evaluations penalize my highest performer, getting rid of company swag, and more

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

1. Our performance evaluations penalize my highest performer

It’s annual performance evaluation season where I work, and I’m wondering if I’m being soft in my expectations or if my company is being unreasonable. One person on my team has been with my organization for over a decade and has found a niche that suits their skills and interests while filling a vital role for us. They consistently deliver excellent work and meet all their goals (which are set at a high level, given their history), but they feel no desire to grow their responsibilities. And I think our team is best served by them continuing to do what they’ve been doing. They are probably the most valued member of my team, and I’d consider them a very high performer.

However, from the HR rubric I’ve been given, someone who meets their goals, rather than exceeds them, counts as a “solid performer” rather than a “high performer.” It seems crazy to me for someone to have to keep exceeding their goals, when the goals are already set high and in line with the organization’s needs. Am I being lax? Should we come up with lower or differently framed goals, so this person can be scored as exceeding them and get a higher rating? Or is there another way I should be approaching this?

Yeah, this is a bad system; it’s a one-size-fits-all system that doesn’t allow for people whose goals grow as their skills and experience increase. It’s also incentivizing people to aim low, which is the opposite of what a company should want.

Can you start doing two sets of goals with this person — one that reflects what solid performance would look like and then a separate set framed as stretch goals? It’s more work to create to two sets of goals, but it would get you around this system. It would also protect them if they have a year where they don’t achieve at their normal high level (because of things going on in their personal life, for example) but still turn in a solid performance; this way they wouldn’t risk getting penalized for having a year where they were merely good instead of great.

2. What should I do with old company swag?

I recently left a job (on good terms) from which I’d received a fair bit of branded clothing — dress shirts, mostly, but some jackets/sweaters and golf shirts as well. I have no desire or need to wear the clothing in the foreseeable future, even though it’s all in very good condition — it’s just not my personal style. If it weren’t branded, I’d have no qualms about donating it, but I’m hesitant because it is clearly branded. It’s not a company that the average person on the street would be aware of, but if someone in the field would recognize the company.

While there weren’t any code of conduct requirements around the corporate wear while I was at that company, I am aware that some organizations do have them. Off the top of my head, I could see that someone who receives the shirts could either misrepresent themselves as a representative of the company (at a trade show, for example), or display extreme misbehavior that could lead towards public impressions of the company. I don’t think either of those is necessarily likely, but it did give me pause before adding the shirts to the donation bag. Am I overthinking this? Is there a better way to rid myself of these garments?

Some companies do prohibit donating company-branded clothing for exactly those reasons, or because of security concerns (for example, could someone buy a utility-company-branded shirt and then wear it to scam their way into someone’s home?). If your company doesn’t have a rule against it or you don’t see obvious security issues like that, I wouldn’t worry about it terribly … but if you’re concerned, I can’t think of many options besides using them for sleeping, turning them into rags for cleaning, or simply disposing of them. (It’s worth noting that even if you donate them, they may not end up where you think— a huge portion of donated clothing ends up in landfills or harming local economies after being sent overseas.)

3. Can I offer to freelance for my company when I quit?

A little less than a year ago I started a job as a graphic designer at a small company. I was relatively inexperienced at the time, but they were impressed with my portfolio and took a chance on hiring me. I was quickly able to step up, and they’ve seemed very happy with my work.

However, I’m miserable. The deadlines are tight, the hours are long, pay isn’t great, and management is ineffectual. I think I could handle all of that if I 1) loved the work and 2) weren’t also trying to finish my MA degree in the next few months. The combination of work and school stress leaves me frayed and frazzled at best, absolutely despondent at worst. Even typing this I feel ridiculous! But it’s true. On top of that, I don’t feel much “passion” for the work I’m doing, despite this being exactly what my degree is in and what I thought was my dream job. I’m considering leaving the field altogether, but I can’t tell if stress is clouding my judgement.

Is there a graceful way to quit while also proposing to freelance for them? The deal is that we are understaffed as is, and my leaving would be a shock and screw over my coworkers. Our current freelancers produce work that is … highly variable and my company is always looking for good freelancers. Expressing my interest to still take on freelance projects for them would leave them in way less of a lurch (and ideally give me some financial cushion and the time for schoolwork).

But is this even a thing? Am I naive for thinking that this is a viable suggestion? On the one hand, my boss could be pissed that she took a chance on hiring me and this is how I repay her (I’m really fearing this!). On the other hand, it makes smarter business sense for them to keep me on their freelance list.

Is this a super presumptuous way to quit that no manager in hell would respect? If so, I will suck it up and stay and continue trying to finish school at the same time. Or maybe freelancing for your former company is super common and I’m overthinking it. If the latter, do you have tips or a script for how to go about it?

It’s a very common thing to offer. Your company may or may not take you up on it, but there’s nothing presumptuous or rude about suggesting it; rather, you’re offering them a solution that might help them. It’s not weird. You can simply say, “If it made sense on your end, I could still be available for freelance work if you wanted me to.” (Make sure you think about your rates ahead of time though! Sometimes employers will assume they can go on paying you whatever you were earning as an employee, but freelancers charge more because you’ll be responsible for your own taxes and you won’t be getting benefits like paid time off. Typically a freelance rate is about double your employee rate, if you choose to charge hourly. If you charge per project instead, factor that general idea into your rates.)

But also, please change the way you’re looking at the whole thing! Your boss didn’t take a chance on hiring you as a favor; she did it because it believed it would benefit the company (and indeed, it seems to have — and she’s gotten a year of good work from you). And resigning a job is never “screwing over your coworkers.” If it leaves them in the lurch, that’s on your company for not staffing sufficiently, not on you for making a perfectly normal business decision for yourself. You get to leave a job at any time and for any reason, and it’s not personal … and while you don’t need your decision to be understandable, leaving because you need more time for school is on the highly understandable end of the spectrum.

4. Background checker wants to see my tax forms

I’ve been offered a position at a company that is respected in my field. However, they have an outside company that does background checks. The process is something that I’ve never seen before. I was asked for my SSN and ID as normal, but I was also asked to provide references for all the places that I have worked in the last five years. This was not a big ask, and I complied, and I warned my references that they may be called or emailed. However, the company has come back and demanded I give them my W2s or 1099 tax forms to verify my employment since they claim they can’t. But, oddly, they haven’t called or emailed any of my references who could verify my employment. I’m not inclined to give that information to an outside agency, and I feel like I’m being made to do the work they should be doing. And that’s beside the fact that them knowing how much I’ve been paid is icky and invasive. Is this normal? Do you have to give people your tax returns to verify your employment now? I’m inclined to say no. Can I say no?

It does sometimes get asked if they truly can’t find a way to verify your employment otherwise, but it’s odd that they’re claiming that’s the situation when they haven’t contacted anyone to try. I’d get in touch with your contact at the hiring company, explain the situation, and see if they intervene. If for some reason they won’t, you can refuse but it’s possible that it’ll torpedo the offer.

However, before you get to that point, try submitting the forms with all income information redacted. In some situations that require tax forms, redaction is perfectly as acceptable as long as they can see the parts that are relevant (in your case, the company names).

5. Using a new phone number and email address

The single best sanity-saving piece of advice I’ve given to recent job searchers is to use a new email address and a free Google phone number. Never in my life have I had as many spam emails, texts, and calls as when I began job searching and made the mistake of posting my personal email and cell.

Consider it passed along! Also, for the email address, people can set it up to forward to their main email address so they’re not having to check two separate places.

{ 359 comments… read them below }

  1. Eye roll*

    OP2: Do you still have casual connections at the old company? Someone who could take it in and stick it on a table with a note that a prior employee wanted to pass these along to someone who could use them and to take something if the size works? Because that would seem to eliminate the donations concerns, keep it out of the landfill, and help out old co-workers since you left on good terms.

    1. RedinSC*

      Yes! This is what our former employees have done, and the clothes are usually snapped up.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Yes! Definitely happened all the time when i worked somewhere with branded clothing, and it was an easy way to get rid of all the clothes when i left. It was kind of a bummer because they were really nice quality, and i would absolutely have worn them post-Job, but I was not taking Mr Seam Ripper to a billion embroidered logos.

        1. EPLawyer*

          You don’t have to take a seam ripper. Hubby gets branded clothing, I like the outer wear but am not going to wear his job on my chest. So I sew another patch right over it. On the winter jacket I put a Natinoal Parks patch. On the windbreaker (and its a really nice one) I put a custom patch I printed on fabric myself.

          1. H2*

            I do this with cups—hubby gets a zillion branded yetis and corksicles, and I put national parks stickers (or whatever other vinyl stickers) over the logos.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              My office moved to a WeWork and all the WeWork-provided cups have inane positive affirmations printed on them, which annoy me. So I stuck a sticker that says “BAD VIBES” with a rain cloud to my water bottle and just use that at work. Now I have my own negative affirmation mug.

          2. Dragonfly7*

            I love this idea! We also give clothing to former coworkers if it is still in decent condition, and I rag the old t-shirts, but I love this patch idea. I often want to support a group, like a band, but don’t need yet another t-shirt, so this would work.

          3. Kyrielle*

            Yup! When I left $FormerCompany it had been bought, so the branded shirts were no use to anyone. I pitched most, because they were now unusable and none of them were awesome enough to keep.

            Except for one t-shirt that’s funny for what it is (and kind of funnier now that the company is gone, honestly), and two sweatshirts that were just *awesome*. I don’t remember what happened to the great one, but the black one now has a Disney character patch on it right over the old logo…. :)

          4. Gothic Bee*

            That’s such a good idea! I’ve done the same thing with stickers on branded water bottles, but didn’t think about using a patch or something on clothes. I hate wearing branded stuff (plus the company I work for kind of sucks) but we got these really nice branded rain jackets recently that I’d love to wear more often.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              I actually picked up an old-timey clock from my old company on the way out–they were going to throw it away! It worked just fine as soon as I stuck a battery in the back. Sits on my mantel and ticks right away. It’ll probably end up as an antique someday.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          My mother in law took a seam ripper to a logo on an otherwise very nice jacket my husband got from his Second most Hated Job just so he didn’t have to ever be associated with it again. After watching hr level of care and work to remove logo without harming jacket, I REALLY appreciate why nobody would want to do that for a lesser cause or a lot of clothes.

          (This was the job where the boss, during a company *pep talk speech*, said aloud “If I could get you all to work for me for free, I would.” I think it only comes in as second most hated because the other one was run by someone who has been in the news for his illegal actions.)

          1. The Rural Juror*

            It does take a lot of care to get some off without ripping the fabric they’re sewn to. I have tediously done this before. Not a fun task!

        3. ian*

          I just…wear the clothing. Unless you really hated the job and the company, is it that big of a deal to wear something branded with a company you no longer work for?

          1. raktajino*

            It can limit what you feel comfortable doing. I have worked for enough schools and school-adjacent orgs that I feel *very* uncomfortable going to a bar in my branded gear. At the very least I don’t want my former employer to catch heat. That happened when I was in Americorps: someone wearing a donated Americorps jacket was seen doing something illegal, and there was an investigation to make sure it wasn’t any of the current members.

            On a less fucked up note, my husband asked me to take a seam ripper to an alumni shirt of his because he didn’t want people talking him up about football every weekend.

            1. pancakes*

              Going to a bar isn’t illegal, though. It’s considered close enough where you are that it’s that unseemly to be seen in one?

              1. Elizabeth West*

                It’s not illegal if you’re of legal age, but schools can be really conservative about that sort of thing.

          2. JustaTech*

            I have a coworker who wore the “Emergency Response Team” jacket from his previous company (across the street) for years and years.
            In the unlikely event of an emergency happening across the street when he happened to be walking past it could have been confusing, but other than that it was just a jacket that said “I’ve been in this industry a long time”. (And it was a *nice* coat.)

        4. Elizabeth West*

          On one occasion, I managed to pick the embroidered company name out of a long-sleeved polo and put an applique of a cat over the place it had been. I got quite a long period of wear out of that shirt.

    2. Middle Name Danger*

      My old job had a classifieds board on the intranet and I put a note on it about having branded clothes to give away when I put in notice. A few people on my immediate team grabbed things first. I kept just a couple shirts to be sentimental or to wear at the gym or while I’m painting.

    3. Anonymous89*

      if you, or someone you know, sews, the fabric could be reclaimed. I have a bag I made primarily from no-longer-serviceable clothing (still a beginner).

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        If the logos aren’t big, you can also cover them pretty easily. I was given an expensive looking felt bag with a phone company logo, so I put an iron on transfer of a doughnut over the logo.

      2. Zephy*

        I made a kitchen rug out of half a dozen tee shirts I had accumulated from OldJob by the time I left. The only problem was there was no way to clean it, so it did eventually get pitched, but I got another good 18 months out of shirts I had no particular inclination to wear out of the house again.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          It only took that few? That’s really good to hear!

          …oh wait. I’m assuming you cut them up and made a braided rag rug. Is that what you did? And also, why wasn’t it washable after you’d rugified it?

        2. JustaTech*

          Back in 2020 I made a good-sized quilt of 20 of my husband’s work T-shirts. It covered two jobs, but it still left him with a very full closet of t-shirts!
          (I also made a quilt of our funny college t-shirts that still mean a lot to us but aren’t really wearable anymore.)

    4. Raboot*

      I think this is the best idea since frankly, unless it’s really amazing clothing, who’s going to want to wear it? I don’t really see company-branded stuff at my local thrift stores even though tons of people in Seattle have closets full of it. I sumpathize bc I have the same problem as OP but randos don’t want it any more than we do.

      1. ccr*

        I don’t know if all thrift stores have the same policy, but the one my mother volunteered at wouldn’t sell anything with the logo of a company that could be used to get in someone’s door (electric company, delivery, etc). Mom still has a FedEx shirt she uses as a nightshirt!

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          That is such a responsible, potentially life-saving policy. I’m impressed.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        When I was involved with a thrift shop, we didn’t even put branded clothing on the floor unless the brand was something people would have paid to wear (a sports team, for example) or the item itself was valuable and the brand could be ignored (a North Face jacket with an unobtrusive logo). No one ever bought it.

      3. Maya*

        I thrift a lot, and I feel like the t-shirt section is always full of “what use could anyone else possible have for this” branded stuff. Once I found a nice fleece winter jacket that not only had a big company logo patch, but the employee’s name embroidered on it.

        On the other hand, someone might just buy it for fun. My brother has a thrifted employee shirt from a random sandwich shop he’s never worked at, just because he thinks it’s funny. You never know.

        1. Mademoiselle Sugarlump*

          I agree, I see tons of branded clothes at my local thrift shops, maybe because I’m in Silicon Valley where there’s lots of swag. I’ve also bought a few if I like the design or think it’s funny – I’d wear a sandwich shop shirt too.

    5. Virginia Plain*

      Yes, when an old boss of mine retired he had a little giveaway from a spare desk and we took any merch he’d acquired but didn’t want. I got a very nice item with a foreign govt crest* and my dad was delighted with the [US law enforcement agency] that I got him.
      Similarly a huge cupboard of branded clothing was handed out free when we changed our branding. Some took it for gym wear, a couple of us made soft toys for desks, and I personally will never run out of colourful cleaning cloths. T-shirt or sweatshirt fabric is great for polishing, washing the car etc.

      *don’t worry the [foreign] spies aren’t watching me though a hidden camera etc – I literally had it scanned and inspected by security!

      1. Virginia Plain*

        [US law enforcement agency] HAT that I got him. My dad is not now boss of the CIA lol.

          1. ferrina*

            This is right where my mind went! I’m seeing a Brewster’s Millions set-up where a young CIA analyst needs to show they have what it takes be promoted in the CIA- by running the Coast Guard first.

        1. Cohort 1*

          FYI – If you’d like a CIA hat or an FBI hat or any of a number of federal agencies, they are for sale from many street vendors in DC or the gift shops of the respective agencies. There’s also always Amazon, Etsy, Zazzle, etc. The moral of that story is that if you run across someone with an FBI hat it doesn’t mean they are FBI agents any more than someone wearing a Cardinals hat is a professional baseball player. In fact, a person wearing a CIA hat is unlikely to actually be an employee there. ;-)

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes I pass on things I get to my family. I don’t work in a company that has branded merchandise but pre-Covid I went to quite a few trade shows and picked stuff up. The men of my family have several branded t-shirts and baseball caps that they wear for gardening / DIY and I have a few cousins who desperately want crockery so will take whatever branded coffee mugs I have.

        If you’re struggling for a home for things is there a homeless shelter in the area? In my experience they’re always very grateful for whatever you have regardless of what branding it has as long as it’s in good condition and clean. Anything my family don’t want gets delivered to the local homeless men’s shelter, especially if it’s warm because the streets get cold at night.

        1. Kate, short for Bob*

          Yy, and maybe dress shirts could be given to one of the services that provides low income applicants with job interview clothes. They often have a mending service available, so seam rippers to get rid of any logos.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      This for anything good condition–there’s a ‘free stuff’ table in my building by the employe entrance. For things that are actually ripped, see if your town has a textiles recycling drop off point. Our specifies it can be ripped and worn out, just not dirty or with active mildew.

      1. Llamas and Donuts*

        To add to this, many (most?) reputable thrift/resale stores (at least in the U.S. – unsure about other places) recycle unsellable clothing/textiles -it’s a revenue stream. I usually separate anything that should go directly into the recycling pile (stained shirts, frayed pants, anything unsellable) and label it as such. When I volunteered at a local resale shop we were grateful when people did this! Branded swag could go in that recycling pile too.

        1. Lego Leia*

          This was my first thought. Donate to a fabric recycler. But, I think that the “see if you can get them to someone at old job” is better, followed by “sew other things on top of the logo, if you like the garment”, followed by “recycle the fabric”.

        2. pancakes*

          That’s what the link in Alison’s answer is about, though – it is a revenue stream for them, and an enormous amount of clothing donated to resale shops in the US winds up in landfills abroad. It looks environmentally friendly to us because the landfills aren’t here, they’re in the global south.



        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          Please do this in person, though, and ask if it’s something they want. Several years ago, my thrift store had this kind of arrangement, but there was such a glut of used clothing that the “revenue” was miniscule, and sometimes the recycler was overstocked and couldn’t take clothing for months. So we either stored giant trash bags full of clothes or put them in the dumpster, which we had to pay for. So make sure your thrift store won’t actually have to pay to discard your clothing.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            This is why the thrift store that picked up in OldCity stopped taking books. They couldn’t sell many of them and had to pay to get rid of them.

      2. Anon because I'm being specific*

        Yes, I was coming to say this! I live in Richmond, Virginia and there is an company that will collect your clothes and either consign, donate to local non-Goodwill charities*, or recycle them based on their state. When I got rid of some company branded stuff recently I cut the logos off so they would for sure wind up recycled.

        *nothing against Goodwill, they just get a ton of donations so this company specifically partners with home-grown organizations to spread the donations around.

    7. Ruby*

      Yes! When I left my old job, I regifted my company swag to people that were staying.

      1. Cupcake*

        My old job gifted me logo items as my going away present. It was weird. I wondered what they thought I would do with it?

    8. WellRed*

      Great idea in theory. We can’t even get rid of the brand new stuff, let alone someone’s already used items. I’d feel terribly guilty but probably throw it out. I also don’t see why, if there’s anything OP likes they can’t simply…continue to wear it outside of work.

      1. Virginia Plain*

        I think the OP’s point is that she doesn’t like it so she won’t wear it

    9. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’m sure it would have been made abundantly clear if there was a rule against donating old company-branded clothing. As Allison mentioned, I could see it being an issue if you work for the gas company and there’s a concern about criminals posing as employees to get into houses. Realistically though, no one outside your industry has heard of your employer in most cases.

      I’ve got a mess of golf polos and button-down shirts with logos of former employers, and they’re perfect for wearing to work in a business-casual environment. In my case, the former employers are in the same industry but not direct competitors of my current one. You should be fine unless the companies are rivals, like if you’re wearing a Pepsi shirt to your job at Coke HQ. I’ve got an ex-employer’s polo shirt on right now at work and nobody notices or cares.

    10. Cookie Lady*

      Came to the comments to say exactly this. People do this all the time at my job, even when they just do a closet clean out. (Of course, I work for the Girl Scouts, so the event tees are never-ending!) But there are always new staff or volunteers happy to snap up new-to-them stuff.

    11. urban teacher*

      Not sure if this is an option but high school severe and profound classes probably need clothes for accidents and sometimes to practice laundry skills. When I taught elementary we needed bigger outfits and didn’t have them but high school really needs them.

      1. Infosecretariat*

        Thank you for this; the possibility never occurred to me. I am going to contact some of our local schools to inquire about donating clothing.

    12. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I have had some success donating our branded stuff to animal shelters they make good animal bedding, shelters always need rags, and a shirt with some knots in it makes a great pull toy for pups. Just don’t tell your old company that their logo may be being used to encourage bottle feeding puppies and kittens to poop.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! We used to get stuffed animals as swag (it made sense in context) and they made great dog toys. And I know our local shelter is always looking for bedding (not sure about dress shirts, but dog pull toys is a great idea)

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’ve turned old dress shirts into pull toys for our pups when they were teething. Cut off the buttons, cut into strips whichever direction gives the longest strips, braid, and tie knots at the ends. I leave the cuffs and collars on, but you can cut them off. You can also cut the sleeves off and tie them in knots to make a knot ball. Not sure if shelters would go through the effort, but I bet the fabric would make good butt wipes to get kittens and pups to poop.

    13. Person124*

      This was my suggestion too! I did this with my branded clothing when I left and my coworkers were very happy

    14. DiscoTechie*

      Ditto – I had a ton of clothing from my previous job. I left it in the women’s bathroom with and sent a note out to the women of the company (a small amount given it was an engineering firm) that it was all available for free. HR ended taking a few of the rando’s that didn’t get claimed.

    15. Bob-White of the Glen*

      That’s what I did when I left my last job, and knew I had no desire to wear the clothes and be reminded of that toxicity – left them on the breakroom table and they were gone shortly. Did wash everything first to make sure some of it wasn’t dusty from sitting around. But I’d love free swag (and have no issue with used clothes as I still thrift shop) and it’s better for the environment.

    16. Leia Oregano*

      Was coming down to the comments to say this! I work for an administrative department at a university, so we all collect tons of branded gear. It’s very common when people leave the office/university to donate branded items they no longer/want need. Someone will send an email telling us where to go to grab things, and anything left typically winds up in a wardrobe for people to help themselves to. It’s a great way to help out early career coworkers who haven’t had the time or funds to acquire many things yet! I was very grateful a coworker around my size had things up for offer not long after I started working for the office — it helped boost my work wardrobe for free at a time I had no disposable income, and I still wear a couple of those polos regularly! If your stuff is in good condition, this is a great way to get rid of it and ensure that at least some of it will find new homes with people who will use it.

    17. Tupac Coachella*

      Yep, came here to say this! At my job everyone accumulates a few free t-shirts and polos, but the nice items like the jackets and sweaters are purchased, and can be pretty pricy. I don’t make nearly as much as some of my coworkers, and would be happy to snap up some of the gently used “good” swag. That may not be the case at your old job (you mentioned they weren’t your style, so my guess is they were giveaways), but could also be good for newbies who would like to build up their collections or people who missed out on an item they liked.

    18. Elizabeth West*

      I tried this at a couple of jobs and they wouldn’t take them back. Exjob’s t-shirts became workout shirts. I didn’t care if they got sweated up. I only have one left now.

      I decided I wasn’t going to buy branded clothing from any job in the future. If they want me to wear it, they can provide it and I’ll happily turn it back in if I leave. The exception is my leather padfolio from Exjob. You can’t really see the company name unless you look closely, and it’s too nice and useful to let go of.

    19. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      This letter reminded me of my last company where the boss demanded company-branded sweater vests and other items back from employees who left.

    1. John Smith*

      I don’t know if they exist in the US, but in the UK there are companies who debrand (counterfeit) clothes and donate them to genuine charitable causes. That might be worth checking out too.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh that is a wonderful idea. I wish we had that here (if we do I’ve never heard of it).

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Animal shelters and rescues also like to get old fabric items since they always need rags, bedding, etc.

    2. The answer is (probably) 42*

      I came here to suggest this, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who’s thought of it!

      1. Siege*

        Same. OP, look in your city or county’s household waste disposal for fabric recycling. My county works with a thrift store chain. Since your clothes are likely in good repair, if you have access to the program through a thrift store you might want to cut them in half just to make them unthriftable; here, you just give the donation center folks a bag, so it’s not obvious you’re there to recycle.

        1. pancakes*

          Many do, and the resale bundles and thrift store chains are the ones that ship this stuff to places like Pakistan and east Africa. Several African counties have imposed legal bans on secondhand clothing because they don’t want more landfills. The PopSci article I linked above explains this. The link Alison embedded in her answer explains as well.

    3. Contracts Killer*

      In particular if the clothes are larger or soft, you could reach out to local animal rescues, too. I volunteer with a small animal rescue and if clothes are not in good enough condition to donate for human use, I cut them up as bedding or sew them into snuggle sacks or rat hammocks.

      1. quill*

        Great place for unwanted logo socks: they’re perfect tunnels for swaddling kittens, rats, and the hands of volunteers who are tired of having itty bitty needle teeth piercing their knuckles.

    4. Sea Anemone*

      For people in the US, those pink donation boxes that you sometimes see in retail parking lots take fabric for recycling.

    1. Emma2*

      Just FYI, it looks like this company does essentially what a clothing donation box does, which as they say on the site you linked is sending most of that clothing overseas. That raises all the issues Alison notes above.
      Vast amounts of clothing is sent to Africa each week. Kanatamanto , the largest textile market, for example, receives 15 million items of discarded clothing per week. Market traders work 6-7 days a week selling that clothing. These resellers pay for your clothes. Bales weighing 120 lb sell for $75 – $500 a piece. People go into debt buying them and hope they contain something worth reselling. When people donate clothing that is not really usable to Westerners (damaged, very poor quality, worn out, and likely company branded workwear), it is also not sellable or usable in Africa. So, now a trader in Kantamanto (who are typically individuals or very small businesses) has paid for clothing they cannot sell. (Note: this information comes from the excellent Aja Barber, I highly recommend her work). I realise throwing them out feels bad, but that is what is happening anyway except someone else pays to throw out your clothes (and we shift the resulting landfill from our countries to theirs).
      Of course wearable clothes also create the issue Alison noted of undermining local textile businesses.

      1. Nessa*

        The work around for ones that do that that I believe is to make the clothes unwearable so they don’t get redonated and end up in the “recycled textile” pile they’d sort. As a professional wrestling fan, I have some shirts from wrestlers that have turned out to be predators/have unsavory politics so I have some shirts I need to wreck before I give them to my own local textile recycling org.

        (Unless I go all “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and write the reason the shirts with these people’s faces shouldn’t just be donated!)

      2. EPLawyer*

        UGH Kiva has all kinds of loans for people to be able to buy second hand clothing to resell. I think they need to know so they will stop perpetuating this. Someone SEWING clothing locally, support them.

        1. pancakes*

          Micro-lending is another thing that has a lot of appeal for people who think they’re doing something good but often aren’t. I’ll link separately, but please have a look at the investigative Bloomberg reporting on this that came out last week, “Big Money Backs Tiny Loans that Lead to Debt, Despair . . .” It isn’t a coincidence that very large, very much for-profit investors back these programs. “Five of the largest development banks committed almost $15 billion to microfinance and small-business lenders in more than 80 countries from 2011 to 2020.”

  2. I Need a 9 Hour Nap*

    LW #4. This sounds like a hiring experience I had. The third party background check company had terrible online reviews and I had to call them daily and demand to speak with someone beyond the call center to get my background check to progress. Their processes left the burden on the candidates and they often fell back on how the info i provided was unreliable and the website searches were also unreliable so they wouldn’t do them.

    I suggest calling the background check company and looping in the recruiter if you run into issues.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Same. My company recently moved to yearly background checks using a third party (or maybe even a third party to a third party). It has been a disaster, they want up-to-date contact info on 10 year old previous jobs and pounce on any gap like you’re trying to hide the fact you spent 3 months drug running.

      I have a short gap on my resume (a perfectly normal one at that) and they asked me for e-mails showing I was scheduling interviews in that period or evidence of what I was otherwise doing. They hassled another person by asking for contact information for a company that doesn’t exist anymore. And another person over not having official documentation for a job they left nearly a decade ago.

      The branch director told me he signed off on so many exceptions because the level of information required was ridiculous. And bear in mind, that’s for people who already passed a check when they joined.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I’m curious why they’re doing yearly background checks that go back so far. Are they expecting info from 5 or 10 years ago to change after it has already been checked multiple times?

        I understand that some jobs have stricter requirements and an annual check of criminal record or financial information might make sense. But rehashing work history just seems pointless.

        1. WellRed*

          And yet, the federal government does it. I gave a housing reference for a roommate I had for 8 months 12 years after the fact.

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            The federal government has a whole range of levels of background checks that range from something on par with what most companies do to high level security clearances. They don’t track down roommates from 12 years ago for most jobs, and they don’t do that level of clearance annually

        2. Alternative Person*

          There’s a few theories floating around that mostly revolve around someone either lying on their check in some way to hide something disqualifying or doing something nasty after their check and it not being discovered until well after the fact. In an effort to be seen doing something the company decided yearly checks for everyone. But those are just theories, we don’t know the actual reason.

          But yeah, all they’re doing is annoying staff by forcing them to dig up information that is quite often out of date or better left buried.

      2. Christmas Carol*

        Once when I was in my 40’s, I “failed” a background check, because the street address/phone number I gave for my High School didn’t match the one listed in the five-year old phone book the third party background check company used to look it up. They reported that I must have committed fraud, and purposely lied when I filled out my info form. But my hometown had just spent big bucks to build a new school complex on a different street from my old school. And before you ask, yes, Google was a already a thing then, and my company fired the background check company and hired me on anyway,

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Wow, that’s crazy. I’m in my 20s and am undergoing a background check by the federal government, and even they didn’t want information about my high school!

          1. Darsynia*

            If mine did, this exact same thing would happen–they demolished our high school and I doubt they were on the ball enough to get the same phone number.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        You don’t happen to work for a U.S. government contractor, do you? Because that sounds a lot like some types of government background checks—and I’m not even talking about the ones for security clearance.

        The standard “public trust” background investigation is for seven years of history, which includes jobs and where you lived. The form asks for contacts at each, and the investigator does call them—and will call you back and ask for another contact if they can’t reach anyone. (The really fun part is when they want to know the name of someone who can confirm that you weren’t employed over any length of time—but this person can’t be your spouse. I was unemployed during part of Covid, and I stayed in the house. Finding someone other than my wife who could confirm that I was not working was tricky.)

        That’s the lowest level of federal employee background check. There are others that require going back ten years—again, with someone to verify what you were doing (or not doing) during gaps. And even ten years is easy compared to the DC Bar application materials, which wanted information on my employers and gaps in employment since I was 21. When I moved to DC, that was…well, let’s say that was well over ten years of history at that point.

        But even in the federal background check process, no one ever asked me for tax documents. I’m not sure why—I’m guessing that they think that documents can be forged more easily than people could be convinced to lie.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Oh, and the fun part of the DC Bar application was that they also called people. Combine that with wanting all job history since age 21, and I ended up with letters demaning a (non-family) contact who could verify my employment at a defunct Savings & Loan half the country away where I had worked 25 years prior. Amazingly enough, I hadn’t managed to keep in touch with anyone from the office. And of course I couldn’t give a phone number for the company because they didn’t exist anymore.

          I ended up using a friend as a contact, who, although I didn’t work with her, was able to say, “Yeah, I think he worked at a bank or something?” I guess that was good enough.

        2. Alternative Person*

          No, I work for a non-US international company, in a non-English speaking country. The company prides itself on its safety policies, but even then, I’d think that would be more an issue of a criminal background check, not insisting staff produce a working e-mail for a company that closed 6 years ago.

          1. Blonde Spiders*

            I had a similar thing happen 3 years ago when I applied for my now-job at a regional health insurer. For some reason they could not verify my employment so I had to submit w-2s. Rather frustrating and anxiety inducing. 3 years later, we are still having issues with this background check company.

      4. SpaceySteph*

        Ah bad memories of my own background check for my first career job (now almost 15 years ago)… I had a mom and pop retail job for 3 months during the summer between high school and college, then moved out of town for school and never had reason to contact them again.

        Find out during my background check 4 years later when I graduated college that they had shut down (honestly not surprised, place was a shitshow) and now I need to provide proof of this little dinky job I had 4 years earlier as a 17 year old. Luckily my mom found an old paystub in my childhood bedroom.

      5. The Rural Juror*

        That sounds frustrating. Just because you have a gap, it doesn’t mean you were obligated to be applying anywhere at all during that time. I know several people who have used layoffs+severance packages to take much-needed “funemployment” for 6 months or so to reset.

    2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      This can be A Thing for jobs requiring security clearance or access to very significant trade secrets. The reasoning is they want to see if the employee would be resistant to bribes (someone in undisclosed financial difficulties might be more amenable to such). But you’d normally know if the job is like that.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Security clearance positions usually actually and actively verify that information, and are tied in with government agencies that have access to databases which are not available to companies or the public. Most “background check” companies aren’t doing that, because, like the one the LW is dealing with, they are relying on non-public information supplied by the candidate – confirmation of a tax return I give you, for instance, is literally illegal unless I’m working for a government employer (private individuals tax data can not be requested and verified from the IRS or state DORs legally, by corporations or individuals). As such, I could put anything I want on the form I send the background checker, just like I could on a resume or reference list.

        1. Alternative Person*

          That makes a lot of sense actually, which honestly makes the whole process worse because it just gives people incentive to at best obfuscate because they don’t want to risk some rando calling up an old job and asking weird questions and worst outright lie because they did something bad and/or disqualifying.

    3. Love to WFH*

      My current job used a 3rd party to “verify my employment”. No one called _any_ of my references. The firm failed to verify my employment at any of the jobs I’d listed. I had to upload scans of my W2s (with dollar amounts redacted) for every job.

      Worst thing was that they pinged me about the first job. Then a day or two later about the second. Then a few days later about the third…. It was dragging out horribly.

      What I learned is ONLY ENTER A FEW JOBS IN THEIR SYSTEM. The background check firm didn’t start from my resume. They verified what I’d entered in their online form. The company had already decided to hire me based on the jobs on my resume and interviews. I found the 3rd party online form tedious, and entered fewer jobs then were on my resume. They only checked the jobs I entered.

      If I had it to do again, I’d have uploaded a redacted scan of each job’s W2 immediately.

      The amusing thing was that it would be trivial to counterfeit a W2 to scan and upload. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      The terrifying thing is who keeps W2s from years ago? You have to keep tax forms for 7 years, but they were requiring older ones. I was just very lucky that I failed to get everything shredded before my last move.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Since mostly working from home (when not traveling), I learned to scan everything. Even though I file it just by date into a small number of folders (health, purchases, taxes, insurance, car, user manuals), it helps a lot. Last week I needed to reconnect my Bluetooth mouse to the laptop and the scan of the postage stamp sized “manual” came in handy. I couldn’t have deciphered the original without a microscope anyway.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          When I was a contractor I got in the habit of scanning everything, too, and also do it as an employee. In the past few years, every time I got a project or perm role, the background checking firms weren’t sure how to handle me because I wasn’t always a W2 employee. I had copies of MSAs, SOWs, and tax forms to verify I worked when I said I did, but it still took longer than usual to complete my check.

          And working more than one project at a time, or having overlapping projects? Yikes. One checker accused me of misrepresenting my history. I wasn’t quite lying, she said, but clearly, I was hiding something. She just couldn’t understand that contracted consultants could support more than one client at the same time.

      2. Alternative Person*

        Seriously, the background check company wasn’t happy that all I had from some jobs was photos of old documents, but that was what I had and it was lucky I had that much.

    4. World Weary*

      Yes, me too. They reported that they were unable to locate any of my references or verify prior work where, in 2 of the locations, I gave the HR Manager as my reference and neither was called. I told the HR at my new company that this firm was a complete waste of money. If I have to supply 8 years worth of W2s, what exactly is this vendor doing to earn their money?

  3. soontoberetired*

    LW1 – my place of business descriptons of what is exceptional is pretty unattainable for senior employees because it basically is impossible. An inexperienced employee can exceed expectations in a lower role. It’s crazy, I am expected to be exceptional as the senior person in my group. I swear all of this stuff is written by people who really have no idea of what people do. It’s frustrating as an employee.

    I just did my goals revision for this year, and my manager pointed out I was a little behind. He knows I am gong to retire in less than a year, he seems to not realize I don’t really care about goals anymore!

    1. Rebecca*

      I was in a degree program with practicums where we were evaluated on a 1-2-3-4 scale, 3 being ‘achieved goals’ and 4 being ‘exceeded goals’, so you’d expect most performers, even exceptional ones, to have a slate of mostly 3s and a few 4s in their talent areas. Of course, over time, that morphed so that a slate of 4s was expected, and it was a highly competitive program, so getting 3s became seen as a bit of a failure.

      But, ok, one of my 3s was for ‘being punctual’ from a school I had been placed with that wasn’t looped into this expectation of what a ‘4’ was, so she read the description at face value. You can’t exceed expectations on being punctual. You can’t be more on time than on time. Handing in work early is not ‘exceptional’, it’s just….early. One of my 3s was ‘professional demeanor in the school’ – because you can’t be super-professional. I can’t exceed your expectations on that, unless you had pretty low expectations for my professionalism.

      Frankly, I think that if it’s my job to exceed expectations regularly, than you’ve done a pretty terrible job of setting the expectations.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I have ranted about this with surveys for stores–if I walk in and find a box of raisin bran and purchase it with nothing going hideously wrong, then you have met my expectations. My expectations would have to be seriously out of whack for all of that to “exceed expectations.”

        For kids in school it’s a reason to game the system. In fact I have heard of educators explaining to their classes the importance of doing meh on the start of year test, because the school has to hit a certain level of improvement or everyone gets punished. (“This class came in really solid on Wuthering Heights, so we’ll be changing up the curriculum to keep them engaged and challenged” is never the goal of the start-of-term test. “Showed improvement of 20% on Wuthering Heights questions following completion of standard unit” is the only thing that matters.)

        1. Empress of Blandings*

          Reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s dad who was in the armed forces. He had to do a fitness course where they were assessed at the beginning and again at the end. At the initial assessment he did an… adequate amount of say, press-ups, while everyone else was going all red-faced and sweaty and 110% type of thing. Said it was much easier to show a big improvement by the end of the course that way!

          But yeah, the whole thing is ridiculous. Why does everything always have to be bigger, better, faster, more? Why can’t just ‘doing a good job and everyone is happy with that’ be enough?

          1. Ten Pin Challenge*

            I had a bowling class in college as one of my PE requirements. The ONLY criterion for grading was improvement. The professor didn’t bat an eye when I scored like a 91 in week 1 and ended the semester bowling above 200 consistently.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            In the 60s physical fitness was a big deal in schools. Like you are saying here, my husband did 3 push ups at the beginning of the semester and did 6 push ups at the end of the semester. At no time did he strain himself but by their own rules he had a major improvement.

        2. pancakes*

          This trend is too big to be turned around by ranting in stores. The people working there are not the people who set it up, and your own expectations are not aligned with the expectations of the corporate entities that did. I’ll link to a couple articles about it separately. One very illuminating one came from Buzzfeed News in 2018, “An Invisible Rating System At Your Favorite Chain Restaurant Is Costing Your Server.”

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I have ranted in online fora such as this one, not in stores.

            I resolutely refuse to fill out anyone’s online surveys. Threatening the cashiers if I won’t engage with the survey doesn’t motivate me the way the designers imagine it should.

            1. pancakes*

              The problem is that the workers can’t opt out of the system the same way. The articles get into the details of how this works. Workers who don’t meet certain targets often have their schedules cut. From the Buzzfeed article, for example:

              “Ziosk scores are tabulated as an average out of five stars, and on the device, it says four out of five stars means ‘satisfied.’ But anything less than perfect drags a score down and has the potential to hurt the server.

              ‘The company only counts fives as good scores’ said Mathew, who works at an Uno Pizzeria & Grill in New Hampshire. ‘Everything else is basically a complaint.’”

              I’m not saying that you should feel obliged to fill out every survey you encounter with the highest possible rating. I am saying that simply not filling them out is not a challenge to the status quo, and people who are inclined to think it can be need to look a little closer at how it all works.

              1. J.B.*

                It is really ridiculous for retailers to expect me to fill out a survey just because I shopped there. I paid them money. Take the money and don’t expect me to do work for you. I am really sorry for the workers caught in this, but don’t have enough bandwidth to take on yet.another.thing.

                1. pancakes*

                  It is ridiculous, and it isn’t limited to retailers. The WSJ I linked to is about the white collar equivalents. It’s not as if the people who built these systems are unaware of the ridiculousness. One of the data scientists interviewed in the WSJ article described the data these companies are obsessed with as “super noisy by design.”

          2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

            I worked for a cell phone carier years ago as a call center customer service rep. I hated those stupid surveys they would send to customers. the 1 to 10 scale is to big especially when anything under a 9 per the company is failing. While most people figure she did her job and got what I needed so shes at 5 or 6 meaning meets expectations. but no we had to give “EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE”

        3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I hate that with the surveys. “Was this the best customer service experience of your life?” I mean, all I needed was my address updated, and they did that quickly and politely, so it was definitely a positive experience, but hardly the “best experience of my life”, but I don’t need y’all dinging the poor CSR because I’m a Disney annual pass holder and changing my address on a magazine subscription doesn’t compare to what they do.

          1. Lana Kane*

            At this point any interaction that results in my issue being addressed in that phone call with minimum fuss, I consider as being exceptional.
            (Looking at you Comcast, with whom I spent almost a year trying to get them to update my address).

        4. quill*

          Teacher’s kid, used to get this rant twice a year. Along with the ridiculous metric of apparently your students are supposed to get smarter every year while you remain in the same grade… And the “yearly goals” that allegedly couldn’t be “teach the same curriculum to new kids.”

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        YES! My company does it on a 1-5 scale, and my boss and I just had my review. She starts it every year with “I know there can be some confusion because often people feel like they must be exceptional and get worried when they feel their score is low. If we are happy with your performance and you are doing everything we think you should be in your role, that’s a 3. That’s great. We’re happy when most people in the company get a 3. About 10% of the company will get a 4, and 5 should not exist. Nobody gets a 5. It’s pointless.”

        As an anxious perfectionist, the annual reminder that 3 actually is desirable is really, really helpful.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          We went from a 1-3 scale to a 1-5 scale last year, and it seems like that’s the philosophy behind the ratings here as well. And I kind of think “if nobody ever gets a 5, why is it there?”, but maybe the answer is that it makes the “exceeds” (now the 4) more usable. Like, now you can indicate that someone’s above average without implying that they’re perfect or have nowhere left to improve? I dunno. It still seems odd.

          1. Clobberin’ Time*

            It’s there so the employer can always point to your “average” rating and say you were not promoted or were let go for genuine performance reasons and not for any illegal or improper reason.

        2. BigHairNoHeart*

          This sounds very similar to where I work, right down to managers reminding everyone that 3 is the norm. I’m not overly fond of the system, but at least everyone is on the same page about it.

          1. ferrina*

            Yeah, the worst is when different managers follow different rules. I was on one team where my coworker and I were evaluated by different managers for doing the same job. We both did equally well. But the manager that evaluated me never gave out 5s because “there is always something to improve” while her manager gave a 5s for things that she truly was amazing at. The result was that we got vastly different scores, which impacted our salary increases. For doing the same job equally well.

            1. A Library Person*

              Oh, I’ve been on teams like this! It is incredibly demoralizing when your particular supervisor/teammates “don’t believe” in something like the colleague recognition program, when every other unit in the organization does.

              It is especially horrible that the scores are still subjective and linked to salary increases. It sounds like it’s luck of the draw when it comes to what manager you get.

        3. Laura*

          I worked somewhere with a similar attitude. The joke was that you could cure cancer and still not get a 5 (and yes, we were a research facility with a focus on cancer).

          1. pancakes*

            Perfect encapsulation of this problem, ugh. Curing cancer = “meets expectations”!

            1. Bee Eye Ill*

              Or they give you a 1 for “needs improvement” because you haven’t cured it yet!

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I used to work somewhere with a similar rating system and we used to joke that maybe Jesus could get a 5. Maybe.

        4. Banana*

          We have an analogy for 1-5 rating based on a child having the task of shoveling snow off the driveway before school.

          1 – the child got out the shovel and moved a few scoops of snow around but did not shovel the driveway.

          2 – the child shoveled paths for the tires to go down, but didn’t do the job as expected. After school, the child did the rest of the shoveling, but didn’t meet the before-school deadline.

          3 – the child shoveled the entire drive way before it was time to leave for school.

          4 – the child shoveled the driveway, and had some spare time, so they also shoveled the sidewalks and brushed off everyone’s cars.

          5 – the child shoveled the driveway, the walks, brushed off the cars, built a snow fence to minimize future snow drifts, and used the snow piles to build a snow family to cheer their family and neighbors. The original assignment was to shovel the driveway before school, and that expectation was wildly exceeded.

          Having that analogy helps me complete reviews for my team, and I share it with all my new people in advance of any performance reviews so they understand the philosophy I’m using.

          I think part of LW1’s issue is that they’ve let the job expectations creep up on their employee as their employee has performed well. They need to think back to, this superstar aside, what are the basic expectations and needs of the role, and those need to be the goals. If their superstar has changed the game so much that the extra-mile stuff they’re doing is now indispensable, then LW1 needs to think about whether that should be a higher level role (with requisite pay increase and increased expectations.)

        5. Anony Miss*

          OMG, do you work at my company?

          I went through this exact same thing in March. This year I got a 3.5, and last year was a 3. In the middle of that, we downsized and I took over another laid-off employee’s duties entirely, as well as 50% of my supervisor’s duties. My supervisor would tell everyone I’m doing the work of 2.5 people. So when my grad only increased .5 in that time frame, I was pretty upset. I asked, “what does it take to get a 4?” She actually told me, “you need to go above and beyond, take on stretch assignments and help out more.” When I asked how I could possibly take on more work when I’m already doing the work of 2.5 people, she had no response. She then tried to console me by telling me she also got a 3.5 (this translates into a % raise.) I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make me feel better, since 3.5% of a six figure salary is significantly more than 3.5% of <$30/hour.

          1. NNN222*

            How is talking on the work of a laid-off employee in addition to your own not a stretch assignment?

        6. Not So NewReader*

          If no one gets a 5 then their scale is actually 1-4. I don’t understand why they don’t see this.

      3. Hanani*

        I’m in education and hate grades in general, because they are functionally meaningless. My assessment of you is not more objective because I’ve attached numbers to it, and there’s no agreement about whether a given number means “solid, acceptable, no worries here” or “exceptional”.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I was very fortunate to have a parent who said grades do not convey what the student has learned. My father never got upset over Cs. The absolute worst thing he ever said was when I got a D, “Hmm. See what you can do to pull that up a little bit.”

          His reverse psychology worked, I busted my tail to pull that up to a low C. I always had ear infections and because I could not hear that great, I never talked in class. This meant I was a “good kid” and I got to sit in the back of the room…. where I could not see the board. My days were very long and mostly I clung to my text books. I missed plenty of stuff. I got through it all because my father said he was proud of me for working so hard. sigh.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        But, ok, one of my 3s was for ‘being punctual’ from a school I had been placed with that wasn’t looped into this expectation of what a ‘4’ was, so she read the description at face value. You can’t exceed expectations on being punctual. You can’t be more on time than on time.

        I’ve ranted about this before, but I had a job where you rated yourself on such a scale, and I gave myself a 5 for attendance the first year because I hadn’t missed a single day, and I had actually come in outside of my scheduled hours to do a task because that made it easier on my manager. And I was told that you can’t rate yourself a 5 on anything, because that means there’s no room for improvement. How do you improve on not missing a day?

        1. Baby Yoda*

          Have rated myself the same for the past 5 days and the company was fine with it. As you said, how can you improve on perfect attendance?

        2. A Library Person*

          And as someone said above, if a 5 is truly not achievable, why is it there as an option at all?!

          1. quill*

            So that if they average everything out people who are doing above average still have “room for improvement?” It seems like it’s quantifying something that probably shouldn’t be this quantified.

    2. Snow Globe*

      As someone who is nearing retirement, I laugh when I’m asked to come up with ‘developmental goals’. Sorry, this is as good as I’m going to get; not going to learn a new skill now. I guess my developmental goal would be figuring out how medicare works.

      1. London Calling*

        My old place pre-Covid was going to ask people ‘where do you see yourself in five years time?’ as part of planning development programmes for staff. Luckily it never happened because honest answer would have been ‘sitting on a hotel terrace in the South of France enjoying my retirement.’

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Mr Gumption has mandatory retirement in 1.5 years. Each year he has to pick a goal, the past 3 he’s listed are:
        * Understand what the cats are thinking
        * Become a rodeo clown
        * Remember all his things before leaving house the first time

        Hey, they didn’t say professional goals!

        1. London Calling*

          Actually, the REALLY honest answer would have been ‘anywhere but here, please gods.’

        2. Phoenix Wright*

          I’m sorry, but you can’t mention those goals and not say whether he achieved them or not. This is hilarious and I really wanna know how they’re coming along!

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      My experience is that almost no one gets 5/5 or 3/3 or whatever the top evaluation score is. The explanation I’ve heard is that in the event a good performer has to be fired for some reason, a stellar evaluation can be used against the company in a lawsuit. Almost everyone gets 3/5 or 2/3 at places I’ve worked, even the rock stars.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’ve never heard that! But I have worked plenty of places that rarely ever get top scores, or grade on a curve.

        My last job did what is described in the letter. It meant that it was nearly impossible for top performers to get top scores (unless you were the Chosen One at the top of the bell curve), since of course you met the super high expectations they had for you. But if you were a mediocre employee, just a little bit of extra effort got you a higher score on your review.

      2. PTBNL*

        I was once told the head of my department wouldn’t sign off on a 5/5 because that “would leave me with nothing to reach for.” I replied if a 5 is impossible I still have nothing to reach for. They did not appreciate my use of reasoning.

        1. Ginger Pet Lady*

          YES. Making it impossible to get a good rating is *extremely* demoralizing. Why bother to excel when corporate policy is that no one can get a good rating and managers are not “allowed” to rate you well.
          Thankfully, my company has FINALLY ditched the super insulting question we used to have on evals “What thing COULD you be doing to bring excellence to the job but choose not to?” We were not allowed to skip that question, and “nothing” or “You don’t pay me enough to do the things I can think of” were not acceptable answers.
          I worked my butt off at that job. And the evaluations always left me feeling negged.

      3. Clobberin’ Time*

        That’s correct. A close friend of mine was a senior manager at a big tech company you have absolutely heard of and was trained to finesse work ratings (never giving even stellar performers TOO high of ratings across the board) to protect the company in the event of a lawsuit.

        Need I mention this company’s founder in in part well known for hitting on female employees.

      4. turquoisecow*

        My first full time job was in a 1-5 scale but my boss told me basically to ignore the 5, nobody got 5.

        I gave myself mostly 2s and 3s and he pulled me aside and said he couldn’t possibly approve this because I had ranked myself too low! I was so confused.

      5. Sova*

        I have never heard of that. I do however work somewhere with the management philosophy that no one can get ‘exceed expectations’ in an area if they have ‘needs improvement’ in any other area (so, the equivalent of if you have a 2 or 3, you can’t have any 5s) which is really frustrating for a person like me who can absolutely go above and beyond in some areas, but still have perpetual issues with “timeliness”. So, people who do terrible at customer service or knowing how to actually do the technical parts of the job can get “meets expectations” in everything else and exceeds in “timeliness” by pulling Wells- Fargo/Robosigning like manipulations in the system to make it look like they did all the work at a certain time when they really didn’t.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        s/ Well at least they have a good grasp of how the laws and courts work./s

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      my place of business descriptons of what is exceptional is pretty unattainable for senior employees because it basically is impossible

      Yea. I’ve worked at two places that evaluate on a 1 to 3 scale. After 2 years, everyone got 2’s–3’s were impossible expectations for human beings, and 1’s automatically started a PIP and both places were understaffed already.

    5. Clobberin’ Time*

      Some companies require managers to give these meh ratings as a way to create a record that the employee was so-so, in case there is ever a future employment or discrimination lawsuit. It’s creating a paper trail in advance.

        1. NNN222*

          Which also fits with people further along in their careers not really having room to grow and forcing them to grow for growth’s sake would take them out of parts of the business they’re most needed in.

    6. Momma Bear*

      This kind of thing irritates me greatly. My child once attended a school where you had to improve your grades x amount to get rewarded – which punished the kids who were already doing well.

      I like the idea of having stretch goals, but I’d also put in the eval how this person’s consistent attention to x and y and their expertise helps the whole team. Even if they don’t seem to be “exceeding” that might be a way to address the “exceeds” without punishing them for continuing to do an exceptional job.

      IMO people who are really good at their role and are happy in that role are just as valuable as people climbing the ladder. Is there someone in HR you can provide feedback to about this form?

      1. quill*

        I distinctly remember in middle school getting a notification that I had failed to improve on our yearly computer-automated reading test… because I had gotten the highest possible score the year before, and done it again that year. The test didn’t go high enough for me to have room to improve, because at 13 I’d been reading two years more than any of my peers. (Hyperlexia for the win of being mildly inconvenienced whenever you attended english class…)

        The year after that we took the test on a day it was 90 degrees outside and the computers just sort of gave up halfway through and we never got our scores, so I didn’t get it a third year in a row.

    7. World Weary*

      My first year at a company where I entirely managed an implementation on my own without help from the HR Manager or Controller as promised, the Controller gave me an acceptable rating because their policy required leaving everyone room to grow. I left the next year. I deserved an exceptional rating and a large bonus and qualified for neither. The Controller also told me that no one gets a raise after the first year. None of this, BTW, was covered in the employee manual.

  4. AcademiaNut*

    For LW1 – I agree with Alison that this is just bad design.

    There are different things you can evaluate – how is the person performing according to the requirements of the job, and how is the person performing according to their previous performance, how is the person performing according to the goals they set. Evaluating solely on the second means that someone who was marginal or poorly performing, but has improved slightly will rank higher than a consistently high performer, whereas evaluating on the first would reverse the ranking (and really, what you want is high performing employees). Scoring high on the third means setting very modest goals and not being ambitious.

    If your higher ups don’t grasp this, I recommend setting goals below your employees usual performance. Then if they do as usual, they get a top ranking, and as Alison says, if their performance is lower for some reason they’re protected against a bad review.

    It’s really important to be careful about what you’re evaluating, and what you’re rewarding, because people will work to the test. If a top employee gets an average review solely because of the metrics, particularly if this affects things like raises, it’s terrible for morale.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I agree. I’m at a point in my career where I can, at best, make only incremental improvements in my work, and that only if there are no additional factors at play that would lower my performance. I have no desire to be promoted, because as a senior IC I’ve advanced as far as I can go without becoming a manager, and I’m not interested in that at all. It’s not a problem as such, because there are no openings for that at the moment, either. But it does mean that it’s very hard for me to find reasonable stretch goals within my current job description, and I have too much to do to take on any projects that aren’t a part of my current job description. So in an organization that values professional development, I’m currently stagnating a bit. Luckily I completed a certification in 2019-2020, but I can’t ride on that for very much longer as a reason for not wanting to do any more than the mandated trainings.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Many years ago I heard a joke-but-not-really piece of advice, that in any new job you should be a screw-up, just barely good enough to keep from getting fired. Then after a while you revert to mediocre and management is thrilled with you. I do not advocate following this advice, except in LW1’s company perhaps.

      1. Jean*

        I’ve always been a fan of the opposite tack, which is coming in as a rockstar for the first 6-9 months. Apparently that’s the length of time it takes to cement your reputation as an excellent worker, and any mistakes or less-than-optimal performance after that tends to be viewed more favorably.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Too much success too early setting up impossible expectations for yourself afterwards is a real phenomenon.

      3. Office Lobster DJ*

        I regret not hearing this advice earlier on in my career, honestly. Too often the wages of rockstardom are more work, no advancement, and unrealistic expectations that end up biting said rockstar in the behind. Come in at a comfortable, sustainable level of performance, save the rockstardom for when it matters.

    3. Anonymous for this*

      In my company, that would not help as the system mandates grading on a curve. So high performers in a rock star team are penalized whereas their meh peers in a mediocre team get bonuses.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        That’s one of my (many) statistical peeves. The central limit theorem only applies when the number of measurements is large enough – 30 is often used as a typical number. With small numbers, you’re likely to have large variation between groups, as the numbers get bigger you get closer to the underlying statistical distribution. So bell curving a team of 8 people, for example, is mathematically inaccurate.

        Bad math, particularly bad statistics and the inability to understand exponential growth, causes a lot of practical problems in the world.

    4. Trillian Astra*

      I agree, OP1 should be grading her employee against what the roles and responsibilities are for that position – not against her specific performance. All the staff at that level should have the same metrics to score against, so that high performers can be rewarded rather than penalized.

  5. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    LW5: You can also use plus addressing.

    For example, if your address is name@domain.com, you might use name+dreamcompany@domain.com. The benefit is that you can set up special rules for handling incoming mail…let’s say an alert that makes sure you’re not missing an hiring manager.

    Another plus is that you immediately know what companies are selling your info, and I say pass on them.

    1. David*

      Indeed, although I think it’s worth mentioning that not every single email provider supports plus addressing (only most of them), so it’s a good idea to try it out first.

      …I wonder how often spammers strip off the plus suffixes from the addresses they collect? I’ve always thought that if, say, name+dreamcompany@example.com is already on their list, an enterprising spammer could automatically trim that to name@example.com and get a little extra chance of a hit basically for free. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about that possibility.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        That’s what would concern me. If you use a [name] address for your main personal e-mail and don’t want to use it for a job search, how do you figure out one that is (1) sufficiently different and (2) bland and professional enough?

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Don’t forget (3) available on your e-mail platform of choice.

          I suspect even an address like HireLHPuttgrass@example.com (which seems a bit unprofessional to me) would be taken, so it’d end up something like HireLHPuttgrass2022@example.com. Unless that’s taken, too. And then I’d better hope I get hired this year, or I’ll have to register HireLHPuttgrass2023@example.com

          Going to David’s comment (which I somehow missed when posting my own comment below, which says basically the same thing—sorry about that), the first time I was able to do something like this—on Yahoo Mail, of all places—was that you had your “real” e-mail address and an alternate e-mail address you used with subaddresses. So if my main e-mail was puttgrass@yahoo.com, I could set up, say lph-foo@yahoo.com, lhp-bar@yahoo.com, and lhp-baz@yahoo.com. The key to this working for spam control is that lhp@yahoo.com would reject all e-mail, so each of those alternate e-mail addresses didn’t give much information about what other addresses might work.

          I’ve moved e-mail providers a couple of times since then (including a stint hosting my own), but that’s still the basic system I use.

      2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        + is an RFC compliant character, as in there’s now way to differentiate if they’re using plus addressing or chose and email using the plus symbol. Truncating is altering perfectly good data, which makes it less valuable.

    2. Virginia Plain*

      Wouldn’t using the company name that you are applying to, in an email address, give a bad impression? I’d think it would come across as entitled, like I assume I’ll get the job no contest. Or a bit toady-ish?
      For context though I am a Brit and we have a different perspective on what amounts to showing off, and how tolerant we are of it, so this might be fine in the US.

      1. ECHM*

        Good point. Maybe if they just used a different number unique to each company instead, and kept a list.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Plus (sorry), that doesn’t really stop spammers, who would still know that your “main” address is everything before the + sign. The only way that works for spam control is if you have a different address you use with the plus addresses or if you use plus addresses for everything and dump anything that doesn’t have a plus address straight to spam.

        I have spent a rather silly amount of time setting up temporary and single-use addresses. None of them have my main email address as a root. But I have my own email domain and a provider that lets me do that. I’m not sure how or if one could do the same thing with, say, Gmail.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think it’s meant to stop them so much as help keep track of which ones are bad about selling data, but there are very few people who want to make a hobby of that.

    3. Contracts Killer*

      LW#5 here. I could be wrong, but I feel like my contact info was pulled from various job sites. While I received “normal” spam, I also received job-related spam (and continue to receive it after 10+ months with a new job and at least two months since I pulled down my contact info and off my resume in all the job sites where I posted).

      I’m an attorney and was seeking attorney jobs but getting blast emails from recruiters about jobs in warehouses or as a driver – things completely outside my field. I also had several lazy recruiters who forwarded me nursing and mental health professional postings – I’m guessing because their automation pulls keywords and “legal counsel” in my resume was flagged like a medical “counselor”. It would be an interesting experiment though to include GD (Glassdoor) or LI (LinkedIn) in the email addresses to see where the spam comes from.

      1. pancakes*

        There are loads of terrible, spammy SEO detritus sites that aggregate attorney contact info, even if you aren’t job-searching. There is a lot of data on law firm websites, bar association directories, etc., that is relatively easy for them to scrape. It’s a mess.

    4. Global Cat Herder*

      I’ve tried to use the plus addressing before and some systems won’t take it as a valid email address (it’s technically not) and won’t send to it.

      1. ND and awkward*

        An irritating number of job-related sites won’t even accept abnormal email providers. I own a generic-sounding domain so I can use dedicated email addresses for different things, as well as (my surname) dot com and they’re often not recognised because it’s not gmail or outlook or whatever else they’ve decided to whitelist.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        A plus sign is a completely valid part of a legitimate e-mail address (as are hyphens, slashes, number signs—it’s rather amazing what’s actually a valid part of en e-mail address, per internet standards). See RFC 5322 (and RFC 3696, which, while informational, explains the addressing convention in RFC 5322 more clearly). Systems that complain about them are wrong—usually as a result of sloppy programming.

        Sorry. Pet peeve. I tend to use dashes in my spam-control e-mail addresses, and websites that think they’re not valid irk me.

    5. Jaydee*

      I have my longstanding actual email address, which is where friends and acquaintances know to reach me if they for some reason need to email me something. It’s the email address I use to sign up for stuff online and for online shopping, so it gets all my receipts and tracking notifications (yay!) but also all my junk mail (boo!).

      I also have a second email address that I use primarily for job searching and other things where a more professional email address is needed. I get almost no junk mail or spam there.

    6. This is a name, I guess*

      Alternatively, if you use gmail, you can add periods anywhere in your email and it will still end up in your inbox.

      first.last@gmail is essentially an alias for firstlast@gmail

      Some log-in systems know this trick (e.g. Apple) but it would work fine for resumes etc.

  6. Sharkey*

    OP2: My team had a ton of corporate clothing, and there were several logo changes over the years. We have a colleague who’s a quilter, so we sent all our clothes to her and she turned them into a quilt that we gave to an employee who retired after 49 years. She loved it, and the rest of us got to clean out our closets—win-win!

    1. Virginia Plain*

      We gave a couple of long term employees who were leaving, the home made branded soft toys I mentioned upthread!

  7. No Dumb Blonde*

    #4: W2 and 1099 forms are not your “tax returns” – they are proof of employment and you should be able to redact the info that Allison suggested.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Agreed. This sounds pretty normal/straightforward to me. I had to do a similar background check for my last company, and one of my previous employers folded a few years ago. It was a bit of a pain but ultimately didn’t take long to straighten things out. I provided a W2 and my offer letter and it went through. I redacted the salary info on my offer letter (a quick insert of a black text box on a pdf) but didn’t bother for the W2– I didn’t really care that the background check company had that information. The company running the background check didn’t share any details with my current company, just the stamp of approval, as it were.

      I was specifically asked to provide a number for someone who could officially verify my employment with the company and it had to be someone who still worked there and could answer that question as part of their responsibilities– my references would not have fit that bill.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        A black box on a PDF will not hide the information at all, unless you are an expert on the intricacies of the PDF format (the black box is a layer that is easy to remove).
        Do a screenshot and redact that with e.g. Paint, or cover up the redacted information on paper with Post-Its and scan.
        Many a whisteblower got bitten by that.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          To be honest, I didn’t care that much. Still don’t. It was just part of the process. The background company had access to way more sensitive information.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I go old-school: I print the doc, use black marker on whatever I want to cover, and then scan it.

    2. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      Just wanting to remind everyone that you don’t actually put the name of your employer on the tax return. Your position, but the actual company name is not on the tax return – because it’s on the W-2 or 1099.

    3. Katie*

      I also want to note that a reference is not truly a source of verifying employment.

      Recently my employee needed me to verify her employment for a rental she was applying for. If they would have asked me about her quality of work, I would have been great. Instead I struggled through with her salary (which I don’t know and don’t have access to) and when she started (I knew this only because I asked her…).

  8. HA2HA2*

    LW1 – This to me seems totally normal and totally dumb. At all the places I’ve worked, there was some sort of scale in reviews where “meets expectations” was ok and “exceeds expectations” is high performance. Which I’ve always thought was ridiculous, because it means that if a manager accurately knows their employee is great, and thus has high expectations, if they’re honest in the review process they’ll have to give them a low score. The higher the expectations the lower the score…

    …of course, nobody actually does that, and so regardless of what expectations were, high performers get high scores and low performers get low scores. So, do that. Set official ‘goals’ at the level which you would expect an average person in that role to meet, then give the high performer “look they exceeded all their goals” high marks.

    1. amoeba*

      Yeah, that’s how it works here. “Expectations” is more the general expectations you’d have of somebody in that role, not the expectations you have of that specific person. And anyway, it’s quite loosely interpreted, as you say.

      Would also suggest just setting the goals accordingly, but then we’re also not super focused on the formal goals so I get how that might be annoying if they’re actually a big part of your job.

      1. Anonym*

        Yep. I’m a big proponent of having your HR-system goals and “real goals” separately. My company’s recommendations on what they want in the official goals seems to change each year, so I just pick things that I know I can achieve, and aren’t dependent on others to complete. I know what I’m actually here to do and so does my boss, and I’m not about to create ammunition for some random, uninvolved person who doesn’t know my work to downgrade me for something out of my control.

        1. Anonym*

          I should credit my former boss for this – it was his great recommendation, along with adding one or two that you’ve already achieved (our company usually has us enter goals in March, so it’s plausible). His take was that the process was a farce, and you should play along in a way that both looks good and keeps you safe.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, for us it’s explained as the expectations of the job as well. But management can’t figure out whether that takes experience into consideration or not. Here’s what happened to me in my first year at my job:

        Me: So, does this refer to meeting/exceeding the expectations for a first-year staff accountant, or for the job title of “staff accountant” generally?
        My boss: Oh, yeah, it’s staff accountants in general.
        Me, later that day, when doing my self-eval: OK, so I won’t give myself “exceeds”, since that would be like saying I’m ready to be promoted now, when that’s clearly not the case.
        My boss, a few weeks later, giving me management’s evaluation: We gave you “exceeds”, since you’ve definitely exceeded the expectations for a first-year staff accountant.
        Me: Uh…OK.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Yep. I worked somewhere that the expectations were definitely based on the person, not the position. It was supremely demoralizing.

        2. Kes*

          Sounds like he just gave you a wrong answer. In this kind of system the ‘goals’ should be general expectations of someone in your situation (including position but also potentially factors like level and experience).
          Of course many companies do this badly, or combine a rubric of exceeding expectations with personalized expectations which penalizes high performers and is demotivating when you realize you can’t exceed the expectations because they just move with your performance. Or they use percent/stack ranking and potentially artificially force some people to be rated inaccurately just to fit a model of overall expected performance of the general population, ignoring the fact that specific teams may be entirely comprised of high performers (or of low performers)

    2. Solana*

      I remember one meeting with a manager where I only got a truly excellent score in one area which surprised me. I asked the manager what I should do differently so that I could get ‘exceeds expectations’ in other areas and he couldn’t answer me.

      1. Ruby*

        Same thing happened to me.
        After a bunch of hemming and hawing, my boss said “you’d have to do something with a company-wide impact.” My company has 160,0000 employees. I am not in a “company-wide” kind of job. So basically there was no way for me to be excellent.
        The start of me dialing way back on work effort…

        1. bamcheeks*

          This kind of stuff is so hard to calibrate because everyone has a different relationship to the idea of “excellence” and what they find motivating. Frankly I don’t particularly care about being excellent or exceeding expectations– if I was told I was exceeding expectations I would find it pretty demotivating because to me that means I’m in the wrong job. I think I just want to be told I’m doing my job and doing it well, and then for people to get out of my way!

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            For a lot of people, these reviews help determine raises & promotions, though. So, yeah, doing a great job then being told you’re average compared to someone who is mediocre is pretty demoralizing.

          2. Loredena*

            The issue is most companies I’ve worked in calibrate raises and bonuses off the rating. It’s a broken process

    3. RhondaDawnAnonAnon*

      I had a previous employer that had an evaluation system like this. Upper management insisted that it was absolutely necessary out of fairness” to their top-performing employees. They still don’t get why the turnover rates is so high . . .

    4. Snow Globe*

      Where I work the goals are set for the job, so the top-performing employee will always exceed expectations. If you are promoted, your goals will increase, so you may initially only meet expectations, but you get a bump with the promotion, so it’s still fair.

      1. Marvin the paranoid iphone*

        +1 Snow Globe

        This is how it worked for me the last time I was a regular employee (freelancing for 19 years).

        I was a Senior Consultant, exceeding expectations on every measure, and that was used as evidence that I was now ready for promotion to Principal Consultant. At the time this was the highest tech IC grade.

        First evaluation post-promotion I was shocked to be rated across the board “meets expectations”. My manager explained that the expectations were of the role, not of the behaviours taken in isolation, and that everything I was doing was indeed exactly what were expected of a Principal Consultant.

        Fair enough. I identified with them a number of areas that could still count as exceeding expectations even in a rockstar role, and was able to show in the next year that I was now exceeding expectations in every category. This was used as the business case for creating one level more senior and for promoting me to it.

        If that manager had instead said that it was not possible to achieve “exceeds expectations” at that role then as others have said I would be totally checked out and likely would have started looking for other jobs. It’s so short-sighted and guarantees a brain-drain of the A-list employees.

    5. ferrina*

      My most ridiculous experience was when my department was undergoing a reorg and all of my goals were set assuming that we’d hire two more staff (including a specialized position). As soon as my goals were set, they froze the hiring process and the positions remained unfilled. I was expected to now complete the goals for 3 positions. Somehow I managed to meet 85% the goals (so effectively 255% of one person’s workload) and I still got downgraded for “not meeting goals”.

  9. turquoisecow*

    Re:#5, slightly off topic but if you’re ever house hunting and going to open houses, definitely recommend the Google voice number. Husband did this and he got spammed from every realtor at every house we went to visit, offering to show us other homes they had. Once you hire a realtor for yourself, you can give them your actual number. Six months after we bought our house, Husband was still getting voicemails on his Google number from realtors offering to show him houses.

    1. Anonym*

      I want to say a big “Thanks!!” to OP#5! I’m having phone issues this week, and just set up a Google number now. Appreciate the reminder that this is an option, and for many other situations! :)

      Also recommend if you ever use a Yelp or Angi type “get more quotes” function for services/contractors – I’ve made that mistake before, and good grief, the spam! No, I don’t want to hear from the 12 most aggressively marketed painting companies in my state, I came to find the best reviewed ones, and imagine that, there is no overlap between those categories…

  10. Anima*

    LW3: Oh, I feel you! I’m doing almost the same job parallel to my bachelor’s. I only work part time, but somehow working really eats into my time for uni, despite having planned it out beforehand. Then there is this meeting and that day run over and so on.
    As someone who’s first run at uni plus working got me a slightly lower grade than anticipated: please quit. Needing more time for finish a bachelor’s is a valid reason, not that you have to give your employer one. I parted with all my student jobs amicable and was asked to return if I can (never could, needed the money of a full time job!), so I feel chances are high that you can freelance.
    Also, Alison is right, please reframe. It took me years to see jobs as a business transaction and not as a favour by my employer.
    Good luck to you!

    1. M_Lynn*

      I’d caution against quitting until you’re extremely clear about the consequences. I worked part and full-time in grad school, and the stress was all-consuming. But you’ll be done in a few months. Is it the stress of your last semester that is putting you over the edge? Would all these stressors at work be bearable if you weren’t in school? Would quitting put an equal amount of financial stress on you, especially if they turn down the freelance offer? If you weren’t so stressed, would you want to quit this job and immediately find something new after graduating anyway?

      Also, keep in mind that your passion is being eaten away by your stress at school. You may find that the work is a lot more satisfying when you have your evenings and weekends free to spend your time however you want.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      OP, Can you ask for an unpaid leave of absence from now to the end of the school year? Or to go half-time for those months?
      Do you have any tuition benefits that you might have to repay if you leave now?

    3. Fin*

      I’m in a similar boat, though different field. I’m doing my masters degree and working parttime and the job is just eating away so much time and more importantly energy, it makes keeping up with studying really hard. But it’s a publicly funded project and they never have enough people anyway so I’d feel really bad about leaving them after just about a year….. Well. We’re having an especially stressful time right now (writing lots of applications to secure funding for the next few years), so I’ll stick that out but if it doesn’t improve in the next couple months I really might quit.

    4. Web of Pies*

      I’d like to encourage OP not to stress about not really enjoying “their dream job”. This ISN’T your dream job. The company is ineffectual or even dysfunctional, and is underpaying you. Don’t let a dud gig make you believe you don’t still enjoy or excel at the industry you’re pursuing; take the lessons from this job to make sure the next one is a better fit.

  11. Nela*

    #3 Don’t let one job experience define how you perceive the design industry. It could be just the setup and the kinds of projects you work on.

    I started hating design while I was a full-time employee for a couple of years. Freelancing and focusing on the kinds of projects I want to work on helped me reawaken my passion for design again. Been doing it for 17 years now, still love it as much as I have in my teen years!

    Follow your instinct and keep testing the conditions of your work until you land on what works best for you.

  12. Green great dragon*

    #3 if the main issue is the hours, you can also ask to go part time, either permanently or till you finish your course. They might say no, but you can still ask. And you can still leave at any point if that still isn’t working.

    1. MsSolo UK*

      Just be conscious that if you go part time you may have to really assert that boundary if they are used to depending on you, otherwise you’ll just end up with the same work load for less pay.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Agree with this suggestion! Also worth checking to see at what level you can still keep benefits (for example, at my organization, you can qualify for health insurance if you work at least 40% time.)

      Would just use caution about dropping to 75-80% time. In my experience, those people still produce the same output, but just get paid 20-25% less. Better to go a bit lower and have more solid boundaries about when you are/aren’t working.

  13. Harry*


    Meeting or exceeding expectations I would expect to be measured versus the person’s job title, i.e.: if you were to hire a replacement employee at the same level, what would be your expectations for them?

    I’d also dig into the “no desire to grow responsibilities”. That could be anything from moving into management, taking on additional work, helping others through mentoring, learning new tools & techniques to optimize the current role, etc. but ultimately growth is a sensible requirement for progression.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I think this is a really good way to think about it. You get into this muddle if your expectations are “for this person”, not “for this role”. If it would be satisfactory for another person to be doing 75% of what this person is doing, or doing the same things but with far more oversight and guidance, or if you’d actually need two people because they are combining two (or more!) quite unusual skillsets, it makes sense to base your evaluation on that, rather than, “well, we know you’re extraordinary, so here are some extraordinary goals to reach”.

      When people have stayed so long in one role that they’ve really made it their own, this can be quite hard to do! But it’s useful to step back and look at the functions they perform rather than at them as a person and figure out what it would take to replace them and what value they are bringing to the organisation. It might be worth revisiting their job description to make sure it accurately recognises what they are doing, but also making a distinction between them meeting the fundamentals of the job description and the extra value they are bringing to it.

      It’s also useful for succession planning– when this person does leave (even if it’s not until retirement), what’s your plan? Is their work accurately recorded in such a way that it will be straight-forward to make a business case for their replacement? And to important to do this in terms of money– thinking about what it would cost to replace them and whether their value is truly being recognised in their pay and/or bonuses!

    2. ecnaseener*

      Growth is a sensible requirement for progression, yes, but this employee is not looking to progress so growth is not a sensible requirement for them.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I was curious because every job I’ve had the rubric is meets/exceeds “expectations” like you said, but OP said it is meets/exceeds “goals.” So I guess my first question would just be if OP is 100% sure they have read it right, just because depending on how goals are worded some of them I would imagine don’t really have a way to “exceed” so it does seem like that would be kind of an odd rubric choice.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      If the employee is already doing the work they want to be doing and has no desire to progress into a higher level job, why should their manager force them to? If the work they’re doing is appropriate for a person who intends to stay in this role for the rest of their career, why would they need to develop new skills or responsibilities? Why can’t just being good at their existing job be enough to receive a good review?

      1. Doctors Whom*

        I do think there is a fair discussion to be had about growing or maintaining skills necessary to perform the job function as the tools or the function’s needs may evolve – which is separate from learning to do other things.

        We have admin staff who cannot figure out for the life of them how to check calendars for conflicts before sending an outlook meeting invite. I can’t even tell you how long we’ve been using Outlook, but it’s long enough that if one’s primary job is managing the director’s schedule, one should know how to use the tools we have for that (and that IT does a lot of training for). You may want to be an executive assistant your whole career because you like the work and whatnot, and that’s fine. But you still have to learn how to do perform your job functions with new tools or new rules and policy.

        So, there is room to set goals around things like that.

        But in OP’s position I would try to interpret this situation along the lines of “what are my expectations for a generic Mid-level Teapot Engineer to be able to accomplish” vs “how did Top Performer Joe Teapot Engineer accomplish the things”. Chances are if you set a goal framed in a way that it would be appropriate for any person of Joe’s level to accomplish, you can say that Top Performer Joe exceeded the goal. Because agreed, you do not want to penalize top performers.

  14. Emmy Noether*


    I’ve most often seen evaluations done with an eye to the result and the ranking within the team, not blindly. There can be some goals with soft metrics so that one can adjust.

    This can also end up pretty demoralizing (bosses that are unfair or that give a certain rating on principle, no matter what), but it also gives good bosses some leeway to rate the high performers high on reach goals, and for evaluating goals that were deprioritized in the meantime without tanking the evaluation completely.

    Evaluations are one of those things that are useful in a functional workplace, but can be really, really terrible for morale if done wrong. I’ve certainly walked out of an evaluation and sat down at my computer to job search, hah. And it wasn’t a “bad” evaluation per se, just really unfair.

  15. EvilQueenRegina*

    #2, I used to work for a scheme that sent contractors out to carry out minor adaptations such as grab rails, and a handyperson scheme, and those who went out to do the jobs had a specific uniform. They didn’t make much of it about the uniforms at first and I hadn’t even thought about it being an issue until the day when this one guy’s wife had seen someone, not an employee, at a petrol station wearing one of the sweatshirts. Boss was trying to track down who this could be, including having someone ring a local company whose initials were the same as the last three letters on this guy’s van number plate to try and find out what their vans and uniforms look like.

    Next day, it turned out the wife had realised the man she’d seen was “Cecil Mongoose”, someone who’d long since left but had still kept some clothing. Boss contacted Cecil to ask for the return of the clothing, but he basically told her where to go, and as far as I can remember it wasn’t pursued beyond that, and I don’t think any real effort was made to recover clothing from other departing employees – I know I saw another employee after we’d both left that job and he was wearing one of the sweatshirts with the logo covered up. Although considering that in this case, someone wearing a sweatshirt and scamming their way into someone’s home pretending to be doing work was actually a real possibility, I’m surprised now they did let it go at that.

    OP, I might be tempted to confirm with the company to make absolutely sure there isn’t a rule about clothing before getting rid.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      I have to wonder if those technicians bought their uniforms or if the uniforms were provided by the company.
      You can’t “take back” something you made them buy as a condition of employment. If security is an issue, you better be providing the uniform.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        As far as I can remember (I left that job 11 years ago so acknowledge I may be wrong) the uniforms were provided by the employer.

    2. WellRed*

      That boss (and the wife) need some actual work to do unless I’m missing something in my reading. Who cares if an ex employee (or anyone for that matter) is wearing some branded sweatshirt. It’s not a police uniform. (Assuming the non-American use of the word scheme, of course ;)

      1. bamcheeks*

        No, this is a legit concern– their job is going into elderly and disabled people’s homes, and having the branded sweatshirt on is part of making sure their clients trust them. So the concern is that someone who is no longer working for the company could scam their way into a vulnerable person’s home and rob or hurt them.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Non-American is correct, I am British, and bamcheeks is correct in the explanation of what the concern was :)

  16. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–my company has three dimensions when looking at goals in the context of performance reviews: did you achieve them? What was the degree of stretch/difficulty for the individual? What was the impact of those goals for the organization? Helps generate a more nuanced assessment.

  17. Tom*

    LW2: if the company logo or name or whatever is embroidered or otherwise attached with thread onto the clothing, you should be able to use a stitch ripper to get it off.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Depends how big the logo is, and how handy you are with a seam ripper. It is not a common household implement anymore. A first timer trying to take out machine embroidery is likely to wind up with multiple holes in their thumbs.

          Even if you’re good with it, the thing is going in the recycle or donation bin. It’s a lot of bother for basically trash.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t think it should go in a donation bin for reasons I’ve explained in other comments, but that is what the question was about.

            The idea that people are likely to haplessly poke holes in their own hands trying to remove a patch on a top or jacket reminds me of infomercials where people are shown falling off the couch trying to cover themselves with a blanket because they haven’t yet bought a Snuggie. People who are truly that clumsy probably know their limits, I hope.

        2. anonymous73*

          My goodness indeed. It takes more than a few minutes and it’s not time I’m willing to spend on something that I’m donating. Judge me all you want, but I have better things to do with my time.

          1. pancakes*

            Why not just say you don’t care to spend any time at all on it instead of saying it’s a lot of work, then? Or simply not say? It truly isn’t a lot of work for someone with average or better dexterity. That’s not everyone, no, but that’s a lot of people.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              This feels like nitpicking to me. For someone who doesn’t sew and doesn’t own a seam ripper, it does seem like a lot of work. Let’s accept people see it differently and move on.

    1. HannahS*

      Likely not. Embroidered logos are dense with thread and often have fused stabilizers on the back. Removing the logo with a seam ripper is likely to damage the shirt.

      1. pancakes*

        If it’s an embroidered logo or a fused patch it can be covered with another patch. This isn’t nearly as complicated as some of you make it out to be.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Removing embroidery will leave scaring and will sometimes leave holes, depending on density of the embroidery and toughness of the fabric. You’ll have to cover it up if you want it to look nice.

      Best way to remove stitching is to shave it from the underside BTW. You still have to pick out a lot of stitches, but it’s much faster.

    3. Generic Name*

      I tried this and it didn’t work. It was a nice fleece-lined hoodie, so I bought a patch and covered the old company logo.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        I see a lot of both fun and “normal” (read, not goofy) patches sold on Etsy just for these purposes.

  18. mikeyc*

    LW3: This will depend on where you live but you have to be careful if you switch from employee to freelance for your former employer due to tax laws – you need to make sure that you aren’t an employee in all but name or you might suddenly get stung for a big tax bill.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Wouldn’t it be the employer who’d be on the hook for those taxes if LW is determined an employee?

      1. mikey c*

        it’ll all depend on how you’ve arranged your income i think, but yeah thinking about it I think you’re right that the employer is the one that will owe the money since you’ll pay the same income tax regardless of where the income comes from.

        there used to be – and still may be – a (dishonest) trick in the UK you could do if you set up a company for contracting; you would set up you and your lower-earning spouse as employees and divide up the pay so you were both under the higher tax threshold.

  19. Rae*

    OP 2: maybe look for an upcycling group? My town recently started one and they focus on reusing and preventing mostly fabric and clothing from going into landfills

  20. You Can't Pronounce It*

    I worked at a place with branded clothing, and when someone would leave, they would give the clothing to someone still working there. This is assuming similar builds and the clothing was still in good condition, but we knew we wouldn’t need it anymore and someone else was always happy to have more “uniforms.”

  21. Trawna*

    L1. Ah, yes. The joy of rating one-third of your one and only life on a scale of 1 to 4. So good for the soul.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      But then also being told ‘you can’t get a 4, 4 is for “water-walkers”.’ So the scale is actually only 1-3.

      1. faraway*

        our scale is 1-4. 1 is you would already be fired. 4 is walks on water. You “aren’t supposed to get too many 3s”. So it’s really a 2 point scale. SO STUPID.

  22. MrMassTransit*

    Re #4 – I agree with Alison. Submit what they are looking for but redact heavily. If the goal is to verify employment, all they need to see is the name/address/EIN of the employer and your information. Absolutely zero information about pay needs to be transmitted. This is what my father (a career IRS agent) advised whenever I was in a situation that requested that type of information.

    When I worked in the airline industry, I think they needed to verify ten years of employment or education with no gaps beyond a few months that weren’t explainable. Post 9/11 security requirements!

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      When I worked for an airline, I had to submit a LOT of data for the background check. Because the length of time they needed to go back was before I started working (they wanted something like an accounting of the last 15 years of my life and I was 28 at the time), they said I could give them doctor’s or dentist’s contact information. All they needed to do was verify that I was residing in X location at that time and someone could verify it.

      Well, the 3rd party background check company sent an employment verification form to my dentist, who of course said I didn’t work there! Then the background check company told the airline they were closing my file because I didn’t pass the background check and no one would take my calls because I was a liar.

      Fortunately, the guy that was to be my new boss pulled some strings and fixed it, but I never did get a full security clearance

  23. Falling Diphthong*

    If someone or something constantly exceeds your expectations, it just says that you are incredibly bad at setting your expectations.

    Like, you’re surprised that the sun came up because you hadn’t factored its history of coming up into your expectations for illumination tomorrow.

    1. Virginia Plain*

      I have expectations of illumination for tomorrow and if they are not met I will confront you by Wednesday of this week!

    2. Kate, short for Bob*

      Not if you’re setting *reasonable* expectations for the role and you have a star performer – as is the case here.

      If you match the expectations to a star performer and they leave, how are you going to set the expectations for their replacement? Sufficient to do the job, or are you going to expect another unicorn from the get go?

      1. Anon all day*

        Yeah, if the expectations consistently rise to be more than what the star employee is doing, that’s ridiculous and untenable. I work in a place with heavy volume, and the old manager of the team I work with used to send out daily emails with the number of things completed the prior day and encouraging everyone to top that this day. Every day. It was so pointless and demoralizing.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      Frankly, the sun is failing my expectations of illumination about 4 months out of every year. Do you think it’s time for a PIP?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        … I live in New England, and would be behind a PIP that kicked in around November.

    4. Purple Cat*

      That doesn’t at all address the issue.
      If you have a “Financial Analyst” and one person has been there 5 years and is crushing it, they should exceed expectations. (And possibly should be promoted, but maybe they don’t want that).
      Alternatively, if you hired somebody in June for another Financial Analyst position, technically they should “not meet expectations”, because there’s no way they know what they’re doing yet.
      Personally, I think people who have been in their role less than a year shouldn’t get a formal evaluation, because even a “bad” rating would be meeting the expectations – for the new person.

      1. bamcheeks*

        This is how it’s worked in most jobs I’ve been in. You have a set of probationary objectives which are things like, “learn how XYZ works” “Complete mandatory training” “run [fairly standard and simple project]” and then after six months or a year or whenever your probationary period is up you get a normal PDR with goals that align with the job description and strategic targets.

    5. LilyP*

      I think there’s two subtlety different meanings of “expectation” in play here — there’s a more colloquial “what you think is most likely to happen based on past experience” and a more formal “what is required”. Like you could say to a chronically late employee “I expect you to be here before 9am from now on”, meaning essentially “this is a polite reminder that you are required to be here before 9am” even if you don’t think, from past experience, that person is likely to start arriving on time. And for that person’s performance review, you wouldn’t say that they “met expectations” with regards to punctuality because you expected them to be late and then they were; you’d say that they failed to meet the expectation (requirement) of punctuality for the role.

  24. PostalMixup*

    LW5, and if you make a new email address for job searching, deactivate the spam folder! You shouldn’t be getting a bunch of junk yet, so it’s more valuable to not miss things than to have functioning spam filters. I also have a commonly-misspelled name, so I grabbed both lastname.firstname and lastnameSpelledWrong.firstname and set it to forward.

  25. Lab Boss*


    Directly related to your question, I second what others have said about setting “goals” based on the job description and expectations for an average person in the role, so your exceptional performer will exceed them.

    Less directly related: It’s a symptom of the grind culture plaguing the US (not sure if you’re in the US, but it’s bad here) that says everyone should always be hustling for a promotion. I’m currently battling my own company’s new set of metrics that includes a chart claiming if you don’t see your employee being promoted in the next 5 years you should be managing them out of the company. We’re finally implementing official salary ranges for each job- but nobody is allowed to go above the midpoint of the range for their job, because “if they were really that good at the job they’d have been promoted by now.”

    It’s not soft for you to recognize that your employee has something that they’re good at, and is important enough to be worth their time, and that even without the desire and/or capacity to “move up” they’re a valuable asset. I’ve got employees in similar places.

  26. anonymous73*

    #4 I don’t know how background checks are performed, but I have never been asked for references or tax forms for one and I just recently obtained a public trust clearance for a government contractor position. Sounds like this outside company is lazy and isn’t doing their job correctly. Only you can decide how important this offer is to you, but I would decline to provide my tax forms.

    1. Karo*

      I do know how background checks are performed and while it’s not common, it’s not that out there. If they’re able to call the companies you have listed, or use a service like work number, they won’t need your forms (which is probably why you weren’t asked for those). But if they can’t verify your work history through those methods, step #3 is almost always asking for proof of prior employment.

  27. Dahlia*

    When I worked at a thrift store, we weren’t allowed to put out anything that had peoples’ names or company names on it.

    I would personally probably chuck all that in my “Fabric for projects” box but I’m also the type of person who has a “Fabric for projects” box, so YMMV. You can always cut them up into cleaning cloths, tho!

  28. Nancy*

    LW2: offer it on your area’s version of freecycle, donate it, or send it back to the company. Don’t overthink it.

  29. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    1. Our performance evaluations penalize my highest performer
    I came into a company with a system like this some years ago. I managed a team with one really high performer, an early career person with room to grow, and a guy who was happy to scrape by doing the minimum.

    The high performer always seemed penalized because they were “topped out” at the maximum of their range, and the evaluation limited them, because even if I rated them “exceeds expectations” they couldn’t get more money. When I pointed that out to my manager, I was told to rate them only “meets expectations” so they didn’t think they’d get more money. Because of this, sometimes the other two got more of an increase even. It sucked. That company also did not have any STI bonus system tied to revenue that would’ve made the evaluations more bearable. Companies that do this eventually LOSE their best workers.

  30. Alex*

    LW1, my company has this same awful policy, but my manager makes it worse by setting my goals way higher than everyone else’s. For a while I had no idea how low everyone’s goals were until one year she made them transparent to everyone. It was the equivalent of “Fergus will learn to use the potty!” for my coworkers and “Alex will invent the next solar powered toilet!” for me. And we both got the same checkmark for meeting the goal.

    The whole thing has made me so angry that I’m completely unmotivated to perform at a high level, have stopped going above and beyond, and am looking for a new job.

    1. Not Today, Friends*

      Wishing you the best of luck with your search! I was there too, and I’m now working out my notice before moving on at the end of the month.

  31. CheesePlease*

    Op#2 – perhaps a more time-intensive option but if the branding is fairly small and not complicated (a patch, some basic embroidery) it could probably be removed and make the clothing fit for donating. Or something could be sewn over it. This is only if you want a project haha. but another option

  32. Spicy Tuna*

    LW#3, resigning to go freelance is totally a “thing’ – I did that when I wanted to step back from full time employment to focus on my own side project. I initially resigned and said I’d be available to help train my replacement. My replacement didn’t work out, so I work for the company on a freelance basis. Everyone is mostly happy!

  33. Kate*

    #2- for donating clothes check out sites like Thred Up!! They will resell your clothes if possible or recycle them in a sustainable way so they don’t end up in landfills.

  34. Bad Crocheter*

    I cut the logos off old clothes and donate them to the local animal shelter so volunteers can make beds and toys. I also cut some up to use for cleaning rags (If they’re knit, you can launder them without even hemming them). And the local senior care facility was thrilled to get a supply of fabrics because so many of the residents like to weave, sew, etc. (Of course I call ahead to be sure such donations are welcome).

  35. 1stTimeCaller*

    Lw3 – I just had this happen to me. My employee was moving to a new industry but wanted to continue working with me freelance on one project, a few hours a week, which I would have loved. When I talked to HR about authorizing the employee for freelance (my manager had approved) I was told the IRS saw having a W-2 and a 1099 for the same person in the same year at the same company as a red flag. I then asked our Tax person about it and she was even more vehement that it wouldn’t be allowed.

  36. Zach*

    #4: I can 100% verify Alison’s advice here. This is relatively normal if they can’t verify your former employment, which has nothing to do with your references. They probably want to reach payroll or HR to confirm you were indeed an employee and are having difficulty. I had a previous job at a startup that went bankrupt and basically didn’t exist anymore. When I eventually got another full-time job, since my old office pretty much didn’t exist anymore, they asked me to submit W2s or tax info to prove I worked there. I printed out my IRS transcript (you have to make an account but it’s free) for the applicable years, but I blacked out all of the numbers and only left the titles of the fields (which included company names). They accepted this as proof immediately.

  37. Anonymoose*

    So, for #2 if you happen to be a crafty sort or are hoping to pick up some basic skills, you could use patches! Pre-made ones are great or you could even embroider your own.

    I’ve had many items of clothing with branding, where the item itself is great but I don’t want the logo anymore so I just slap a patch over it.

    I know it’s not an absolutely perfect solution but it has been a great way to repurpose some very specific clothes I otherwise wouldn’t have had occasion to wear.

  38. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Hey OP #2! If you have a nearby H&M you can drop them off there and they will recycle the textiles (well, they will send them off to be recycled). They’ll take any clothes you drop off, in fact, they’ll take anything cloth-y–old dying towels, sheets, etc. Definitely a nice way to go if donating isn’t an option.

  39. Waterbird*

    LW1: My company changed to a similar system a few years ago and it drives me nuts. We used to have a five-tier review system that gave people more opportunities to advance and get positive reviews even without getting an “exceptional” review to put them at the top of the scale. Now, we have a three-tier system, so your options are “Not Meeting Expectations,” “Meeting Expectations” and “Exceeding Expectations,” so pretty much everyone gets a middle of the road review.

    We’ve “addressed” it by basically reinforcing that you can still be a great employee while getting a “Meeting Expectations” review, but it’s obviously not a great fix. Hoping one day they’ll switch back.

    1. Doctors Whom*

      We have shifted to a 5 level scale but the idea of “meeting expectations” has been replaced with “successful performance” in part to get people away from the mental model that “meeting expectations” is somehow negative.

      The top end of the performance scale, which I won’t name specifically out of internet paranoia, is one whose characteristics state basically that the person is someone who is an example & mentor. They are the person that you refer other people to as an example of what the role/position means, and can be a role model to others.

      Now, none of this stops lazy managers from deciding their whole team is top performers so they don’t have to deliver actual meaningful actionable performance feedback of course, but the intent is much better than plain old “exceeds expectations”.

  40. Jam Today*

    Old company swag:

    Put it in your trunk as an emergency stash, you never know when you might need a change of clothes. I have an entire bug-out collection in my trunk comprised of company swag and vendor gifts. Someday I might need to make a run for higher ground, and I know I’ll have a shirt, some flip-flops, a blanket, and a barbecue set (among other things) with me when I do.

  41. D. B.*

    I’m curious about how a W-2 or 1099 is used for employment verification. Do the tax authorities verify these documents to third parties?

    1. Sea Anemone*

      It has both your name and the name of the company on it, which verifies that you worked there and earned income from them.

      1. Accountant*

        I think their point is that anyone could dummy up a fake W2 – the IRS doesn’t confirm these kinds of documents for private background checks, so there’s no way to determine anything on the document is accurate.

    2. Sea Anemone*

      I should have added, those forms originate from the employer, not from the IRS. I would tend to doubt that the IRS would verify information that did not originate from them.

  42. Parenthesis Dude*

    LW1: The fundamental question here is whether the high performer is being paid the same salary as the ordinary folk. One of my co-workers was technically in the same role as myself, but had significant more experience and was at the top of the pay band rather than the middle like myself. That employee should also have significantly higher expectations than myself.

    The employee in this letter seems more like a high-level employee doing solid work than a mid-level employee going above and beyond. This employee is just doing their job instead of going above and beyond. That’s why this employee should be making near the top of their pay band, or perhaps even higher depending on how others are paid and be considered a solid employee.

    A mid-level employee, however, that shows significant growth and ability to do new things, should maybe not be making something near the top of their grades’ pay band, but should be on a path for promotion and have an above average review grade.

  43. ArtK*

    LW4: I feel you. I was asked to provide proof of my address because they couldn’t verify it. For a home that I’d owned for 15 years by that point. The address that is in all of the credit bureaus. I had to scan a paper utility bill to get that through. You really have to wonder what value these background check companies are providing.

  44. WindmillArms*

    LW3: I’ve gone from employee to freelance contractor back to employee at a couple of businesses now. I highly suspect that your company would at least consider it for you, since they’ve already got a stable of freelancers. In my experience, companies that employ a mix of in-house staff and freelance contractors are often pretty open to having proven, solid employees jump from one to the other if that’s the way to keep them.

  45. ArtK*

    Tangential to LW1: Many years ago a friend of mine was a team lead at a tech company. He was responsible for assigning work to his team of 4-5 people. He had a range of skills on the team but one real stand out. So he would give the stand out the bulk of the difficult (longer) tasks. Unfortunately the team manager was new at the game and wanted some objective criteria and so evaluated everyone based on the number of tasks accomplished in the year. The stand out got marked down for not accomplishing as much as the others. My friend tried to convince the manager otherwise but couldn’t get anything changed. Of course, the stand out left later that year.

  46. Rayray*

    In regards to #2, am I the only one that gets tired of all the company swag? My company gives us sooo much and occasionally they will put excess stuff out that’s been sitting in storage.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I have a desk drawer full. It’s pretty funny honestly, because most of it is really random stuff. Not just clothes, which I do have a bunch of, but I also have bags, drink holders, hats, sunglasses, a couple first aid kits and one camp knife.

      But yeah, it’s basically just a ton of clutter.

    2. Dinwar*

      I have two shirts and a water bottle after 14 years with the company. I think I had a coffee cup, but I have my own, far superior cup (why do people insist on having mugs that contain hot liquids narrower at the base than at the top?!) so I can’t even remember if it broke, got stolen, or I gave it away. I honestly have more swag from contractors I’ve worked with than from my company.

      I think it depends on the company, and often the group within the company. My group is very goal-oriented, with very little in the way of team building (with that little being done by individuals). I’ve heard that other groups are far more apt to cheer-lead.

    3. Ginger Pet Lady*

      My husband’s job is crazy with branded swag. Seriously crazy. I think the only clothing item we have not (yet) gotten branded is underwear. He has a few pairs of socks, company branded converse, several pairs of sweatpants, dozens of short sleeve tees, long sleeve tees & polos, two vests, several jackets, a variety of hats, scarves, face masks, winter gloves, and even an apron. And that’s just the wearables! We also have blankets, BBQ tools, chapsticks galore, water bottles, coffee mugs, tote bags, and I don’t even know what else in company branding. Every new marketing campaign, every company activity, every holiday, your birthday, all bring more swag.
      When they went back into the office post covid he did a 30 day challenge for himself and was indeed able to wear something new with the company logo every day for the entire month. One year for Halloween he wore as many company branded things as he could, all at once, said he was dressing up as Company Name, and won for the funniest costume.
      Frankly, we’d rather have a raise or bonus than all that crap. But it’s very much company culture to do all this.

  47. Amber Rose*

    LW2: This is more work, but depending on the coverage, can you cover up the company branding?

    We just arranged to have patches put over logos on a bunch of company jackets so I could donate them to the shelters here in town. They were very well received.

  48. B Wayne*

    Company Swag: I had a ton of company logo shirts when I was laid off during the mass layoffs in April, 2020. And I mean a bunch. I kept the t-shirts and a ball cap or three plus one button up short sleeve shirt for chores outside. At least 40 plus shirts, long and short sleeve and the same for polos went down to Goodwill. I was the only employee in the state, the company was 8 hours away and at the time, I didn’t even think of any possible problems with it. All were in good shape, I have zero idea if they sold or were officially accepted but they cleared the closet and after dumping all the memorabilia like plaques, displays, gifts and so on, I was mostly free and clear of a sorta sad experience.

  49. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

    LW2- Our plant buys unsellable clothing by the pound to use as cleaning rags – perhaps your local thrift shop has a similar arrangement?

  50. Brett*

    On the opposite end (because this exposes more information), I find it odd that the company requested W2s and 1099s direct from the LW. Typically these kind of checks should be using a 4506-T transcript request (which is what I have used for every background check I have been through).

  51. Mockingdragon*

    Letter 1 – I no longer remember if this was in the book or in a fanfic, but I recall a scene where Fred and George Weasley argued that because they were expected to do poorly on their exams and, indeed, they did, they should be scored as Meets Expectations.
    I don’t think you’re overthinking. It’s so open-ended it’s practically meaningless and the cynic in me thinks that’s on purpose.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      It’s in one of the books, they said they should get Exceeds Expectations for just turning up. Possibly Order of the Phoenix?

  52. Orange+You+Glad*

    LW1 – I haven’t read through all the comments yet so I apologize if this was already suggested. I work for a company with a rigid review platform and we’re in the process of moving to a new one that may be even more rigid. The only positive is that supervisors have wide flexibility in setting their direct reports’ goals. I suggest getting to know how the system works and adjusting your goals accordingly. For example, maybe everyone in your group has a set goal of 15 TPS reports per week. Your high performer regularly completes 25 per week so they exceed expectations. Another employee is a good employee but not a high performer and can only do 10-15 per week, they would be evaluated as meeting expectations. You could also adjust goals to the individual so you know they could meet or exceed them.

    My boss and I spend too much time trying to understand our performance review system and “gaming” the system to fit our employees’ skills and actual expectations of our department. Unfortunately larger organizations are more likely to use a rigid system like this and no one system fits all.

  53. ArtK*

    Swag: After a rebranding the company sent us a bunch of swag. Including a pair of logo-ed socks in the most awful colors imaginable. I really don’t know what they were thinking.

  54. Ann O'Nemity*

    #2 – Does your company give out branded swag to non-employees? Maybe at product expos, campus career fairs, etc? If so, it’s likely fine to donate it! If not, consider recycling it as possible.

  55. WonkyStitch*

    #2 – if you know someone who sews, ask them if they want the items for the fabric.

    I make handbags, tote bags, etc. I often thrift fabric into items. I turned a sweatshirt into a dog walking bag. I’ve also sourced fleece to make dog beds. I’m currently thrifting a duvet cover into a tote bag with accent fabric I got from a thrifted curtain panel.

  56. Didi*

    Re question 4. I actually did have a background check company request several years of W-2s to verify employment history. I didn’t mind because verifying employment would have required calling my current job, and other companies that ceased to exist.
    I just redacted all salary information like Allison said and it was fine.

  57. Susanna*

    Maybe I’m just overly suspicious here, but I bet they want the W2s and 1099s to figure out your earnings history so they can offer you $1 more per year.
    No way would I release them with the income stats intact. And this its a third party? Imagine how they’ll use that information.

  58. Anon for this*

    Background check letter: When I was going through the hiring process for my current job, the background check company asked for tax records from a job I’d had 15 years prior. That employer had gone out of business, and I no longer had those records, since even the IRS says you don’t need to keep tax documents after 7 years IIRC. I’d only worked at that employer for a few months, in any event, so I didn’t really understand the insistence on verifying my employment there. It took a special exception from the head of HR to allow me to pass the background check; hopefully it led to examining their policies and understanding that sometimes it’s okay to use your best judgement in these situations.

  59. quill*

    OP2: If the branding is sewn-on patches and you think you could learn how to use a seam ripper, the patches are pretty easy to remove prior to donating: they’re usually stitched around the outer edge.

    Embroidered or printed logos would not work the same way, however.

  60. Lady Pomona*

    OP2: If you want to get rid of clothes that you’re never again going to wear, please Google the re:Loom project (https://www.reloom.org) : they take donations of old clothes, towels, etc. and use them to make beautiful products that they sell to benefit their nonprofit social services agency. The weavers themselves are economically disadvantaged people who need a hand up and who find it at re:Loom. A passage from their website reads:

    “re:loom welcomes donations of clean fabric, storage bins, scissors, and sewing supplies. We accept a wide range of textiles, but we are not able to use upholstery fabric. Please email us at info@reloom.org or call 404-299-9979 to make donation arrangements and receive a tax acknowledgment.”

    Your old clothes will NOT wind up in landfills or being used to inadvertently damage a local economy in a third world country! They WILL be used to help people launch a new start in life – and what better fate could those old clothes have?

  61. Yellowjacket #3*

    LW4: any chance that any of the companies you worked for previously are no longer in business? IIRC, I once had to provide a W2 for a background check because I had worked for a store that no longer existed and didn’t have much of an online presence.

  62. Cat Mouse*

    OP #2: Is there a quilt store or a crafter community? We collect fabric scraps, including no thrift store friendly clothes items to stuff pet beds that get made for local pet shelters.

  63. idwtpaun*

    OP 3, I’m very concerned about the tone of your letter. You say you sound ridiculous when you sound nothing of the sort and you’re talking about your manager being “pissed off” because she “took a chance on you,” when it would be an extremely inappropriate reaction on her part. All of this hints at a mindset that a job is some generous gift the employer gave you that you have to prove to be worthy of. It’s nothing of the sort! Hiring you wasn’t some big favour your boss did you, it was a hopefully equal transaction of trading your valuable labour in exchange for the money and perks it’s worth. You do not have to be eternally grateful to your employer for employing you.

  64. Workfromhome*

    LW1 So many paces deal with this ridiculousness. we have a 1-5 system 1 being needs improvement and 5 being leading. Part of our bonus is based on our overall rating. get a1 get no bonus, get a 3 get 100% and get a 5 get 200%. Problem is they apply it to all non management jobs and every department is told that the ratting have to conform to a certain distribution. Only say 10% of you group can be leading 20% and the rest 3 or below . They do this whether ou are a widget maker or a a program manger who thinks up ides.
    So its not quite as bad for the widget makers. If A makes 15 a day B makes 10 a day, and he average is 8 then its easy to say A is “leading”
    But for everyone else? If we have a national program when the program mangers in 3 regions all have a banner year with new ideas takin the company to never before seen heights..well they cant all get a 5 and get that 200% bonus. No only 1 can. so then managers have a huge internal battle hat lasts days trying to advocate for their person to get the leading rating and he bous they deserve. often devolving into criticizing other employees as a method to make their own person look better.
    Its one of the worst pats of our company.

  65. stretchingisgood*

    I don’t think anyone wearing branded clothing is necessarily wearing clothing from their corporation.
    in fact I assume they aren’t because I think of that as a bit dorky (sorry)
    I’d just drop it off at a thrift shop and not worry about it

  66. Karo*

    #4, I used to work at a background screening company and I think the problem is that you’re equating reference checking and employment verification. Employment verification is where you speak to a representative of the company to confirm dates, wages, whatever. References can be anyone and aren’t necessarily reps of the company. For instance none of my previous bosses still work at the same company where they managed me, so they can’t represent the company. They can, however, speak to my work product, which is why they’re my references.

    It’s really common to ask for tax forms to confirm verification if the company has closed, isn’t available on WorkNumber, etc.

  67. Ain't no Holla-background-checker*

    Hi, I’m the letter writer of the question about background checks requiring tax documents. My employer is not a governmental agency–I’m tangentially in the entertainment industry. The background check business reached out to me and asked me for the tax docs initially, and I told them I didn’t have those documents (I didn’t). I searched the background check company on the internet and found they are subject to several ongoing lawsuits and have terrible reviews on BBB (and aren’t accredited).

    A day or two later, the HR from my new company reached out to me for my tax documents again, and I also politely said no, but offered other documents (paystubs, contracts) as a replacement. I also told them that I didn’t think that the background check company called my references. The HR rep set up a phone call with me today and was very apologetic. She accepted my alternate documents and emailed the references herself. The takeaway that I got is that she also does not have faith in the background check company but cannot say anything unkind about them in writing. At the end of our conversation though, she told me there would be a survey later about my experience which seemed like a hint that I should tattle on them.

    And for clarification, the background checking company asked for references (names, numbers, emails) as their main source of information. Only one of my former employers is out of business (and they apparently never figured this out; the HR rep said they’d called their number 6 times and didn’t seem to register that the phone number was disconnected), so I’m not sure why they never reached out to my references.

    So, I guess the takeaway is that my gut reaction was correct. Asking for multiple years of tax filing transcripts was out of bounds even for my new employer’s HR. Background checks should try to confirm references first, and there are other documents that can prove employment (as Alison noted). This particular background checking agency is apparently notorious for being awful, and I’m glad I pushed back. I’ve been cleared to start my job.

  68. Nom*

    This is regards to Letter 3 but not really a message to the letter writer. Alison mentions that freelance rates are usually double what you made hourly. My previous employer capped consultant/freelance rates at 110% of the person’s hourly rate when they were staff. My many comments about how unreasonable that was (particularly for people who were underpaid as employees!) fell on deaf ears. Why is HR like this sometimes?

  69. Starfox*

    The evaluation in letter 1 seems pretty ableist as well as stupid. As an autistic person I tend to do exactly what is asked of me & it may not occur to me that I can do more than that & even if it does I might think I shouldn’t because I wasn’t asked to & there might be some reason for that. So this eval would essentially punish me for doing what I would perceive as a perfectly good job & be INCREDIBLY demoralizing.

  70. Watch the average*

    For LW1
    Make sure you define the goals not for your employee, but for anyone in that roll.

    Susie is your high performing llama groomer. She is also your only llama groomer. You decide to set a goal for Susie of the number of llamas she can groom in an hour. You note she does 5 per hour, so you make that her goal. She does 5 and now she is “Meeting expectations” which is only a 3 for a rating.

    This is where your problem lays. What if Susie, a high performer, wasn’t doing this job? You evaluate and you realize, 3 is the average number of llamas a groomer can do in an hour. That becomes Susie’s goal. If she does 3, then she is meeting expectations, but if she does 5, then she is far exceeding them.

  71. Anon for This*

    What bothers me about all of this security, such as background checks, is that average people will get caught up in having to prove something about a job they had 10 years ago while people who are actually professional fraudsters will sail through the process.

  72. Vermont Green*

    Swag: Visiting my adult daughter, I noticed a pile of different colored embroidery threads on her table. When I asked her about them, she said that she had a lot of clothing with embroidered logos from a company she had worked at and hated. Her plan was to embroider creatively over the monograms so she could wear the clothes without giving that company any free advertising.

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