather than “My attendance is actually pretty good” inclines me to think that there is a real problem. Even when there ARE problems, people tend to say that their attendance is ok. If even they realize that there is a problem, then there probably is.

  29. Livin' in a Box

    #5 When I first started working at my current job a few years ago, I would always be the one who was sent home early. 3 hours into my shift, EVERY TIME! My coworkers got to stay for their whole shifts. Finally, I said, this is a waste of my gas money, stop doing this to me or I’m quitting.

    It’s much more even now, and I’ve only been sent home early maybe a dozen times this year. The manager either asks for a volunteer or makes us do rock paper scissors.

    The moral of the story: Ask yourself, are you always cutting the same person’s hours?

    1. Not So NewReader

      If managers want their employees to take the job seriously, then the managers cannot act like an employee is disposable. It pays to show some concern for people who have to leave early.
      With gas prices over $3/gal, going into work for an hour or two means they lost money.

  30. Katie the Fed

    On #1 – one thing your boss might be thinking about is how this will affect employees across the organization. Like, if I rate my employees pretty sternly by 80% of other supervisors inflate, then mine are at at disadvantage when it comes to awards and bonuses. Of course this leads to rampant inflation, but I don’t want my strong people to suffer because other bosses are too generous.

    #5 – you CAN make them go home, but I think it’s crappy to do over the long term. The hours they work can affect their benefits and make it hard for them to plan budget and things. I would try to avoid it.

    1. Joey

      that’s probably not the case though because the boss agreed the ratings were accurate. If the manager wasn’t calibrating ratings correctly then that would have likely been the discussion- that you’re standards are too high relative to the organization.

      I think what’s more likely is the manager’s a wimp who thinks critical feedback will upset people.

      1. LBK

        I don’t think that necessarily contradicts what Katie’s saying – the boss could still want her to inflate the scores because everyone else does, so if she does have an employee who’s truly a 4/5, that employee might not get what they deserve when they’re pitted against a 5/5-rated employee that actually only works at a 3/5 capacity.

        Assuming what Katie’s saying is true, it’s not a question of whether the OP’s ratings are accurate, it’s about whether the other managers that will be competing for chunks of the budget will be giving their employees accurate ratings.

      2. Katie the Fed

        Yeah, I agree – the boss is proably just a bad boss. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. :)

  31. C Average

    #2, you’ve received a lot of feedback already, but I’m going to chime in here anyway.

    I can somewhat relate to your concerns. Like you, I’ve gotten by on not very much in the past and have worked my way up to an amount that feels like the right amount (I’m comfortable, I have enough, I can give to causes I believe in, I’m saving for the future). I wouldn’t say I’m looking for more money.

    I have to remind myself sometimes that wages aren’t, and shouldn’t be, predicated primarily on employees’ needs. They’re based on the value the business marketplace assigns to the work. For me to say “You should pay me less because I have simple needs and a spouse who makes good money” is as ridiculous as for one of my peers to say “You should pay me more because I want a nicer car.” How you choose to live and what you choose to do with your money shouldn’t have a direct bearing on how much money your employer pays you to perform particular tasks that have a determined market value.

    There are limits to this, of course, at least in the minds of many people. There’s a minimum wage because much of society thinks that even the most menial labor has a baseline value, and that value is tied at least loosely to cost of living. There’s a fairly prevalent belief that executive salaries in finance and similar industries are out of proportion to the work in a way that sometimes borders on obscene, in part because no one needs the kind of lifestyle that income buys.

    I suppose I’d say that if, like me, you believe that life’s not fair in your favor, you don’t look to make it UNFAIR, but you instead look for opportunities to give. We’re fortunate to have more than we need, and can do a lot of good by giving strategically.

    Another thing I’d suggest is examining where you’ve gotten your ideas about the “right” salary for your role. It sounds like your old organization played a role. Are there other influences, too? A few years back, after getting a major promotion, I became troubled by the amount I was making, feeling it was too much. (And we’re not talking crazy money here! I’m an html copywriter.) I realized that my salary had surpassed the salary my father made when he was sole breadwinner in my family when I was growing up. That number had become a fixed anchor in my mind, a line below which was “not there yet” and above which was “too much, more than I deserve.” I had to think that through a bit to make peace with it, and even wound up having a conversation with my dad about it. Knowing that he was proud of my success made it easier for me to accept it myself.

    1. OP #2

      “For me to say “You should pay me less because I have simple needs and a spouse who makes good money” is as ridiculous as for one of my peers to say “You should pay me more because I want a nicer car.” ” Agree on so many factors- in other areas as well- i.e., those who have kids versus those who are single, time is equally valuable if overtime is requested.

      Thanks a ton- your perspective is a lot of what is running through my head.

  32. Cecile

    #5

    My many years of shiftwork body did a little recoil at this question – once or twice can be fine and enjoyable to be let out early – but if its happening regularly you should really check how you are assigning shifts. For me being sent home early means I’d wasted more than an hour travelling to and from work plus the fare each way – on minimum wage that really adds up! If its happening due to your scheduling being poor really the business should eat the cost more than your employees.

  33. Kimberlee, Esq.

    #5: Assuming OP is asking for volunteers first before sending people home, and assuming she isn’t always sending home the same person, I don’t know that there’s much more to be done. An emergency vet clinic is going to have *wildly* varying levels of busyness. And if OP starts scheduling less, the opposite problem can occur: people are upset because they have less possible hours, shifts are hell because they are understaffed, people get more burned out, and it’s much much harder to call someone in on their day off than it is to let people go when it’s slow.

    I think being upfront is the best way to go: “You’re being hired for an average of 25 hours a week, but understand that sometimes we might ask you to stay an extra hour, and sometimes you might come in for an hour and be sent home early. It’s just the nature of the work.” Work where coverage depends on demand can be hard to finesse perfectly even in businesses where demand is fairly predictable. I’ve sent people home early on shifts because I needed all hands on deck for lunch, but then it went crazy slow at 2 PM and there’s no reason to keep 4 people there till 5 PM when I can keep 2 and save a bunch of labor. It’s not ideal, but shift work rarely is, and you gotta roll with the punches. There are better and worse ways to do it, but the reality may be that there’s not much more OP can do.

  34. HR Manager

    #1 may also be the one time when semantics makes a big difference – perhaps the manager knows this, but the OP’s boss doesn’t. If someone were truly middle of the road, I would not call that person average. I would applaud them for getting what they do done because that’s a good thing, and then highlight what more you as the manager would like to see. Consider this as feedback to help them continue to grow. Now if there is a total disconnect because employee thinks s/he walks on water, but really is just getting it done, then these conversations can be illuminating.

    I would try to explain this to the boss – that you can have a perfectly fine review where people are rated appropriately and not deflated in that conversation because you will choose the right words to convey the message. They will be recognized for the solid work they’ve done, but also be pushed to help them develop further.

  35. Snarkus Ariellius

    This might sound like a scare tactic, LW 1, but you should remind your boss of Anita Hill.  Clarence Thomas gave her high marks throughout her entire time at the EEOC, and he even requested she stay on when she had an opportunity to leave.  During Thomas’ Senate confirmation hearings, he repeatedly tried to smear her as a troublemaker who was bad at her job.  He had a hard time defending his argument because of those performance reviews.  

    I went through something similar at an old job.  I was repeatedly given high marks, but I had all my work taken away from me without my knowledge or consent.  I strongly believe that discrimination was at play so much so that for those two years even if there were legitimate complaints about my work I would never have believed it.  I don’t buy it today either.

    Although given how you presented your boss here, I can’t imagine he’d ever fire anyone so maybe none of this will ever matter anyway.

  36. Observer

    #5 If you are sending people home so often that they are pushing back because they need the hours, then you are doing something wrong. You need to rethink your staffing and scheduling – and if you really can’t afford to keep the staffing you need in place, then you need to rethink you pricing structure.

    I’m not a fan of high prices, of course, but most reasonable people understand that “emergency services” tend to be more expensive than scheduled services, for just this reason.

  37. Observer

    #2 Most of what I would have said has already been said. So, I’ll just add one point.

    It’s actually quite possible that you got fired first because of the salary situation – but not for the reason you think. You didn’t have a raise for 6 years, and you got an offer (freely made) that is significantly higher than what you were getting paid. That says that you were probably being underpaid. Given that your former boss was an awful person, and not a good manager either, it strikes me that she might have gotten rid of you first because you are “easy” – no complaints, not threats to sue, etc. And, because you are also underpaid, you’ll cost less in unemployment insurance.

    1. OP #2

      Could be. That’s junk, though, if that’s their mindset, and the team they will be left with will reflect that I suppose.

  38. Mena

    #2: salary is about being paid what you are worth in the marketplace, and the value of what you deliver to your employer. I’m not greedy for being paid what I am worth.

    This OP seems to be making assumptions about reasons for lay-off and attaching strings to the salary now being offered.

    1. OP #2

      Mainly I have undergone attempts to rationalize this event (though how the decision exactly on who to lay off will be forever unknown to me, speculations will be my death lol), with intent to use this as an opportunity to focus on improvement. Still, I would say your points are valid- I may be making connections and finding similarities that are unwarranted during this self-eval process.

  39. SallyForth

    #4
    It really sounds like the OP has either missed too much time or missed time that resulted in crucial deadlines being missed. While it doesn’t sound like a productive review, it is obvious that the manager is really ticked about absences and the OP needs to either repair the impression or take less time off.

  40. Kevin

    #2 The important thing to keep in mind is that your new employer wants an employee that performs at the wage they are paying.

    We are getting ready to hire an employee to run a bunch of numbers. If the right person isn’t hired, fails to perform at the level we are paying, I’m going to be very upset.

    My point is they probably need more than they advertised, which is why they offered you more. The best part is that they believe you can deliver. Don’t let them down and accept it for what it is.

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