if you think a PIP always ends in firing, you are wrong

Whenever performance improvement plans (PIPs) come up here, people always declare that they’re only ever used as a way to push employees out and that a manager who puts someone on a PIP is just covering their own butt while gearing up to fire the person.

This is absolutely, 100% not universal.

It’s certainly true in some cases. Some PIPs are indeed just the manager checking off a box on the way to firing the person.

But that’s not how PIPs are supposed to work, and it’s not how they do work in many workplaces.

They’re truly supposed to be a last-ditch attempt to see if the employee can improve to the level needed to remain in the job. The idea is that the manager lays out very clear expectations so that there’s no miscommunication about what needs to change, and so that the employee understands the seriousness of the situation and thus isn’t blindsided if they get fired at the end of the process.

When they’re used as they’re intended, they actually can be really helpful, because they force the manager to get really clear about what it will take for the person to meet expectations (if they haven’t been already) and they get everyone on the same page about the timeline for improvement, how the person’s performance will be evaluated, and what will happen at the end of the process. Those are good things. It’s far better to have clarity about those things than to be surprised with a firing one day and to feel that you didn’t get a fair chance to hear where you were falling short and some time to improve.

Now, of course not all managers use PIPs this way. Some of them use them as a cover-your-ass measure — it’s documentation to prove they warned the employee of the problems and that firing was a possibility, but there’s little chance that anyone will successfully pass the PIP because the manager has already written them off. Sometimes that’s absolutely unfair, but other times it reflects the reality of the situation — i.e., the person’s fit for the job is truly wrong and the manager rightly knows they’re not going to be able to able to meet the expectations (but is using a PIP anyway because the employer’s internal policy requires it).

But I’ve seen quite a few cases of people successfully completing PIPs, keeping their jobs, and going on to do well. Sometimes that’s because they weren’t clear about how serious the situation was until the PIP arose, and sometimes it’s because the PIP was helpful in giving them clearer expectations than they’d been given previously.

And I’ve also seen plenty of people fired at the end of PIPs (and none of this is to say that you shouldn’t be job-searching if you’re placed on a PIP — you absolutely should be). But if they’re being used correctly, firing at the end is not inherently a foregone conclusion.

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonsie for this*

    This is rather timely as I just had to put someone on a PIP. I work in a small business and it hadn’t been done before.

    We talked a lot about how to do it, what the core area was that needed to be addressed, and how we’d judge it. The reason it came to this point is that the employee hadn’t responded to overall feedback on some key issues and we wanted to make it clear that this was a major problem.

    The conversation actually went very well and the person seemed to finally understand the seriousness of the issue.

    I suspect part of it is that I think PIPs don’t have a very high success rate. If someone gets to a PIP, they probably have serious issues either in fit or in the way they approach work. Even if someone’s motivated, it can be hard to sustain change. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.

    I think PIPs should be one tool in your box of tools to help your people succeed, and in trying everything you can reasonably do before firing someone.

    1. Elane*

      Hi Anosie. I was put in a rather fake PIP plan because I did not sign it and no one knew but my team lead. I was top producer for all these years and last week of april she told me to stop what I was doing and review my work again and others because I do forensics and no errors. Basically stating she will loose her job so last week of April no production that was new so she put me on PIP, I told her I refuse screw you take it up the ladder and the heck with it and she said no no need. Five days does not constitute this and she said she was chewed up because that week I did OT so do you think I am getting terminated or what is your guess because I can go to my shrink and go on short term protected by FMLA and just sit home relax and get paid. I would appreciate your feedback and also she is calling me daily no overtime to ask about the same work over and over taking up my production time. Doesn’t HR have to know or sign off on PIP’s but I refused to sign so confused. Ty

  2. Jaguar*

    So, I’ve never been on a PIP, know of anyone who has, or ever had to put anyone on one, so the whole thing seems very mysterious to me. Is there a whole orthodoxy established with it in American workplaces? Are they always called Performance Improvement Plans the way exit interviews are always called Exit Interviews or is that just a generalized name for them where anyone being told they need to improve would turn around and say they’re “on a PIP”? If it’s a formalized thing, you truly want the employee to improve, and they’re largely seen as a hoop to jump through on the path to a firing, would it make sense to just avoid calling it a Performance Improvement Plan altogether to avoid its negative connotation?

    1. Jesmlet*

      I feel like unless there’s a specific list of things the person needs to improve, it shouldn’t be called a PIP. I do know someone who was put on one and there were specific areas to improve, specific ways to demonstrate that and a specific timeline given. This may be the gold standard of PIPs since that person did make an effort and is still in that job a year later with a raise and semi promotion on top of it. Of course it also puts in place very clear consequences that set him on the path to firing if there was no improvement within 3 months. Calling it an Improve Your Performance Or Else Plan is probably a bit more accurate but not nearly as pithy.

      1. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

        That’s the definition of the PIP Best Practice! It should have a specific list. PIPs should have a specific list of competencies, duties, or skills that need to be improved. They should have measurable goals, and a timeline. It should have the consequences.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        My first exposure to the term PIP was when I was put on one. I wasn’t given any specific areas to improve, any specific ways to demonstrate improvement, nor a timeline. I was told it was a PIP and that the main boss wasn’t happy. Since I didn’t like the new manager (who put me on the PIP) and I knew if the boss wasn’t happy there was no way the manager would help me fix that, I left. I figured that was what the manager wanted. Considering how he did the PIP, I still have that opinion.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I had a manager put me on a PIP to try to prevent an internal transfer. Honest to God, one of the areas he had down to improve was to think better of management and to believe they knew what they were doing. I asked for specific examples of what was wrong or what I could do … and he never responded to my emails and refused to answer instant messaging.

          1. Liane*

            Wow! There’s 2 like that in the world?
            I’ve mentioned it before, but something similar happened to a friend of mine, Cassian, only it wasn’t his manager. It was someone above him, Cersei, that he had never reported to, who just didn’t like him. So she and an HR person **made up** an active PIP with **forged signatures** of Cassian and his boss and put it in his file! (Bonus, it was for threatening Cersei!)
            Cassian called the Ethics Hotline and before the end of the next workday, the HR woman involved was walked out the door and Cersei had a severe reprimand and some other restrictions from C-suite HR. (Cersei was one of those people who knew where the bodies were buried because she’d helped bury them.)
            As for Cassian he’s been quite happy since his internal transfer.

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              So Cersei had blood on her hands (or attempted to do this) and is still there?

              Be afraid…. be VERY afraid, Cassian…!

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*


            Not uncommon. There’s usually no way out of it but to quit.

            There was a rumor once, with someone I knew, where an attempt was made to put someone on probation – retroactively – to halt an internal promotion. While HR was willing to back the manager somewhat – that reportedly collapsed with an ultimatum from the employee – who said her attorney informed her that this “retroactive probation” horse (manure) move was slander.

            And they reportedly caved after that.

        2. Jesmlet*

          Yeah this is a PIP in name only. If they don’t give you clear guidelines, then they either don’t want you to succeed, don’t expect you to succeed or both.

      3. Goth Di*

        Three months is nothing. I was just put on final warning (after getting an outstanding year end review) that lasts for a year. I’ve been at this company for almost 26 years and am 54 (female). Is there any hope for me, or am I for sure in the “firing” line?

        1. Zahra*

          Check with an employment lawyer if the age discrimination thing applies AND if it would be worth it to pursue it. A simple consultation should cost nothing or very little. I know there’s an association for employment lawyers that’s been mentioned here before. Maybe a Google search (site:askamanager.org [whatever you’re looking for]) would net you the answer.

          Do you know of other people over 40 in the same position in your organization (or fired from your organization)? (Very good to outstanding review, no previous warnings, etc.) I guess if it looks like a pattern, you would have a better argument (or maybe you don’t need to prove the pattern).

          Oh, and sometimes, a talk of “I’m concerned that we may be going into discrimination territory” (Alison has specific wording for similar situations, again, Google will be your best friend!) or, if it doesn’t work, a very stern letter from a lawyer is enough to get you what you need.

          1. Goth Di*

            Yes, there are 2 other women that were terminated with similar situations. They were both excellent employees with glowing reviews, but had been with the company a long time and we’re close to my age. I admit that I did make a couple of mistakes, but I feel that I had been targeted due to my age, salary, and length of employment. I may apply at a consulting firm that the company uses because I already have full working knowledge of the industry.

            1. Zahra*

              Yeah, do take a look at the National Employment Lawyers Association. My layman’s point of view is that it looks like discrimination.

              Now, is it worth it to pursue that avenue? Only a professional can tell you.

            2. Jerry T*

              I’m so sorry Di, Please consider an employment lawyer. I was shocked that at age 64 I was placed on PIP. I had hoped to work another year, Suddenly, I’m for the first time in almost 30 years I lack …. “leadership and communication skills .” I’ve never had a poor review in my career. Although I don’t perceive myself to be a senior citizen, it’s certainly not the old people take off time sick situation. I work weekends and while on vacations/ holidays. I’m so disgusted with the company’s overall low morale, part of me just wants to walk out. However, that’s the result THEY count on.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not everywhere calls it a PIP, but things that fall in that category are supposed to have clear descriptions of what you need to do to improve, a specific timeline, and a clear statement that you may be let go at the end of it if you haven’t shown sufficient improvement.

      1. Jaguar*

        Yeah, what I’m getting at really is whether “PIP” is a generally accepted term (the way “perp walk” is) or if it’s a more formalized thing in management. Is it a colloquialism or a specific thing? I’ve only ever heard of them on here and one other website – I’ve never seen or heard of them in the wild.

        1. fposte*

          I’m seeing it on shrm, Forbes, US News (not by Alison), a law firm, and a university on the first page of my Google results–seems pretty broadly accepted to me along the lines of “exit interview,” but it’s somewhat newer so isn’t as big in the public consciousness.

          1. Jaguar*

            So then my follow-up question would be, if it’s use should be to give someone a chance to improve (as opposed to just a box to tick off before firing people), and if it already has a negative connotation as the first step in a firing*, does it make sense to even call it a PIP if that carries baggage you don’t want and there’s nothing gained by calling it a PIP? Again, I’m could very well be missing context here since I’ve never seen this play out, but it seems like a term that has lost its usefulness the way “retarded” has in psychology.

            * First you tell them you’re going to fire them, then you fire them, then you tell them that you fired them.

              1. Jaguar*

                Well, I’m not suggesting come up with a new widely-adopted term. I’m just suggesting not calling it a PIP. I don’t understand what’s gained by calling a list of things an employee needs to improve upon to keep their position a “Performance Improvement Plan” (or anything else, for that matter) if you don’t need to call it that and people often hear it as a signal that they’re about to get fired.

                (Plus, those were often the reasons given for keeping “retarded” around, to keep that analogy)

                1. fposte*

                  I’m not a huge fan of the euphemistic treadmill but I think there’s a big difference between a term that is offensive to a group of people and a procedural term. Doctors still technically refer to miscarriages as abortions, after all.

                  It’s a plan for somebody’s performance to improve. I don’t see any particular reason to call it something else.

                2. Jaguar*

                  Right, I probably shouldn’t have continued on with that analogy since it’s besides the point I’m trying to get across (which is, if there’s baggage on the term and the term isn’t necessary, why not just stop using it?). I just thought the similarity was funny.

                3. Someone*

                  But part of the seriousness of a PIP is that, yes, these are things you need to do or you will get fired. And no matter what you call it, some people will think that means they are being pushed out. It’s the seriousness of the situation that causes the problem, not the name. (And the fact that it is sometimes used that way — you aren’t going to change that, either.)

                4. Jesmlet*

                  You don’t change the perception of something just by changing it’s name. Nothing to gain by calling it something else when for the most part everyone knows what you’re referring to. And having an official title for it makes it seem more structured and formalized which is something most people like when talking about their livelihoods.

                  And to stick with your “mental retardation” vs “intellectual disability”, they couldn’t scrub “mental retardation” from the DSM without replacing it with something and there’s nothing inherently offensive about the term PIP so there’s no reason to call it anything else.

              2. Cupcake Girl*

                When I started in my office, I got nervous when I heard there was a detailed spreadsheet outlining PIP’s for various people.

                Then I found out they used it to mean Performance Incentive Plan, i.e. their bonus payouts!

              3. Phyllis B*

                In college they have academic probation, why don’t they come up with a term like employment probation? I know that employment probation is usually a period 30-90 days that you can leave/be dismissed, but something besides PIP? To me, PIP seems like you are really pulling for your employee to improve, but the probation would be like, “This is your final warning. Either do X, Y, and Z or you’re outta here.” What I mean is, this would be a more serious version of PIP.

                1. Zombii*

                  The issue is that competent managers do call a final warning a final warning (as in, “You’re on a final for X, your job is in jeopardy and you should not do X again”).

                  Shitty managers use PIPs when the employee hasn’t done anything to warrant putting them on a formal warning path, but they want them gone, and they don’t want to have to pay out unemployment to do it—which they may or may not have to, but are more able to convince the employee not to file in the first place if they run the whole “It’s your fault you got fired, all you had to do was try and you couldn’t be bothered to try hard enough” mindf@ck. Ask me how I know. :)

                2. Ecce Wombat*

                  I was on a PIP at my last job and my employers really were pushing for me to improve. In my case I can’t honestly say I was being unjustly persecuted or anything—I was doing the thing wrong that I was being criticized for. But when I improved I was taken off it and in subsequent years they made a point of recognizing strengths in the areas I had been on the PIP for, and when I told my program head I thought I had Asperger’s he recommended I get diagnosed and explicitly said he wanted ADA protections for me so I’d be really hard to fire. I loved that job.

        2. Gov Worker*

          In the Federal Gov., PIPs are formal and are required before termination for poor performance. You have to be pretty damn bad to be on one of these.

      2. Bonky*

        I actually switched our previous Series of Written Warnings (that was actually what it was called) over to a Performance Improvement Plan as a result of reading AAM. Isn’t Series of Written Warnings the most ominous thing you’ve ever heard? It didn’t do a great job of motivating the person on the end of it to do any performance improvement, either.

        1. this*

          Series of Written Warnings sounds much better than a Performance Improvement Plan. The former sounds like the writing is on the wall while the latter sounds like a second chance.

          1. N.J.*

            But that’s the whole point. If followed in the way that Alison has laid out, that’s what it should be–a chance or second chance to look at your performance deficiencies and improve them. The name says it all. An opportunity to outline performance issues or problems, what the improvement should be, how it will he measured and the consequences for not adhering to it give you a chance to improve. That is both a positive and negative thing, writing on the wall and second chance.

        2. Phyllis B*

          That’s what I was grasping for. PIP for someone who just needs to improve in some areas but could come through and be a really good employee. Series of Written Warnings sounds like Three Strikes and You’re Out and this could be used with someone who is totally not making the effort, but you can’t fire them without due process.

          1. Zombii*

            This. You can do both. A series of written warnings is for issues that aren’t ideal to roll into a formal PIP but are serious enough to say “Hey, this needs to stop.” (In call centers, if you don’t verify someone’s identity before getting into their bank account, that’s a formal warning, if not immediate termination—you don’t get to PIP that.)

      3. Justin*

        The pip I was placed on three years ago had only three vague areas and nothing detailed to satisfy it. All subjective and at manager’s discretion if I passed. I should have lawyered up, but I knew the management personally for years so was way too trusting at the time. Left me bitter at them and the company.

    3. The Rat-Catcher*

      At our workplace, we have to do a PIP if people aren’t meeting established metrics – even if it’s through no fault of their own. (background: I work for a child welfare agency and we have metrics for things like worker/parent monthly visits. If you can’t find the parents despite your best efforts, then you just can’t – but you still get dinged.) It does have a specific goal, a list of actions for the employee to take to meet that goal, and a date for performance to be reviewed again.

      1. WellRed*

        It’s so wrong to ding people for things out of their control. During my very brief tenure at Books a Million, we had to sign people up for the stupid paid rewards program. Even if the customer already had signed up, and was using the card, you got dinged because you didn’t sign them up. (??!!)

        They may have changed that ridiculousness by now.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Ugh, one of my biggest pet peeves. Don’t give someone responsibility for something they can’t actually control!

          1. Professional Merchandiser*

            Amen!!!!!!!!!!!! I worked as a merchandiser for Procter and Gamble for a number of years, and one of the areas I serviced was Cover Girl. Well, they have all these graphics, overhead lighting, ect. to make the area attractive. We could order graphics, and shelf fixtures, but the light fixtures and panels were the store’s area, and we could not do anything about it. My supervisor made a store visit and wrote me up because three light panels were missing. I reminded her that we had no control over that. She said she knew it, but it was my responsibility to keep the area up to standards.

    4. Jady*

      It’s not universal. I’d never heard of a program like this or the name in my 10~ years of employment at multiple companies.

      Instead, in my area+industry, it’s always a surprise layoff. Regardless of success of the company, earnings, etc. People want to avoid confrontation, and a lay-off is a “it’s outside of my control”. And probably covers them in some ways legally too.

      And yes, I know it is done to get rid of people. It’s not for typical layoff reasons.

    5. hermit crab*

      For a long time, the only reason I knew PIPs were a thing that existed was phrasing like this in our written company policies: “To be eligible for this program, the employee must be in good standing and not on an active Performance Improvement Plan.” There’s now a more formal description in the employee handbook, but I worked here for at least 5 years (and the company had been around for a couple decades) before that appeared.

    6. Plaidskies*

      I was put on a PIP completely out of the blue after getting an excellent performance review and raise (and kind things said about my performance in the review). It got so horrible, that my only options were to quit my job without another one lined up, or check myself into a hospital. The PIP “plan” essentially made me so nervous, I got sick every morning before work, shook at my desk and lost 15 pounds in less than a month. One of the complaints to HR during that time-frame was that I had used the wrong font (one attorney liked one font, one attorney liked a different font. I used one attorney’s font b/c that’s the one who was supposed to be checking the work but he passed it off to other attorney and I didn’t know about it because no one told me. Legitimately was an email sent to HR about it.) I was told I was using the wrong forms for a client (the client liked their own forms, not the “official” forms, but the rules changed and the official forms either needed to be used, or, their forms needed to be updated. I was called out on the carpet for letting the client know this, and then was told to use their original forms, and then the attorney later asked me why I used the original forms when they were not updated.) She said “Do you know what an _____ even IS??? (even though I had originally sent X document to them, and was told it was wrong) – I quit about 5 minutes after she said that. I’ve never been in that position before and I hope to never be in that position again.

      1. JM in England*

        So could “Must improve ability to read your manager’s mind” be put as a goal on a PIP?

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          I’m surprised my manager back at ToxicJob didn’t include that when she put me on a PIP.

        2. I See Real People*

          That’s sounds a lot like “Must improve other people’s perceptions about you and your work”. We must read their minds and we must change their minds.

    7. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I’m a day late to this, but I had a manager that claimed she was going to put you on a PIP all the time for everything. There’s a typo? You’re going to force me to put you on a PIP! Here’s a brand new assignment. Do it right or you’ll be on a PIP! Then she actually claimed she put our entire department on a PIP with the formal documentation and everything, but she didn’t file it with HR (company policy there, not sure how common that part is).

  3. rmj11*

    Is there a regular timeline for PIPs? I think a coworker of mine is on one, and I’d like to know if there is a typical period or if it can vary.

    1. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

      It depends on what they need to improve and how much time that would reasonably take. If it’s a very straightforward issue, and they need to correct one thing, you might do 30 days. For something more complex, I wouldn’t go longer than 90 days.

      1. HR Expat*

        Agreed. And I’ve also found that on the longer PIPs, it’s helpful to have the employee build in some deadlines to help keep them on track.

    2. HR Expat*

      It can vary based on company policies, reasons for the PIP, and job level. But any decent PIP should say how long it will last.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It totally varies, and most often employers use much longer timeframes than they need to or should. In most cases, you really don’t need more than a month or two (and sometimes a couple of weeks is reasonable, depending on the issues), but you see a lot of employers do PIPs of 3-4 months or even longer. You rarely need to make them that long; you typically see pretty quickly if someone is making the sort of significant improvement that you’re looking for.

      There are some contexts where it truly does take longer to see how the issues will play out, but they’re not the majority of cases.

      1. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

        An example of when it might take longer is when you need to improve something you only do monthly, and the PIP wants you to show sustained change. As HR Expat said, you can build in deadlines. It’ll keep them on track, and also give the employer the opportunity to end it if they aren’t making any progress (Obviously, this isn’t the goal.)

    4. EA*

      In my company, PIPs are 90 days. Anyone can go to the internal web page and look at the documents and templates for PIPs. Because of bureaucracy and red tape, they are the only way to fire someone. Echoing what AAM said below, it’s highly entertaining to come across someone on a 90 day PIP for sleeping at his desk.

      1. A non*

        Are they posting template or the actual PIPs? It seems odd they would publish a template that goes into sleeping at one’s desk.

        1. EA*

          I wasn’t clear. They are posting templates for PIPs and documents on how PIPs work. I have met someone who told me he was on a PIP for sleeping at his desk. The point I intended to make, is that a 90 day PIP for sleeping at work is a little ridiculous, but it is the only way they care fire.

    5. Temperance*

      I used to work with someone who was put on a plan that had stages. She had 3 months for the first check-in, with monthly meetings to discuss her performance. They wanted to fire this person because she was a terrible fit for the job – a receptionist can’t be so inflexible, basically, or rude. As far as I know, 4 years later, she’s still working there, because the problems were not things she could technically do, like change her personality.

  4. HR Expat*

    In 5 years at my current company, I’ve probably worked with managers to place 40-50 people on PIPs for various reasons (both performance and behavioral). Out of those, we may have terminated 10. If written correctly and with the proper support from the manager, it’s possible to improve.

    I think the key is that the manager needs to be explicit in telling the employee what it will take for him/her to be successful in the PIP.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      So here’s my PIP horror story, as told to me by an HR person at my last company.

      A manager had placed a struggling employee on a PIP, and by the end of the probationary period, it was clear things weren’t going to work out. The manager spoke with HR about starting the process to let the employee go. The HR person emailed the manager, with “Termination of [Employee]” in the subject line. The Outlook notification popped up on the manager’s laptop, while the manager was projecting his laptop and sharing it with his entire team — including the employee on the PIP — in a large conference room with a HUGE screen. And to top it all off, the reason the manager was projecting was because he was leading his team’s session of the company’s annual ethics training!

      Apparently the manager slammed his laptop shut, brought the meeting to a hasty close, and immediately high-tailed it over to HR, where he stood in their lobby/common area saying, “I NEED HR ASSISTANCE RIGHT AWAY!!” in a very loud and panicked voice. He was completely freaking out, plus he really felt awful about how the poor employee found out he or she was about to get fired.

      The HR person who told me this said he learned 2 things that day. First, never ever ever put anything sensitive or confidential into the subject line of an email. And second, turn off your notifications in Outlook!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Oh my god, that’s awful. But totally confirms my paranoia when emailing HR about employees!

      2. Zahra*

        Also, Outlook notifications are a distraction. I turn them off pretty much as soon as I get a new computer at work and just make a point of checking my emails regularly.

      3. HR Expat*

        That’s awful. I tend to be overly cautious about what I put in an email subject line for this exact reason. The other one I’ve heard of is instant messenger popping up when projecting and an HR peer of mine writing something along the lines of “Hey- need to discuss Fergus’s layoff timeline with you. You available?” At least in that case Fergus wasn’t in the room. But it was still horrible.

      4. Jadelyn*

        Oh my god. That poor manager…and that poor employee!! A good case in point for keeping one’s email subject lines vague. The most specific I ever get in a subject line is the person’s name, but nothing about what the actual issue being discussed is.

        I leave my notifications on because I like knowing whether the ping of a new email is something I need to stop what I’m doing and tend to immediately, or if I can set it aside for awhile (and if so, how long can I set it aside for). But! One big caveat: if I’m running a presentation in G2M or something, I make sure the projected screen is going off my other monitor rather than my main monitor!!

  5. Murphy*

    I think I was put on one of these once? It wasn’t explained to me in these words. I knew my boss was having problems with my performance (and it wasn’t a good cultural fit), and we extended my new hire probation, and spoke about things that I could do to try to fix it, but I ended up being fired without being given a reason long before the time period was up.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I had a similar situation. The office wasn’t a good cultural fit, and they lied horribly about being willing to work with my class schedule (I was a full time grad student). My boss had a casual lunch with me at one point to mention areas of improvement with no formal process, and then again a few months later with totally different criticism that he hadn’t come close to mentioning the first time around. They let me go the day tax season ended a few weeks later, because apparently I was still acceptable enough to help with that.

      They were a horrible firm. I moved on quickly and am so glad that I did. If I ever end up managing people, I will certainly not handle a PIP like they did.

      1. Emmalee*

        This sounds all too familiar. I started a job straight out of college right at the beginning of tax season. I was thrown into the deep end and told that “no one had time” to train me. I was working 60-hour weeks for a severely understaffed team, struggling horribly to keep up with no one willing to train me (management was completely disorganized). I was put on a PIP right after tax season ended. It was completely unethical, as they were judging my performance based on zero training. Luckily, I found a new job before the PIP ended, and resigned. Best decision I’ve ever made, I love my new company and wouldn’t wish my old position on my worst enemy.

    2. MillersSpring*

      In my experience with PIPs, it’s more formal than this. HR is involved, a document is prepared, and the employee signs that they have received and understand the terms.

      1. Not me*

        I had an experience with a PIP, but I’m not sure it was normal. I’d love to get your insight.

        I had been on the job for about 5 months and my boss called me into his office, where he informed me he was not happy with my performance and I was being put on a 3 week PIP, with termination at the end. Up until this point, I had never been informed in any way, shape, or form that my performance wasn’t up to snuff. In fact, I’d received good feedback across the board.

        There was never anything in the PIP except “improve” and I had to find new projects to take on — nothing was assigned or structured. I ended up losing my job in 3 weeks (but once word got out to my network, I was had a new job before I got home that was a much better fit and paid a lot more).

        Is this normal PIP behavior?

  6. ThatGirl*

    I was put on a PIP and had it end successfully; I even had an excellent review a couple months later.

    I should have realized, however, that it was a permanent mark against me, because my next screw up (months after the excellent review) led to my firing. Ah, well, it was nearly 10 years ago and I’m much better off now.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I was going to post this sentiment, but you’ve already captured it. Even if you survive the PIP, you’re still the employee that was put on a PIP, which is a pretty serious black mark that will hold you back going forward.

      1. fposte*

        It can be, but it isn’t necessarily true all the time, any more that it is with a poor early performance review. 50% Success below offers an example of an employee who did great afterwards.

      2. TL -*

        I was put on a PIP in my first job, got better, and it never came up again. I don’t think I was ever the star employee, but I did a good job and nobody held it against me.

      3. Jadelyn*

        It depends on how long ago the PIP was and how it went. Did you scrape by and manage to barely hit the benchmarks set? Did your manager notice backsliding over time? Then that PIP stays relevant and, yes, will hold you back. But if you were on a PIP 3 years ago for something unrelated to your current role, completed it well and never had that problem again, at least at my org we really don’t care. It’s seen as nothing more than a stumble along the way. Like a teller who gets put on a PIP for issues with cash counting, who then transfers into a non-cash-handling role where that’s no longer a relevant skill, the PIP gets lost to the annals of time and her future managers probably won’t even know she was ever on a PIP.

    2. CAA*

      Yes, I think that’s an important thing for people to understand. Completing a PIP successfully doesn’t mean you get a clean slate and can start over as if the past performance problems never happened. The improvement has to be permanent and you usually won’t get more chances to fix the same problem if it recurs.

      1. MillersSpring*

        Yes, I once fired an employee (I was the grandboss) who previously had completed two PIPs successfully. But when the behaviors started again, along with new issues, we just fired the person without notice or additional PIP.

      2. ThatGirl*

        And to me, my later screw up was for completely different reasons than the problems I’d had earlier in the year, and not even 100% my fault- but I understand now how, to the company, it looked like I just had bad judgment. The ignorance of youth, I suppose.

      3. NW Mossy*

        It’s really common because you want to have a mechanism in there to avoid getting into an on-again/off-again PIP cycle with an employee over the exact same issues. Both our coaching plans (which are a less formal precursor to PIPs) and PIPs have language in there to say that you’ll move forward immediately to the next stage of discipline if you lose ground in your improvements after the defined period of your coaching plan/PIP is over. Basically, no 3rd/4th/5th/nth chances.

    3. Joe*

      That’s interesting, because I would think that someone who successfully completed a PIP has shown a capacity for improvement. If you started having the same problem that led to the PIP in the first place, that would be a sign that it didn’t really stick, but if you started having some new problem, I would know that you’ve already demonstrated the ability to overcome problems, and I would be more inclined to believe that you could work this out.

  7. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    Philosophically speaking, PIPs are good management written down. Sometimes the manager needs the document in order to give that kind of management, sometimes the employee doesn’t understand until they see the document, and sometimes HR needs it written down to prove it happened.

  8. bassclefchick*

    See, that’s just it. If you are going to give an employee a review of “needs improvement”, you can’t just throw them to the wolves and see if they “figure it out”. This is what a PIP is supposed to be for. There should be a clear list of objectives to meet to be able to improve. Not just “you aren’t doing what I need you to do, but I’m not going to tell you how to get to where you need to be, you just have to improve”. It isn’t fair to the employee to at least try to improve in a way they think management wants, only to be fired 3 weeks later because management doesn’t see any improvement.

    Though I may still be a bit resentful of how my last job ended.

    1. Murphy*

      Yes. At the job I was fired from, my boss came into my office one day and started talking me about the importance of a positive attitude and being a team player. But with absolutely no context! I had no idea what I’d done to bring it about.

    2. LoiraSafada*

      At least they gave you a quasi-heads up that something might be coming. When I got laid off, it was unceremonious with no prior warning and no explanation. To this day I still have no idea why I was let go, or if anyone had issues with my performance or work products because it was never, ever discussed. My performance reviews were stellar and everything.

    3. Windchime*

      The terms of my PIP were things like, “Work with your team in a more collaborative manner”. No specifics. It was clearly the first step in the process to fire me but fortunately I found another job before they could pull the trigger.

      1. Paquita*

        I just had a second ‘counseling’ session last week. Apparently I am making too many careless errors. Nevermind the fact that every one else in my group makes mistakes all the time. These are minor things, easily corrected. When I have brought things to the managers attention that affect my job I just get the ‘well, these things happen’ talk. Even though we are told to let management know when other people make errors that affect our work.
        No timeline was given for improvement except IMMEDIATE. Not very helpful to me.
        I would like to leave on my own terms before I am let go.

        1. PiggyStardust*

          You can’t blame your mistakes on the fact that other people in your workgroup make mistakes too. A manager isn’t going to tell you if they’re disciplining other people for errors. If you’re getting counseled, it’s possible that others are getting counseled too and you aren’t privy to it.

      1. Minocho*

        I was fired from a position for failing to handle an issue that had been assigned to my co-worker. Who was not fired. Of course, all of the women in my department except for one had already been fired or transferred out (5 of 10), and my boss had already asked me for criticisms and dirt on the remaining woman on the team. It was known she had successfully won a sexual discrimination lawsuit in the past, so I think they were moving more carefully with her.

        They then tried to deny me unemployment, but I was able to dispute that successfully.

        The situation had been very bad for about three months, so I was already deep into the interview process with multiple companies by the time I was let go. Love my new company!

  9. Mark*

    The sad thing about PIPs is that sometime it’s the manager’s own incompetence that results in him/her putting an employee on a an ‘improvement’ plan. It’s happened to me, and very recently, to someone I’m very close with. In my case, the manager was new to the role and asked me to do something that was literally impossible. My real failure was in properly ‘managing up’ and showing him why it couldn’t be done, but within 3 weeks I was gone. The other instance for the person close to me was because this person reported to two separate managers in a very large, very prestigious company. They couldn’t ever agree on how to use her and she struggled to meet conflicting goals. She is also very young and relatively new to the work force so instead of properly mentoring her, they simply fired her. I wish I could name names but I won’t.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Double reports are bad management. Don’t ever make someone report to two managers at the same org chart level. It’s cruel and unusual employment.

      1. Mark*

        Agreed. I felt so bad for her and I would love to call them out by name for general managerial incompetence. and the way the HR team treated her was appalling. Literally standing by her desk and talking out loud in front of her friends and peers about her situation.

        1. Emmalee*

          I worked for a large, well-known corporation with general managerial incompetence as well. The HR manager that hired me (and completely mislead me, emphasizing how great this terrible, terrible team was) is constantly posting positions for my old team on LinkedIn. If it weren’t entirely unprofessional, I would love to message her and go off on a tangent about how I wouldn’t wish that position on my worst enemy, how dishonest she is for misleading prospective employees, etc.

      2. Windchime*

        I agree. I just got out of a situation like this. It’s confusing for everyone, especially when the managers don’t know what they are doing and give conflicting orders.

      3. paul*

        Eve better, for non-profits, is when two funders for your program have at times conflicting goals/visions of your program.

        No, I’m not constantly stressed about that, why do you ask?

      4. AMac*

        Where I work I have 4 direct supervisors I report to and then there is a Chief above them and the Head Honcho above all of them (so essentially 6 bosses). This structure is what came after doing an evaluation and reorganization of the office.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve seen a manager that didn’t like his staff and tried to put them on a PIP to get them out the door. But he was so out of touch with what his staff did that he couldn’t even put together a PIP to HR’s satisfaction. The HR Rep was able to see exactly what the real problem was.

    3. Jenbug*

      This is pretty much what happened to me too. My workload tripled and my manager wouldn’t give me any support despite numerous requests for something to change. I got pulled into HR and put on a warning. Two weeks later, they canned me because I missed returning a phone call. They did nothing to address the actual issue – which was that there was no possible way for me to get done all the things I was supposed to do – and ended up having to replace me with two people.

      It was a blessing in disguise because now I’m out of that toxic environment, but it was pretty much SOP around there.

      1. Emmalee*

        I went through a very similar situation. I was put on a PIP after receiving ZERO training or clear objectives from management, while trying to maintain the workload of multiple people on a severely understaffed team. I found a new job before the PIP ended, and couldn’t be happier with my current job. I should have known it was toxic from day one; my supervisor told me “You need do a reversal of prior year accrual.” I said, “Can you tell me how I would do that?” She sighed, and in an irritated voice said, “I just told you, you need to do a reversal of prior year accrual.” Mind you, this was my first job out of college working on high-level hedge funds. Of course I didn’t know how to do what she was telling me to do – she hadn’t even trained me (and never did)! She acted as if repeating WHAT to do, would tell me HOW to do it.

        1. Jenbug*

          So frustrating :(

          My situation was the flip of that – my direct manager actually had no clue what all I was responsible for doing. Our department was originally managed by an off site person who specialized in Teapot Fabrication, but the people onsite decided we clearly weren’t doing our jobs, so they put a Teapot Sales Manager in charge of us instead.

  10. regina phalange*

    I have heard that at my company you have to fail the same PIP TWICE before they will fire you, which seems extremely excessive. Has anyone heard of that before or know why something that extreme would be in place?

    1. EA*

      It is probably bureaucratic red tape. At my company the only way they can fire is a PIP of 90 days, even if you do something egregious.

        1. regina phalange*

          Considering how they let performance issues drag out and let under performers fly under the radar, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they are terrified to fire people.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Alison or others, why are some companies so weird about letting people go? This stuff is bonkers.

              1. EA*

                Before I started reading AAM I thought it was legally risky to fire people. My parents always said that, and companies I worked for were hesitant. I think our society is very litigious, and lawyers are very cautious, so these policies go overboard due to those two factors.

              2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

                My old job was like this.

                HR would demand months of documentation and PIPs to let an employee go, and often because of the nature of the work it was critical to replace the low-performer ASAP, so instead they would get a generous severance and be let go. My favorite example was somehow who “worked from home” but really spent his days at the bar and ballfields – not speculation, he was brazen about posting photos on facebook and Instagram.

              3. NJ Anon*

                This, so much. It makes me crazy. They don’t realize the damage that is done to the other staff.

            1. Temperance*

              At my last job, they very rarely fired people without putting them through a ridiculous PIP process. (The only memorable exception was the woman who snooped in someone else’s email to catch the person making fun of her; the person, her boss, WAS making fun of her appearance, but the woman got fired for snooping.) I had a coworker who was awful at her job, the clients hated her, WE hated her, and they still were afraid to fire her. She was the worst receptionist that I’ve ever met.

            2. Zombii*

              Alternate explanation: They don’t want to pay unemployment.

              I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but Toxic ExJob had someone in upper management who was very, very proud of their low unemployment payout percentage despite the high turnover. She was convinced that it was better to use passive-aggressive tactics and general mindfuckery to force people out than it was to lay off people who were basically incapable of doing the job up to any kind of standards.

              1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                Depending what state you are in, there are actually companies that “assist in reducing termination costs” (IOW = how you can be a weasel and avoid paying unemployment to people you’re laying off).

                A friend of mine was informed he was being let go in a cutback – then went to file for unemployment and learned “we terminated him for cause”. “WHAT CAUSE?”

                They stonewalled for six months. Finally, the folks at the unemployment office told the firm – if you continue to ignore communications, you’ll be in default and we will give Mr. X the six months’ unemployment payments — the employer came clean, called it a clerical error, yeah, that’s it, clerical error, that’s the ticket — and he got his money.

                This was not in Massachusetts – they wouldn’t DARE horse around like that here.

    2. Security SemiPro*

      My company has what amounts to a dual PIP process. You do a more informal PIP, that still has a time limit, a volume of work to be completed in it, and a standard that work will be measured on, with the consequence of failing it being “then we put you on a formal PIP” Informal PIPs still allow people to transfer to jobs that might fit them better, take severance and get out, basically mange themselves out of the org.

      Real PIPs here have an HR approved template and have to be filled out and approved by HR, but include the same stuff as above. And if you fail on a real PIP, you are fired. Once a PIP starts, the options for transferring or severance or other deals go away. The options are meet the bar and keep your job, or fail to meet the bar and leave.

      My company absolutely has this process out of an abundance of bureaucratic caution.

  11. 50% Success*

    I once put two people on a PIP at the same time (poor work was a shared habit). One rebounded fantastically and turned into a very high performer, and the other quit right before I could fire him. Which was for the best because his performance only improved in some areas not others, and he had a lot of random absences.

  12. wendelenn*

    I myself am unfortunately on a PIP, as well as currently supervising an employee who is currently on a PIP. So I can see it from both perspectives. I appreciate that my own manager is really working with me to get back to the level of success I need, and I am also extending the same to my employee, with clear goals and timelines as well as empathy and encouragement. It is my goal that both of us will be back on track by our next reviews. It’s certainly not my intent to fire this employee, and I truly hope it’s not my manager’s or Big Boss’s intent to fire me!

  13. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    I was put on an improvement plan that wasn’t quite a PIP, in the sense that my job wasn’t particularly at risk. I’d just tried to do three related, similar, but very complex projects at the same time, and unfortunately I got terribly balled up on them. Multiple errors on multiple rounds of review, and so on. The PIP was more, “next time you do this, don’t do them all at the same time, don’t try to use one as a template for another, and for godsake check your work for errors.”

    Unfortunately, I accepted an internal transfer before I actually had a chance to do a similar project, so it was left hanging.

  14. Karen D*

    Under previous management, our company had a policy that anyone who rated a 2 (on a 5-point scale) on ANY of their performance review categories had to be on a PIP.

    At the same time, there was the unwritten policy that only a handful of people would ever be scored a 4 (basically, exceeds expectations) or above on their overall review. The vast majority of employees were to be rated right at 3. Mathematically, that meant if anyone excelled in just about any way, they’d have to be “marked down” in some areas to ensure the final score came out to 3. Factor in the reality that we’d already gone through several reductions in force, and those employees who really deserved 2s had already been pruned. It became an exercise in creative writing and a weapon of mass demoralization. About half of us (including me) had PIPs.

    Fortunately our management was canny. They had wanted to get some of us training, which was generally frowned upon as an unnecessary expense. But hey, look at all these employees who are in desperate need of performance improvement! We better get some training up in here! So a bunch of us got strategic 2s. They brought in trainers. And wow, did it ever improve our performance! Who’da thunk it?

    Not a single person lost their job due to those PIPs, so we probably blew the curve for everyone else. Fortunately, that silly policy only lasted a year or two; now the staff is back to all 3s and 4s.

    1. Jesmlet*

      I’m curious if you had annual raises that were tied into the scores you received. That sounds an awful lot like OldJob where there was a scaled raise structure but no one ever got above a 3.5 so it was like dangling a wax carrot in front of us.

      1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        I worked at a company where annual raises were completely tied to performance reviews. We were evaluated on a scale of 1-5, and only people who rated 3 and above got raises. (There were no cost of living raises.) Management in my department was notorious for dinging people on the tiniest things so their rank came out to be just under 3, thus no raise. It was kind of an open secret that you pretty much had no chance of getting a raise unless you got a promotion.

        1. NJ Anon*

          We have a sort of opposite issue. My boss wants to give everyone a cost of living raise but they have to have a review done first. Even though one has nothing to do with the other.

    2. DCGirl*

      When I worked at a Big 4 accounting firm, they had what they called “forced distribution” for performance rankings. Basically, someone had to be at the bottom on every team — it was impossible to have a team of high performers. It was, as noted above, incredibly demoralizing.

      1. NACSACJACK*

        Jack Welch recommended, while he was running GE, and in his book, that the bottom 10% of your staff, based on performance, should be fired every year. This gets tough when you arent allowed to hire/replace them and it turns the staff into the “Hunger Games”.

      2. automaticdoor*

        OMG, my husband has dealt with that for the past so many years. To make matters worse, he is currently compared to THREE other people in his year/practice area because of Big 4 attrition. And you have to have a bell curve. So he has literally never gotten the top ranking despite busting his ass every year and glowing qualitative performance reviews from everyone he works with directly and most people he doesn’t. But it’s never enough to beat SuckUp McPerfect in his year, who has basically every single year gotten the ONE top rating they hand out. Of course, not making the top ranking means that you don’t make the top RAISE you could get either. Every June he is so sad.

  15. Chicklet*

    We recently put 2 people on PIPs, one right after the other. The first one absolutely was checking off the boxes until we could fire him because he just did not have the skills and got defensive when he got feedback. However, the other person took the PIP to heart and really raised her game. The PIP really helped to put things in focus.

  16. Maurge*

    I posted about this the last time a PIP came up, but a friend of mine was put on one and had basically 21 days to meet what was laid out, some of which were sort of preposterous. But she did meet everything that was laid out. And she still was fired two days later over “not being a good fit”. I’m still confused how, if they had to put her on a PIP for documentation purposes, how they were able to use it as part of the justification for firing her if she passed it with flying colors.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Because they can fire her for whatever reason they want, or no reason at all, as long as it’s not for a statutorily prohibited reason like gender, religion, race, etc. They were checking off a requirement, not building a justification.

    2. Jesmlet*

      Sometimes there are intangibles that can’t really be put on a PIP because they would look bad if they put that stuff in writing. Also a lot of companies use them just as formalities because policy says they have to and they don’t put too much thought into what goes on it. Giving someone 21 days to improve seems like an indicator that they didn’t want to keep her regardless. My best guess is it was a personality thing on top of performance issues and they didn’t want to actually say that.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        This. They obviously had no intention whatsoever of keeping her on and it was a pro forma deal.

      2. TL -*

        I can’t really think of anything that’s a legit reason for firing someone that looks bad if they put it in writing (unless maybe, Star Performer doesn’t like you and we have to keep Star Performer?).

        Even if it’s a personality fit, something like, needs to get along with coworkers can be easily put in.

        1. Jesmlet*

          It doesn’t necessarily need to be a legit reason to fire someone, just a reason that’s not illegal. Like, your voice is irritating to listen to, you’re the receptionist and I think your clothes are ugly, petty stuff like that. Or needs to be less annoying… there are personality things that just aren’t quantifiable, easily changeable, or can’t be put in a positive way.

        2. Temperance*

          I used to work with a receptionist who was rigid, strange, and didn’t have a welcoming personality. It’s really hard to quantify all of those things (except for the rigidity, although that … was an uphill battle). She was bonkers, and used to get incredibly bent out of shape if we were 15 minutes late delivering packages, or if the mail didn’t come by X time that day.

          1. Jesmlet*

            Right, reminds me of our account manager, but you can’t exactly put, “don’t take things too literally or be too exacting” on a PIP. Or imagine telling someone who gets stressed out with little things that they shouldn’t get so stressed out… not exactly productive and not really something they’re going to change in time for it to count.

      3. Malibu Stacey*

        Or the friend’s boss wanted to replace her with a former colleague or the CEO’s niece or whatever

  17. DCGirl*

    I survived a PIP at my horrible previous job. The manager felt I was disrespectful to her, because it was clear that everyone like our previous manager a whole lot better. I was told, for example, that we weren’t allowed to speak to the other manager, who’d been promoted to a different department, because that undermined the new manager’s authority. So, talking to him about the prospects for the Washington Nationals to go to the World Series that year while riding up in the elevator together was enough to get me put on a PIP for a poor attitude.

    At some point, everyone on our team was on a PIP, mostly for similarly dubious reasons, but only one person got fired (and he truly deserved it). We kind of felt like our manager didn’t thingk she was doing her job unless she had one of us on a PIP. As soon as someone came off her PIP, the rest of quaked in fear because we knew the manager would be looking for a new target.

    1. JM in England*

      I had a similar manager at OldJob. It was like he was showboating to the upper management, saying “Look, I’m putting my underlings on PIPs. Me tough!!” *sigh*

    2. Windchime*

      My previous manager felt this way, too. She didn’t seem to feel that she was managing unless she had a performance problem with one of her employees. So as soon as she was done tormenting one employee by hauling them into HR, publicly humiliating them, and writing them up (and maybe even firing if she was feeling lucky), she would identify another target and work on them.

      I’ve been gone for about 4 months and she’s still doing it. People on that team are desperate to get out.

      1. JM in England*

        One of the targets of my manager mentioned above just walked out one day soon after being put on a PIP. Which was a shame because he had been with the company for over 30 years………

        1. Pebbles*

          My mother was going to be put on a PIP. Her manager of less than a year decided that my mother didn’t know how to do her job, nevermind that she had been doing the job SHE CREATED for about 30 years (she convinced the company way back when that X needed to be its own position and they agreed). Her manager pulled her into HR, announced that she was going to be put on a PIP, had 3 months to improve, would not be eligible for raises or bonuses (including the yearly Christmas bonus), would have weekly meetings with manager and HR, and was not guaranteed to have her job afterwards. My mother opted for early retirement instead with her accrued hundreds of sick hours to be paid out immediately.

  18. MashaKasha*

    I was once placed, not on a PIP per se, but on something called probation. The duration of it was six months. There was a list of things to improve, but they were all very vague (“be customer-focused”, “be results-oriented”). I still have no idea, fifteen years later, why I was placed on one. I thought I’d been doing well, my customers were giving me positive feedback, and I’d gotten a good performance review six months earlier. A work friend who was a friend of my manager’s, told me after I’d gotten put on this probation to be careful, because my job was on the line. I continued working as I had before, because I didn’t know how else to do my job. Users seemed happy like they had been before. Only thing I changed was that I started to document everything. I was then taken off probation and given an excellent performance review before my six months were up. The manager who’d placed me on it seemed pretty proud of himself for having turned a problem employee around, and I was as confused as I could be. The manager then went on to get demoted soon after that, then fired, then fired from several subsequent jobs that he had. There was apparently some office politics in play and I may have gotten caught in the middle. Even more weird, when I was leaving the company for another job four years later, in my exit interview form, I mentioned still having no idea why I had been put on probation back in 20XX. The HR who was conducting my exit interview, looked at me like I had three heads, and said “what probation? We have no record of your probation”. Very strange all around.

  19. BoyMom*

    So I had a manager when I first started at my job who gave me literally no feedback my first year, then I had a horrible performance appraisal. His manager stepped in and put me on a PIP and was directly involved in overseeing the items I needed work on. I made it through and have been at my job over five years. I now have a new manager who we had a difficult first year but now I excel at my job. So they aren’t always bad

  20. js*

    yes. do not assume anything!

    I was put on a PIP early in my career. I couldn’t tell you now why my performance had been slipping. I was probably depressed, combined with some immaturity about how to handle being overwhelmed and just wasn’t getting my work done. My boss asked what was going on, talked with me, and put me on a PIP with very clear goals, helping me to prioritize my workload and also asked me what I thought would help and we implemented some team processes that got us all on the same page and smoothed out the workflow. I worked hard, I completed the goals he set. After the probation period was successful, he never said anything about the PIP again. 8 years later I still work for the company, and have been steadily promoted so that now I am the director of a department. And my original boss who has since left says that I am the best hire that he made while he was with the company.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      That’s exactly how it should go! Giving the PIP-ee the chance to talk about what support they need to improve their performance is so important.

  21. Pebbles*

    I was (I think) placed on a PIP because my manager and HR had a formal sit-down with me to discuss things that were not satisfactory with my work. There was a “this needs to improve immediately”, with concrete steps to take, and an evaluation after 3 months. I objected in part to how it was worded because I had been asking for formal training on what directly led to the situation that I had failed at with my manager and never received it (there was one person in our company who gave training to others on what I needed a few times a year and either I was not available at the time or the person was not able to give me 1-on-1 training outside of these times. This played out for over a year prior to the sit-down).

    On a good note, I finally received my training, and a few years later I am still at the same company (I love my job), have been promoted since then, and have a different manager.

  22. Roscoe*

    I was once put on a PIP (unfairly in my opinion). It was hilarious, because soon after I completed it, and you could tell it was grudgingly approved by my manager, she was fired herself. I quite enjoyed that.

  23. NK*

    The other potentially good outcome of a PIP is when the expectations are clearly stated, the employee can determine if they think the goals are achievable, and if not they have some time to get the job search up and running. A relative of mine was on a PIP for several months, and it was clear that the job was just not a good fit (she has a learning disability and the job required certain levels of measurable output that she simply wasn’t able to attain). It gave her plenty of time to find another job without getting herself fired first.

  24. Nan*

    I’ve done numerous PIPs for people. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. It depends what the mess up was, and how willing they are to fix the problem.

  25. Mrs. T. Potts*

    That’s odd–I thought I had read somewhere on this blog that if you get a PIP, you might as well start looking for another job, because it’s the kiss of death. I know it was for me.

    1. Jesmlet*

      I mean sure, nothing wrong with looking just in case but I wouldn’t call it the kiss of death. If you like the job, definitely make all the effort you can in meeting what’s in the PIP.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are lots of commenters who have claimed that, but I haven’t. What I do say, though, is that you should be job searching because it’s a clear warning that things may not work out (not a statement that they definitely won’t).

  26. NonProfit Nancy*

    If you’re on a PIP and aren’t sure which kind it is (the kind where they’re just waiting to fire you versus the kind where they’re actually hoping you’ll be able to grow into the role) it might be worth asking your supervisor something like, “how likely is it in your opinion that I’ll be able to reach these goals”? I’ve been surprised by how candid people can be when asked directly – “not terribly likely, to be honest” versus “it’s up to you of course but I think these are achievable changes.” It’s worth a try. But I’d be interested to know if anyone else has a better way of phrasing the question.

    1. AMPG*

      I asked that when I was put on a PIP before being let go (it was a terrible fit and I had already started looking for other jobs after six weeks, but was hoping to survive long enough to leave on my own terms). The response I got was, “I think that’s not a useful discussion and we should just be focusing on success right now.” This was telling in its own way.

  27. Anon for this one*

    Can confirm! I was put on a PIP within my first year of employment at my current organization. It was related to tardiness and insufficient presence at the office. I actually struggled to overcome these issues, partly due to outside factors my employer wasn’t completely aware of and partly due to confusing workplace norms, and I had a rough first two years in terms of performance reviews and so on.

    I’ve now been here over 7 years, have been promoted four times, and have more than doubled the salary I was hired at. I’m viewed as a top performer on my team and there are no lingering concerns about my work.

  28. Crazy Canuck*

    It’s interesting how many little things are different north of the border. As I have mentioned in the comments before, Canada does NOT have at-will employment. If you want to fire someone without paying severance (after their probationary period), you need documentation proving that they were fired for just cause.

    One side effect of this is that I would be far more worried about being put on a PIP in Canada than I would if I was working in the states. Due to the legal need to document, I have seen them used far, far more as documentation to support a firing instead of a clearly laid out plan for a struggling employee to succeed.

    How can you tell? Look at how specific or vague the PIP is. If a PIP is vague, it’s almost certainly being used as to justify a “for cause” firing by management. You had pretty much already been fired, you just didn’t know it yet.

    If the PIP is specific, there might be a chance that it will work out for you. The more specific, the better. As Alison says though, I’d still start job-hunting either way. Even if you don’t get fired after being put on a PIP, it will still be a black mark that will count against you in the future regarding promotions and advancement.

    1. Not my usual user name*

      Working in Canada, I’ve been at a couple non-unionized organizations where multiple people have been put on PIPs and have succeeded. At one, if not both of the organizations, I’m pretty sure that the rampant PIP and progressive discipline activity mostly came from managers who themselves were suspected of not behaving in a way that’s accountable.

      Perhaps this isn’t the same in all provinces? We fire people out all the time, regardless of whether they’re on a PIP – and we always manage to find documentation to support it somehow.

  29. Former Retail Manager*

    While purely anecdotal, I’ve never known anyone who was put on a PIP that didn’t ultimately end badly. Some folks completed the PIP, but still ended up either being fired or forced out within a year. The rest never made it through the PIP. As others said, even if you make it, it’s a definite black mark that has a way of following you and impacting your reputation for a substantial amount of time in most cases.

    I’d be interested to hear if anyone ever completed a PIP and went on to have a long and prosperous career at that employer or how long they stayed after they completed the PIP.

  30. JAM*

    In retrospect, the reason I dislike PIPs is how my last employer handled them. They’d realize they couldn’t fire someone usually on the day of their firing or sometimes even 2-3 days after because they had never gone through the steps of enacting a PIP. So we’d already reached a point where everyone was over working with the person but we still had to stretch the process out, usually at least another 6 months. If they enacted them when there was a problem instead of in an emergency, I think there would have been less collateral damage and a chance to see actual improvement.

  31. Just Jess*

    Thanks for this post Alison. So many people have not gotten the memo.

    I survived a PIP. The PIP came as a surprise and my “probation” ended up being that I’d meet with a supervisor weekly to review progress and report roadblocks. This closer supervision was supposed to be a punishment in their minds but the main issue prior to the PIP was that I could not get regular feedback from leadership on expectations, goals, and available resources.

    1. Stik-Tech Drone*

      The next topic I would like to see Alison address is telling the difference between a good-faith effort on the company’s part and check the box on your way out the door… and more specifics on what to do if it is the latter.

      I commend AAM for always advocating best business practices and generally giving others the benefit of the doubt. But just as there are managers who use their tool set properly, there really are those that don’t.

      It may just be the world we live in but I wish there was more advice out there for people who know they are dealing with a boss who really IS out to get you. The damage caused by one of those can be lasting, especially if you don’t see it until it is too late.

      Maybe another day.

      1. Just Jess*

        I’d left a reply to someone’s comment above, but it got eaten. A big sign is whether or not you can get weekly/bi-weekly meetings scheduled where a supervisor reviews your progress towards goals outlined in the PIP. If supervisors are dodgy and letting your progress towards critical goals be a surprise, then your employment is probably on track to be terminated.

        A sign that you are probably safe would be getting the manager to document that you are hitting milestones outlined in your PIP. That won’t stop the worst employers from firing you anyway at the end of a PIP, but it’s highly unlikely in this situation.

  32. Tim*

    My company is too afraid to fire people for anything as mundane as performance issues, so even though we use PIPs nobody takes them seriously. I’d much rather we were the other way around and fired everyone who went on a PIP…

  33. John Smith*

    I’ve been on 2 PIP’s in my life. Once was at a place that I knew it wouldn’t work out, chaotic and poorly managed, with nonsensical policies and bad management. They did use the PIP’s as a kind of check box before they fired you, and I did get fired, the second time was after I got burned out and my performance suffered as a result. In the second case, I turned it around and went back to being a great employee

    On an unrelated note, I just discovered your blog, and I love it. I will be coming to you with future questions :)

  34. AnonAsker*

    Here is my current situation, which I need help on:

    I have social anxiety disorder and panic disorder, both of which I’m getting treatment for. I informed my boss of this a little while after I started at this job, and asked for accommodations. He said accommodations wouldn’t happen, and because I have extreme levels of anxiety during serious conversations with my superiors, I left it there.

    Now, months later, I have been put on a PIP because verbatim: “it has been observed that [Name]’s productivity suffers under pressure.” HR is adamantly refusing to get involved and my boss insists he didn’t write that about me (all of this is documented).

    I don’t know what to do. I’m considering going to the EEOC because this company has enough employees in my office to fall under the ADA, but that might make my boss just go ahead and fire me more quickly. Should I make a complaint anyway?

    1. NJ Anon*

      Can you consult with someone first before actually filing a complaint to see if it is warranted?

      1. AnonAsker*

        Do you mean a lawyer? I don’t have the money for a lawyer unfortunately. I may have a better case after they let me go but then I will have even less money.

        My understanding is that if the company has over 15 employees at the site I work at that they have to engage in an “interactive process” to discuss accommodations. They’re allowed to reject or change requests I make but they have to come to the table or they’re violating the law.

        My boss says that accommodations aren’t possible or needed right now, and our human resources department insists this is strictly a performance issue and will not get involved.

    2. Jesmlet*

      What does your job entail and what kind of accommodations would you need? Maybe we can help give you a general sense of whether they’d be considered reasonable (I’m assuming they are and your boss is just an insensitive jerk). Otherwise I’d check with an employment lawyer who I’m sure knows more about this stuff than most of us.

      1. AnonAsker*

        I’m essentially a programmer. I occasionally have to speak to clients but my company has dedicated engagement/client relationship managers who are supposed.to be present on all client conversations. Sometimes I struggle with this when no engagement manager is around and that’s why I’m on a PIP.

        But this is not in my job description. What I’ve requested is half an hour advance notice for meetings and for there to be an engagement manager around on the client meetings. I haven’t received a response to the emails I’ve sent out about this. But in person I’ve been told my boss doesn’t think accommodations are needed (because he “used to be awkward too”) and HR says it’s between my boss and I.

        Honestly, I know I’m done here. Even if I can protect myself against my boss here, I’m not in his “clique”. He has a group of other direct reports who he plays Minecraft with in the office and buys them lunch. I’m just trying to buy time here.

        1. Jesmlet*

          This sounds perfectly reasonable and your boss is clearly a jerk for not even acknowledging what you’re asking for. Definitely take Alison’s advice and save all the emails you’ve sent regarding the accommodations. I’m sorry they’re being so difficult and I hope you find a better job soon!

          1. AnonAsker*

            Many people have complained about my boss. He’s from a different industry than our company, and is REALLY bad at hiding his favoritism. It’s okay to be nicer to the top performers. It’s not okay to play video games with then during work hours and avoid the people who aren’t his buddies.

            Most of the complainers have said this stuff in their exit interviews. So something may be done since people are leaving because of him, but I don’t expect to be around to see it for that exact reason.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Do two things:

      1. Consult with a lawyer. You said above that you can’t afford it, but you can usually get a short consultation for free.

      2. Send HR an email with this subject line: “Formal request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act”
      In the email, say that you believe your situation is covered under the ADA and that you are requesting to begin the interactive process to discuss accommodation, as required under federal law. Use those words.

      1. AnonAsker*

        Thank you. I will do this. I’m sure it will make my intentions crystal clear but it sounds like it will protect me until I find a new job.

        I have mentioned the Americans With Disabilities Act to both my manager and human resources before. But I have not explicitly said that I am requesting accommodations under the ADA before. I’ll also BCC my personal email address on this message, because my boss has said that there is nothing in the law that prevents him from firing me whenever he feels like it. He tried to backpedal when I brought up the ADA, but I think reminding an employee that you can fire them is basically crossing the Rubicon: I think the employer should only do it if the employee is in imminent danger of being fired, because any reasonably intelligent employee will remember that their boss can fire them, so the reminder only serves as a threat. If the employee isn’t very close to being shown the door, all it does is kill their trust in the boss/company. Possibly permanently.

        Again, thank you.

  35. Mononymous*

    I was put on a PIP once, a few years ago. My then-manager was a newly-promoted, first-time manager (formerly my peer). He had a peculiar habit of cobbing onto specific words or phrases that he would use over and over. At one point, he started giving me feedback in our 1:1 meetings asking me to “not let anything fall through the cracks.” So, I created a running spreadsheet of all open projects & tasks. We’d go over it every meeting, but I still kept getting the same response. “Don’t let things fall through the cracks!” No matter how detailed I made the documentation, he kept getting more and more frustrated and saying the same phrase to me. I wasn’t forgetting about any of my tasks, he could clearly see they were all still on the list until completed, so I didn’t understand why he was saying that to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask the right questions or read through the lines at that time, because I was dealing with some health issues and didn’t have the extra mental energy/emotional labor capacity to spend on his feedback puzzle.

    Finally, he pulled me aside and gave me the PIP. Three months, four items on the list. The first was the “don’t let stuff fall through the cracks” one, followed by vague goals on two minor issues he’d given feedback on maybe once each, and the fourth was to not repeat a minor error I had made once, then owned up to and fixed right away and which had literally no cost to the business. Ugh.

    I had to ask a LOT of probing questions to finally figure out that when he said “don’t let things fall through the cracks” he ACTUALLY meant “do more of A & B tasks, make C a higher priority on your list, and do less of XYZ task only as time allows.” WELL WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY SO!? Apparently he was frustrated that he couldn’t get me to understand what he wanted, so he went straight to the nuclear option.

    I did successfully complete the PIP, but never felt good about working for him again. I was constantly having to read between the lines of what he asked of me, to be sure I was REALLY doing what he meant. I wanted to stay with the company, but had to wait a year after completing the PIP to transfer internally. At about the year mark, we were actually reorganized and I was moved to another department. I now have a fantastic manager who raves about my performance and actually says what he wants from me, in plain words that mean the same thing to both of us! What a night and day difference. It’s my understanding that ex-manager has gone back to an individual contributor role since then as well, which is probably for the best.

    TL;DR: An inexperienced manager who isn’t a great communicator put me on a PIP out of frustration because I didn’t understand what he wanted from me, I worked through it successfully after finally decoding what he wanted, he is no longer my manager but I’m still happily with the same company. Whew.

    1. Soz*

      My manger was very new too; I accidentally claimed a lunch that I shouldn’t have. (£2.65 I think it cost). I’d been with the company for about 2.5 years, and this was my first professional job.

      When checking my expenses my manager called me over and asked about it, I said something along the lines of “whoops, I’m really sorry, that was silly I’ll take it off.” Thinking nothing of it I took it out of the claim, then moved on with my life. I had a generally good record with expenses, I had got some details wrong before, such as saying that I had a VAT receipt when actually it was a card receipt, but generally got it right. I was also going through health issues at the time that I had put the came in, and had taken sick time around that time, so my schedule had been all over the place, so hadn’t been as clear at recording my locations as usual.

      This was the first month that my manager had been given authority to sign off expenses.

      Then the next day my manager cancelled all my meetings (I had a day of travel planned) and called me into a meeting with him, HR, and the big main HR manager. Really laid into me how serious this was and put me onto a PIP, made it very clear I could get fired and sent me on my way. There was no mention of a pattern, or other things I was getting wrong, just this one incident.

      I already had anxiety/depression and was in counselling and on anti-depressants due to this manager (and the HR person, but that’s another story…) this really sent me into a panic; the essence of my PIP was that I needed to do my expenses correctly for the next 6 months. They really made it clear how important this was that I was really scared!

      In hind sight I wonder if they wanted to make an example of me (I understand that this couldn’t have been a slippery slope) Anyhow, 6 months passed with no problems. I put in a meeting to review (i.e. end) my PIP, it got moved. Multiple times. Mostly at the last minute – so I would spend the morning having panic attacks, arrive at work, not get much done because of worry, then about 5 minutes before the meeting my manager would reject the invite. My job was ending, and I HAD to find another role within the company, so needed this ended so it wasn’t on my file.
      In the end I had to go up the HR chain until I found someone who listened. Had the meeting and the PIP finished.

      My behaviours hadn’t changed throughout this process, it just cost the company lots of HR time, and ruined my (already shaky) relationship with my boss. Oh and buggered up my health for a year.

      And me? I ended up moving company in order to get away from the toxic environment, I’m working for a competitor, haven’t had a single complaint, I’m off the anti depreccents and havn’t had any mood swings for a long time. What did I learn? Don’t work for bad managers.

  36. not so super-visor*

    I passed a PIP in my first job out of college. The whole experience was a real wake-up call for me about how I handled myself (my attitude) and my work ethic. I cried like a baby when I got home, but I also vowed that I was going to do whatever it took to improve. While getting a PIP sucks, I think that it made me a much better employee.

    1. not so super-visor*

      I should also mention that the PIP happened after I’d been with the company about 3 years, and after surviving and thriving through the PIP, I stayed another 4 years before leaving to move to another city.

  37. Anonforthis*

    At old toxic job, the head boss and another manager put a co-worker, “Fergus” on a PIP. Apparently Fergus wanted to take a day off, but couldn’t because this was after the shut down and technically no one had any PTO left. Fergus was complaining to another co-worker, who told the head boss. Fergus even showed me the PIP and it stated that he was being written up for having a “bad attitude” or something like that. Well, the manager who put him on the PIP was fired and Fergus is still there.

  38. NW Mossy*

    My org uses coaching plans prior to a PIP. Coaching plans are documented and basically look like PIPs, but the main difference is what happens if you don’t complete the terms. If you’re on a coaching plan, you move to a PIP; if you’re on a PIP, you’re fired.

    I’m pleased to report that I just had an employee successfully complete a coaching plan. It was not an easy one to frame up (the specific issues were interpersonal rather than technical), but she really took it seriously and has made a lot of progress in improving her relationships and being a better teammate. When I first rolled it out to her, I wasn’t sure what would happen – I knew she was capable of meeting its terms, but I wasn’t sure if the will to do so was there. Thankfully, she stepped up and I don’t see a need to move her forward to a PIP at this stage. She’s said that the new way of behaving is helping her in her life outside of work too, and that’s really awesome. Fingers crossed that she keeps it up!

    1. TheTallestOneEver*

      We use something similar. Unlike a PIP, with a coaching plan, the manager identifies the performance issues and how the employee isn’t meeting expectations. Then the employee creates the plan for how those performance issues will be corrected, including identifying any resources like training that may be needed. It’s essentially a way of getting the problem performer to commit to a plan of action. If an employee who was empowered to create their own improvement plan is still having performance issues, then we move onto the PIP process. I’m currently going to through the process with a direct report and I don’t think we’re going to have to move on to the PIP process.

    2. MusicalManager*

      (Longtime reader, first time commenter here)

      My organization is similar, requiring coaching plans as a sort of “pre-PIP” and everything geared towards giving the employee every opportunity to get back to the needed level of performance. I asked our HR team and they said over half the PIPs they worked with ended in success for the employee. At least at my company a PIP is very much what Alison describes.

      This post is very timely for me as a newish manager who is about to put someone on a PIP. This person was put on the coaching plan in early fall, given remedial training, worked on projects with the other leaders in our group (to ensure the employee was truly the problem, vs. a communication issue or something like that). If anything, performance went from bad to worse despite a lot of effort on the employees’ part (our weekly tie ins involve a lot of tears these days) so we are proceeding with the PIP. I’m not too optimistic about it and wish our HR allowed some sort of coaching out conversation as an alternative bc this employee isn’t a bad person or a bad employee, just horrifically unsuited for this job…and her underperformance appears to be ability, not effort driven. But i will absolutely try to be open minded and give her a fair shot to improve, although at this point dealing with her underperformance for over a year I’m just desperately ready to move on. The one disadvantage of the coaching plans and long PIP (90 days non-negotiable) is it’s so hard not to be extremely frustrated and negative by the time we finally get to the PIP…

  39. AnonAcademic*

    My boss elected to put a staff member I was supervising on a PIP and after she “passed” the PIP she elected to leave the position anyhow because I think she found the PIP process insulting and it undermined her trust in Boss’s judgement. What it came down to was that Boss felt this employee was too defensive when questioned about impediments to performance; the employee felt Boss was not taking her seriously or helping enough when she described said impediments (which were genuinely often outside her control). As middle manager I saw both sides and ultimately what I concluded is that when you hold employees responsible for things outside their control they end up resenting you, and that “results oriented management” styles need to take into account how demoralizing it is to staff when a previously high performer gets put on a PIP and leaves.

    On a happier note, I served as a reference for this employee and they recently found a job that is a better fit for them!

  40. AMPG*

    I successfully coached an employee through a PIP once. It was especially tricky because she had made the PIP-worthy error (missing an important deadline with no communication beforehand) while I was on leave, so my boss wrote it up and then I had to implement it. She did respond well, but I don’t think she truly understood how close she was to being fired, since she then complained about her year-end review, which ranked her as “Partially Meets Expectations.” Who thinks they’ve met all their expectations for the year after spending several months on a PIP? My one regret with that situation is not being more direct in how I responded to her complaint (I just told her that management supported my assessment and it would not be revised).

  41. Foot Solider*

    At my current job I was put on a month long PIP a couple of years ago. I thought it was going to lead to me being fired because they had every VP (7 total) at my company sit down with me to discuss it (and I was not high up in the food chain to warrant it) with my supervisor being the only one who didn’t speak (I got the impression she never agreed with the decision to put me on a PIP). It was so vague I’m not sure how I got off it honestly. They kept telling me my work was excellent, but that my attitude sucked and I needed to “smile more”. Meanwhile my attitude sucked because they were working me 60 hours a week with no overtime and firing/hiring people like crazy so I was one of the only employees not in management that had worked there longer than a month! My attitude didn’t really change…even now years later… I just started closing my office door so they didn’t see that I wasn’t smiling. Of the 7 VP’s that meet with my about my PIP not a single one lasted a year at the company overall. :)

  42. The Friendly Compensation Manager*

    I am a PIP success story.

    It was absolutely, 100% one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through professionally (and I guess personally, too), but I look back and know I learned a lot.

    How I got to that point is really unfortunately, as I worked in a very dysfunctional organization (I’m in HR, so yes, HR can be dysfunctional, too). It was a very finger-pointy, political landmine-filled place to work, and because I was one of the few people who did not play the CYA game (I admit my mistakes and work to fix them, which is healthy IMHO). So I became the department scapegoat for everything that went wrong, and perceptions about me were very bad. It was humiliating, and I was devastated. However, when the PIP was put in place, they had hired a new manager to report between me and the Director, who had been a key player in how I had gotten to that point in the first place.

    She WANTED me to be successful, and was super encouraging to me the whole time. She patiently helped me correct misconceptions about me, and generally the attitude people had toward me improved. She took the heat for anything that happened on our team, instead of just casting blame at one particular person, as had been done before. She actually MANAGED me. Before she came, I felt like I was hopelessly drowning.

    She is the best manager I have ever had. Truly, she was amazing. And, because I went through that experience, I have very high aspirations for myself as a manager. I recently became a manager myself, and I look back at the time I spent in a very challenging season, and know that I want to manage through hard things the way she did. She leaned in for me and with me, and it made all the difference in the world to me. I would not take it back for one second.

    So, I am here to say that a PIP (even an unfair one) is not the end of the world. It can and will get better, even if it is not in the organization where you currently work. Chin up, fellow PIP-ers. You’ve got this!! :)

  43. ST*

    I (used to) manage in a county gov’t organization. I definitely used PIPs as CYA for folks that were on the firing trail, but I also had a couple of success stories that came after PIPs.

  44. MassMatt*

    Ugh, so much “why not call the PIP something else?” Chatter–if it were given some euphemism everyone would just roll their eyes and translate “They mean a PIP”.

    I have used PIP’s as a manager a few times, one was a huge success (returned a formerly high performer who was struggling back to high performance), one was a very limited success (extreme tardiness and a few other issues–he improved but backslid later). The funniest one was where the employee survived the PIP and immediately asked for a raise, citing PIP survival as an accomplishment. OMG, the cluelessness was unbelievable.

  45. regina phalange*

    In my earlier comment I mentioned my company requires you to fail the same
    PIP twice before firing. The company I worked at before current job fired me with no warning or discussion about my performance and I cited lack of PIP as a reason to get more severance and was denied. So I guess I would choose a PIP over nothing, but sometimes if it is truly a bad fit, nothing is better.

  46. Maxwell Edison*

    Back at ToxicJob, about a year before I was put on a PIP, one of my coworkers was put on one, ostensibly because she was “insubordinate.” Coworker completed every item in the PIP but in doing so she stressed herself out, her immune system went in the tank, and she got sick. The day after she came back from sick leave, she was told she’d been “insubordinate” again and that she was on a PIP again. She gave up and resigned. I couldn’t help noticing that she, and me, and several other people who were put on PIPs (and were let go or resigned – no one survived the PIP process) were for the most part women of a certain age who’d been with ToxicEmployer for over a decade. In retrospect it’s clear they were culling the employees to get in fresh blood that could be paid less and made to work more.

  47. ArizonaJane*

    The PIP issue just came up in my workplace. Here, PIPs are pretty much used as a formal warning. It doesn’t mean an automatic firing, but it IS a last-ditch bit of feedback. However, we recently had an opposite issue. A new-to-the-company manager was trying to use PIPs willy-nilly thinking that they were a good way to set goals and correct very minor issues. A simple one-on-one would have sufficed, and all she did was succeed in throwing her team into a panic. HR had to have a talk with her and explain what PIP was and what it wasn’t.

  48. Rebecca*

    My husband received a PIP about five weeks ago. It said that he had to make sure one of his manager’s completed all of the items on her PIP. He was like, nope, this is all so beyond my control. It was the final straw in a year and a half of crazy micro-managing from his boss. And he quit after ten years with no job lined up.

  49. One of the Sarahs*

    I love this article, thank you!

    To me, unless it’s one of those egregious errors that has major implications (I’m thinking of breaking confidentiality, working with large amounts of money etc etc), any issues should have been brought up in a one-to-one before it gets to the PIP stage. So the boss has already had a conversation to make sure the employee understands what it is that they’re not getting right, and why, and if there are any issues like “this is an impossible task”, and then it escalates. I think one of the big reasons PIPs go wrong is when they come completely out of the blue.

    The PIP process can be super-useful, but it needs the same kind of SMART language. And also it’s about appropriateness, isn’t it? Someone who’s being racist or sexist, or something like that should go on a final warning system, rather than a PIP!

  50. Anon for this!*

    My very first professional job out of university I was put on a PIP.
    All my friends worked in bars, but I worked 3 days a week in this office. And we would all go out drinking many nights of the week, at least one or two of them before I had work. And then we would all go to work the next day hungover. Which, if you work in a bar, seemed to be normal, and amusing, but because it was an active moving around job without too much deep thought required, not a huge impact on performance. I, of course, sucked at my office job when I was hungover, but I never seemed to pick up in any conversation with my manager (who was only about 5 years older than me and had never managed anyone before) that this was NOT OK. She’d ask me if I’d been out, and I would tell her stories about what I’d been up to, and she would chat about it like it was interesting ‘what I did over the weekend’ stuff.
    So anyway, after 6 months of me not catching on to any of this, she put me on a PIP which was basically ‘stop coming into work hungover’. I was MORTIFIED not to have realised sooner how out of line I was. I was a year into my next job after that before I even dared to go out for a glass of wine on a ‘school night’.

    1. Zahra*

      Well, it’s no wonder you didn’t catch on to this, she didn’t even barely imply that it was not ok to come in to work hungover. Even a “you know, it doesn’t look good when you arrive hungover” would have been clearer than inquiring about your evening. Or a “I notice you’re not up to your usual standards today, did anything happen last night?” (which would admitedly go right over my head as I’m oblivious to that kind of very oblique comment).

      1. Freya UK*

        Yes, this. I don’t get hints, and if I then get accused of something I did/didn’t do at work that I apparently should’ve realised from a hint I am furious; have the respect to be straightforward with me, I’m not a delicate little flower, I don’t even pretend to be, there’s no excuse!

  51. Liz*

    I’ve seen a couple of job applications that ask if you’ve “ever been fired or put on a performance improvement plan.” Will being put on a PIP look as bad as being fired to some employers, and do you have any suggestions how to handle that question, especially since workplaces use PIPs for different reasons?

  52. erin*

    I was put on a PIP for a behavioral issue without warning – it had never been brought up to me before. I was shocked, and upset, but I took the feedback seriously and fixed the behavior issue. In fact, a week later when my boss came to find me to sign the official paperwork, he told me that he wished he didn’t have to do this because I had already fixed the issue. I started hunting, found a new gig and left two months later.
    Which is all to say, don’t leave the big issues for the PIP process, or you’re making yourself more trouble than it’s worth.

  53. Shelly*

    The only times I’ve seen PIPs in use is when I’ve worked in departments with no managers and no one who knew what they were doing and certain employees just sort of slipped into to become de facto managers and no one said anything or did anything about the systems they were then using to try to get other people fired. And then the other time, I was put on one with no warning because I came in a tiny bit late for a meeting (after having worked 15 hours the day before) and they didn’t like that I had tattoos (though that last part was unwritten). So, yeah, let’s stop calling everything a “performance improvement plan.” Sometimes it’s just documentation mean people who are bad managers use to evict people from their workplaces.

  54. Smile Time*

    I’m very appreciative of this post. My general sense, prior to seeing it from AAM, was that very few people make it through PIPs. Not necessarily because they are CYA tools for managers seeking to oust someone, but also because often people with serious performance issues are unable to make the lasting changes needed to persist in a position. As a manager, I’ve thankfully not had a need to place a direct report on a PIP – this is really more a function of being a young manager, I believe, though. I have, however, been placed on a PIP once as an employee. I ended up satisfying the conditions of the PIP and continuing on with the company, eventually being promoted. I’ve since left that organization, but it was on good terms of my own choosing.

    The experience was not pleasant – I distinctly remember being a nervous wreck for the entire process, especially when an eleventh hour mistake ended up extending the PIP by another 2 weeks or so. That said, I remember being treated fairly and compassionately by my management the whole time – it was an invaluable learning experience for me at an early moment in my career. I knew that I had earned the situation – I had been struggling with a number of personal issues which had impacted my performance and couldn’t get a handle on it until I was at the point of a PIP.

    Frankly, I’m certain that I would have chalked it up to a valuable learning experience even if I had ultimately separated (although job loss is no joke) because I felt the whole process was justified, fair and undertaken with consideration to the emotional impacts to me. I think that is the sign of good management – they weren’t wishy-washy or prioritizing my feelings over the very real need for my work to meet a standard of quality, but they also were not cruel towards me in that process. It ended up being a fantastic model for supervising others, especially when they are not up to scratch in their performance, and I am thankful to be able to lean against that experience now.

  55. RestrictedYouth*

    Ever come across a situation where you’re told you are doing a great job, getting a raise and a bonus but they are placing you on a PIP to improve some subjective intangibles that happened over the course of a 3 year period that you’re already improving on and the manager is satisfied? That this is a fork in your career and once we work through those things really great things could happen.

    what’s the point of a PIP instead of just a coaching then? It’s an extremely confusing message that’s being sent and I can’t tell if it’s a CYA tactic to eventually push out and start job seeking or to relax and just go with the flow.

    I’ve delievered MANY PIPs but none like this.

  56. Just been PIP'ed*

    I was told I will be placed on PIP. Meeting with HR is set next week. Asked the manager point blank if I should update my resume. She said no and quality of my work is excellent but I need to improve my communication to upper management. I also told her that I was disappointed that HR has to be involved.

    I had experienced several personal tragedies recently and I admit it did impact my performance at work.
    After reading on PIP posts, I am convinced PIP is a prelude to dismissal.

    Other than doing everything on the PIP list, what can I do to survive the PIP and keep my job?

    1. Mike*

      We got taken over by an Indian Conglomerate. Two years in, me another fella were put on a PIP by a new boss. The other guy was out the door fired within 6-months. I thought my PIP was concluded a year after it started, as there is a time limit of 6-months to year max. I found out 3 years later I was still on it and on the verge of being fired. All kept hush hush quite behind my back. I put in for pension immediately after the tip-off from a manager friend and didn’t look back. In my opinion, the PIP is a clever tool designed to get rid of you. There are other informal way to help an employee’s performance. Annual evaluations are one. My previous evaluations were good, the PIP caught me by surprise. Management’s way of showing you the door, maybe for some other reason they can’t legally do. I wouldn’t hang around and wait for the axe to fall. The company has expressed “we don’t want you around anymore, take the message and leave the best way you can, but leave or be fired.

  57. Least Complicated*

    I was put on a PIP. New management came in and wanted to clean house. In the end about half my department received their walking papers in some form or another. I saw the writing on the wall before the talk and started looking for jobs. They delayed my annual review for 6 months until they could package it with the PIP. So I went about a year and a half without anyone giving me any feedback, positive or negative and then they dropped the bomb. Knowing I was on my way out, I wrote a rebuttal to try and buy me some time. Needless to say, the last 6 months of my job (where I had worked without much incident and received perfectly good reviews — nothing that noted needs improvement — for 5 years) were miserable. TBH, I still haven’t recovered completely and in the end it damaged my work history, since my boss labeled me ineligible for rehire (I think as retaliation for my rebuttal). The only thing I can recommend is to do the best you can and look for work elsewhere. Just because your boss or management or HR is unprofessional, doesn’t mean you need to be. Try to compartmentalize it as much as possible. Improve the things you can, demonstrate a willingness to support your department. Even if they refuse to acknowledge your efforts, you can walk away with the knowledge that you did all you could.

  58. Hoping For Success*

    As a Manager, I feel it is crucial to be very clear and upfront about what the process is when putting someone on a PIP. It may only be my opinion but I would believe, at least in most circumstances, if a boss or company doesn’t see a future for you it is quite likely they already have enough to let a person go without going through this process.

    I invest a lot of time and resources in trying to hire good people and retain them. I want my team to succeed and when I use this method it is truly to try to salvage an employee that I see an upside to keeping and want them to be able to correct their performance and grow with the company instead of leaving or being made available to the industry. The key here is the onus is just as much on me as the Manager to be clear on what needs improvement and by when, as well as making certain it is not a lack of traing, tools or support that prevents this person from succeeding anywhere through the process.

    1. Mike*

      Your explanation of the PIP is really nice. The problem, in the real world good things serving a good purposes can be abused and corrupted to suit another purpose. From looking at lots of posts randomly over a period of 5 years after my experience, for the sake of curiosity, I’ve concluded that in the majority of cases, the PIP is a deadly weapon, effective in doing exactly what it’s designed to do. A prelude to an ejection seat, designed provide an efficient means to get rid of an employee that’s unwanted. Could be that some manager doesn’t want to see the guy’s smiley face around at meetings anymore, it bothers him to see somebody too happy. Someone’s a threat to his supervisor. Maybe, the big guy has a son or nephew in need of a job because he’ graduating college soon, need to make room for junior. The real reasons are limitless, let your imagination run wild. The people that developed this “vehicle of worker demise” are, in my opinion very clever. Should have patented it.

  59. Daisy May*

    I think I have PTSD from my previous job and the ensuing PIP I was put on. For a little context, I worked for the company for 3 years without incident. I may not have been a rockstar, but all my evaluations were good, I had never received a verbal or written warning. But in short order, I was passed over for promotion (I was told “I didn’t go above and beyond” but my boss refused to give examples when I asked) and basically ignored. I filled out my self-evaluation for my performance review. I was honest, but complimentary and handed it in. Where it sat doing nothing for another 3 months. I knew then that something was going to go down and – boy howdy – did it ever. I was given what might be the worst possible performance review a person can receive. Nearly every category was unsatisfactory and during the meeting I was placed on a PIP. All of this happened without anyone telling me in person or in writing that I was in danger of losing my job. All of this happened without a single note in my personnel file saying that I wasn’t performing as needed. And sadly, it didn’t just happen to me. Two other colleagues were treated the same way. I was just the lucky one who found a new job before they could fire me. It was by far the most corporate, bureaucratic, and insincere experience I have ever been through. And what makes it worse is that it was a charity. Apologies for the vent, but I’ve held onto that one for awhile, and every so often it sneaks up on me and then I see a post like this and it becomes fresh as a daisy.

  60. DigitalDruid*

    The company I work for now is generally a great company to to work for, but I have never seen anyone who was placed on a PIP survive the process.

    Basically, they will give the PIPed employee a whole bunch of tasks that an above-average employee would find difficult to complete and then expect the PIPed employee to complete all of them satisfactorily or be fired. I suspect this is done in some cases to avoid paying the employee severance which can be quite substantial in some cases (up to 28 weeks of pay for long-time employees).

    One of my first salaried jobs was as a replacement for an employee who had been PIPed and subsequently fired. He apparently had a very good employment attorney who got him reinstated and placed back in our group-but not in his previous job since i was already doing that quite satisfactorily. He was assigned to all sorts of odd jobs for about a year and then let go as part of a larger layoff in our group.

  61. Laura Cruz*

    I got put on a PIP once during performance reviews, and it quickly dawned on me that in spite of performance goals being set, the manager would change them on a whim and forbid from getting the resources required to achieve them. At one point he even chastised me for being trained on something *he required me to be trained on during the POP.*

    I quickly realized that the company had deliberately downgraded performance reviews across the board to save money, and naturally there was a mass exodus of employees as we knew what was up (the product we launched into the market place was flopping.) Sure enough, when I was supposed to be taking pre-approved paid time off, they used it as an excuse to fire me for missing performance targets – and I learned they’d taken a clean sweep through the company and quietly fired everyone they’d shoved onto PIPs during the performance reviews.

    A month later I had a new job and the company went through the first of many mass layoffs. I’m not saying there was nothing I could do to improve my performance, but it was pretty blatant that they hoped to clear out as many people without severance as possible without getting caught because once a mass layoff happened, it would hit our industry’s news and the problems at the studio would finally become public.

    I’ve learned in the time since I left the company is turning itself around but only because the managers involved in such unethical behavior had all finally left the company. The ones left actually cared about morale and staying in business and I hear things have gotten better.

  62. Donna*

    I have just completed my first PIP for an employee who has the technical knowledge required for her job but who is very disorganized and seldom sees any project to completion. It would be difficult for me to replace her, and I would really like to utilize what is in her head, but my reality is that her performance will soon affect my performance and that I can not have. My ultimate goal with a PIP is to help my staff member become more organized, focus on one task until it is complete and review her work to ensure it is correct. It requires a lot of time and work to design a genuine PIP and a PIP represents a commitment of future time resources from the manager to the employee. There are easier ways to document someone out the door.

    If your PIP is nothing more than a list of errors made by you and a demand that you not make these errors again, you have a progressive disciple document and not a PIP. If your PIP outlines performance concerns and areas for which you need improvement and it provides specific, detailed instructions to help you identify and correct the problem, you have a performance improvement plan and your manager feels that there is at least a chance that you can succeed in your position, if you put in the work.

  63. Beeblebrox*

    Perhaps it is my industry (biotech) and/or geographic area, but my past two employers used the PIP as a way to document poor performance prior to termination. It was just a way to minimize potential liability should there be a law suit. So the PIP was a facade… the kiss of death- the formality prior to firing someone. I never saw anyone survive the PIP at those companies, but since people knew the low-down on the PIP, it was rarely chosen anyway. I’m sure this is highly variable from employer to employer, but may also be industry specific. It’s fascinating to read the comments from people who survived the PIP, and even flourished!

    1. Beeblebrox*

      I should have explained that people were given this choice: take a severance package and leave voluntarily, or go on the PIP, which was usually 60 – 90 days under a written performance plan.

  64. midhart90*

    Some PIPs are shams that are designed with failure as the desired outcome (either by setting targets that have no realistic chance of being hit or creating an uncomfortable environment so the employee leaves on their own accord). Honestly, a manager who feels the need to resort to such tactics is one I wouldn’t want to work for anyway.

    Assuming the PIP is in good faith (as I believe most are), I think it is not only survivable, but an argument can be made that it may not even have been entirely the employee’s fault. This is because a PIP should not come as a surprise to anyone if the manager is doing their job properly. I once found myself on the receiving end of a PIP where I was genuinely unaware there was an issue. My manager laid out clear requirements for me to fulfill in order for me to retain my job, and I fulfilled them. Looking back on the whole situation, however, I think my manager was just as much (if not more) to blame for the whole ordeal, as he should have been giving me feedback and ensuring I was aware of any concerns long before they reached the level of a PIP.

    In the end, though, I got the last laugh–about a week after I officially completed the PIP, I left for a significant salary increase at the company I am happily employed by today!

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