is a performance improvement plan always going to end with the person being fired?

A reader writes:

Can you talk about the right way to use performance improvement plans (PIPs)? I’ve heard other managers talk about them as if they’re just paperwork because by the time you’re using one, firing the person is mostly a foregone conclusion. I’m uncomfortable with that and it seems unfair to the employee. Shouldn’t we be using PIPs as a tool to improve the person’s work if that’s possible, or am I being naive?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    The PIPs I’ve witnessed firsthand work out at about 50% firings, 30% they leave before they can be fired, 15% an employee stays on and does work that is unremarkable but good enough not to get fired, and 5% somebody does a real turnaround and starts doing sustained high-quality work.

    This seems about right to me. By the time a manager is bothering with a PIP the employee involved already has a bad track record and reasonably has a pretty steep uphill climb to demonstrate that they should stick around.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Thanks for that, I was just wondering how many end up realizing either that they’re not suited for the job or that their boss has already written them off entirely, and quit before trying to follow the PIP.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      I have only seen successful PIPs in the following cases:
      – Historically high performing employee has a performance dip. Their manager want them back on track.
      – Manager and employee disagree on the performance evaluation results. They want to work out a plan which requires accountability on both sides about what the clear expectations are.
      – Employee has become too complacent and comfortable with the job, is losing motivation to push for more, which resulted in lacklustre performance.
      – Both of the above.

      Most companies don’t use PIPs as they should. Why would you put effort into making a plan if you don’t want your employee to improve? Why would you put that much energy into an employee who has never been a high performer?

      1. Cathires*

        At my company it is the last step. The person has been spoken too, perhaps received bad performance review and bad raise/bonus, but still no improvement, so then you go to documented verbal and/or written warning and THEN the PIP. We are at-will state but company is still really careful that everything is documented and the person understands what they have to do before letting them go.

      2. ferrina*

        I’ll add a subpoint to point 2-
        An employee knows they’re struggling, but doesn’t know enough about their role or their company to be able to fix the issue themself. The employee and manager want to work out a plan which requires accountability on both sides about what the clear expectations are.
        With newer employees, I’ve seen cases where the manager did a bad job onboarding and communicating expectations, so the employee doesn’t even know enough about the manager’s expectations to know how to improve or what resources are even available. In these cases, the PIP outlines the manager’s expectations and available resources.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I feel like this is what happened to me when Exjob changed the focus of my position. I only got extremely vague information even though it was a whole new area for me and the new tasks were impossible for me due to my LD — but I had no way of knowing that. It wasn’t communicated until we reached PIP status. By the time they told me, it was too late. *eyeroll*

          1. Lizzie*

            This is what happened to me; I was hired for one job, then moved to the other side of the department, where I had no experience, and basically just had to figure it out myself. My bosses weren’t too helpful, and the expectations were not communications to me, at all. Had my review that year, and was put on a PIP. I was blindsided because if you want me to do something but don’t tell me, well, then how am I supposed to know that? Same goes for if I’m not doing it the way you want me to!
            there were some other factors at play, rumor had it my immediate boss wasn’t on board with the PIP but was kind of overruled, and it was a power play.

            Well, I showed them. I did everything I had to, and then some, and 20+ years later I’m still here. My company doesn’t always use them as they are supposed to be used, as my case shows.

          2. Spero*

            I’ve also been in this situation. Focus changed, and it was my understanding I was supposed be balancing old focus and new focus tasks when apparently I was supposed to be sunsetting old focus tasks as quickly as I could in favor of doing only new focus tasks. I genuinely didn’t understand that because the feedback I got one on one was all ‘do more new focus’ but the organization wide discussions/meetings I was involved in continued to be old focus oriented with very little new focus discussion. Turned out they wanted to pretend they still did old focus but not actually do it, and I should have understood only one on one feedback mattered not what the same person said in meetings.

        2. StarHunter*

          This is exactly how an old job handled me. I didn’t have clear expectations. Once my manager gave me a clear set of expectations including how to deal with other departments I was able to get up to speed in my allotted 3 month time. I was there for another 8 years with always good reviews after that.

        3. I have RBF*

          I had this happen to me, and then the PIP was even more ambiguous stuff that was functionally impossible, in part because someone had literally stolen a part that I needed to succeed. I found another job, because there was no way to win.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup – this happened to my Whole Department. Yes, you read that right – the Whole Department (except the manager) ended up on a PIP.

          Point of Order – if the whole department is on a PIP then there is a massive failure somewhere. In my case – despite being given funding for software upgrades and also to send us for training the manager didn’t send us for the training. Instead they made a missing several steps step-by-step that nobody could really understand and also banned the asking of questions……

          Thankfully the skip level manager wasn’t as out to lunch, and throughly investigated when Everybody got put on the PIP. Skip also got almost every single PIP expunged from our HR files because “it was not fair to put them on a PIP about a task they hadn’t been properly trained to complete.

          Oh – and the manager got pushed out due to a failed PIP of their own. Funny how that turned out.

      3. civil disobedience*

        I had a PIP early in my career that didn’t quite fit into one of those bullet points (and I’ve seen similar things with other young folks in my field which is pretty technically challenging)

        I was struggling to get the right balance between quality and schedule. I was doing stuff really quickly but making mistakes along the way. Getting put on a PIP was the “aw crap” moment that I needed to reframe that I didn’t need to rush to get things done quickly if we had to redo work. Since then I’ve been a very high performer in my field.

        I agree with the overall breakdown of chances of a successful PIP. It’s pretty rare because it can only work if someone is actually suited for the job and just needs a course correction or minor attitude adjustment, and can’t fundamentally change someone’s aptitude.

      4. TeenieBopper*

        Man, I dunno, but 1 and 3 seem bad to me. Like, you have a 90th percentile worker and then they become a 60th percentile worker, putting them on a PIP seems like a bad idea because they’re still likely better than replacement level. And you have a 60th percentile worker and they stay a 60th percentile, it seems kind of silly to put them on a PIP if they’ve done nothing to deserve it. It sounds like a PIP is being used as a stick when a carrot would be a better tool (if such a tool is even necessary at all).

        1. Elle by the sea*

          Not all PIPs threaten you with firing, in some cases it’s more like a wake up call, better shape up otherwise you will get demoted or never get promoted, or will later go more downhill and eventually end up getting fired.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            “Not all PIPs threaten you with firing, in some cases it’s more like a wake up call, better shape up otherwise you will get demoted or never get promoted,”

            Sure but if you have a “senior teapot maker” Joes who was a high performer say making 20 teapots an hour, when the average for all other “senior teapot makers” is 13, if Joe falls to 15 teapots an hour it would be understandable to want Joe back to 20/hr and for the company to not consider Joe for promotions. But if the manager/company placed Joe on a PIP and fired him or demoted him to “normal/junior teapot maker” with team averages of 9/hr it would be a bad move on the companies part.

            In my opinion PIPs should be pegged to a minimum position wide standard, not to individual standards.

            1. Ellie*

              I agree, and given a lot of people do start looking for a new job as soon as they’re on a PIP, you might lose a really good worker. I’d never use a PIP for a short term performance dip, I’d try coaching instead. If I suspected it was a case of a bad fit, I’d also try to avoid the PIP, and try to transfer them into a more suitable role instead (once someone’s on a PIP, you have to disclose that, which is going to limit their options).

              A PIP is kind of a last resort where I work, you hope that it might turn things around, but it generally doesn’t. I only know of two people who were on them, and completed them successfully, and I strongly suspect it was a personality clash between the manager and the employee, rather than a genuine performance issue, in both cases. They both moved on pretty quickly too, but did well in their next jobs.

            2. MassMatt*

              Yes—It would be understandable, except they may be missing that Joe is still outperforming the other senior teapot makers by 15%. Perhaps he burned himself out working at an unsustainable pace. Or perhaps he realized there was no advantage to him outproducing the others with the same title by over 50% and decided to throttle it back.

              A good manager would thoroughly examine all these possibilities before punishing Joe for falling back to “only” producing 15% more. I would look at raises, incentives, and bonuses. And also what was Joe doing that got him to produce 50% more, is he just a natural at teapot making or is there a way to put that lightning in a bottle and sell it?

              I’ve seen this sort of double standard in sales. Say, someone who has a great sales month or two and then is “merely” above average for a month or two, mix and repeat. They got a lot of scrutiny, while several sales people who were coasting along well below average got no coaching whatsoever.

              Some managers seem to want consistency above all, even if that consistency is actually pretty poor production.

      5. ThatGirl*

        For me, it was a weird situation – I completed my PIP successfully, got good feedback from my manager, had a good review that fall and got a small raise. BUT … what I didn’t fully understand at the time was that I had basically lost all previous built-up goodwill. And I had a lot of stress in my personal life that I was not dealing with well. So when I screwed up again – and I will grant you, it was a pretty big mistake – there was no recovering from it.

        While my career has ultimately worked out for the best, I wish I had understood all of that better at the time so I could have maybe exited that job more gracefully, or at least dealt with my personal stuff better.

      6. Dusty Facsimile*

        > Why would you put effort into making a plan if you don’t want your employee to improve?

        Because HR wouldn’t sign off otherwise.

        I’ve had to keep an employee whose performance was consistently lackluster (who was eventually let go a few years after I voluntarily left) because HR didn’t agree that there was adequate documentation supporting attempts to let them recover.

        This was particularly frustrating because they were in a senior position expected to have a great deal of autonomy; playing by the book and running a PIP the way corporate wanted meant intense micromanaging.

        (Not that I didn’t _want_ improvement — but I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t see it; the easily tracked metrics that corporate insisted be included in the PIP process were met, but the employee remained unable to undertake large, complex projects independently — which is not something I ever figured out how to boil down to an easy-to-track number).

    3. L. Bennett*

      That tracks with my experience as well. I’m generally able to tell who is going to be in what category ahead of time, but I always try to give people a fair shake.

    4. EMP*

      I haven’t seen many (or, wasn’t aware of them, not being in management), but one I was aware of I know the employee in question was told very clearly that they couldn’t continue to do XYZ while working at the company, and when they didn’t stop doing XYZ, the PIP was put in place to make it REALLY clear that either they had to leave, stop XYZ, or get fired. They chose to leave, which was what everyone wanted out of the situation. Kind of frustrating as an employee, as they were making everyone else’s life harder and got severance out of it, but eh, at least everyone ended on the same page.

    5. Anonymous*

      I fell in the 35%. The job wasn’t a good fit for me and I wasn’t improving at all. I went on medical leave to protect my job and ended up leaving after I was hired somewhere else.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        I was kind of in that group – I was the target of illegal discrimination, fought being on a PIP, and held out long enough to get a hefty “don’t sue us” severance. My mental health wouldn’t have been able to handle a legal fight

    6. yala*

      I’m either in the 15% or the 5%, not really sure how it would be categorized. But I would also say that sometimes a contributing factor is communication/personal issues between the employee and manager, and that having HR step in in a significant way can go a long way towards a success.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Add a percentage for people put on PIP for a reason that has little basis in reality.

      Can’t go into detail for identifiability but that was me 15 years ago. The complaint was in retaliation for asking someone to stop wearing too much cologne. Long story but months later I described it as such and my then manager’s reaction confirmed it before she could backpedal.

      (My “plan” was a set of off-site training that I wanted anyway so it worked out for me.)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Also Add a percentage for the totally in denial folks despite the fact they are now on a PIP. Yeah – these ones generally end up fired – but I think they deserve their own group.

        1. Bagpuss*

          The only time I had to put one of my direct reports onto a PIP they fell into this category.
          We are in an industry which is pretty highly regulated and where we have certain things that are legally mandated. They were failing to follow a (very simple) process we had in place to ensure and document that the required steps were being taken.
          I’d spoken to them several times about ensuring that they followed the process and had gone through it with them .

          We then found out that they were *still* not following it but were signing off to say it had been done (which is actually a much bigger issue than not doing it in the first place)

          When we put them on PIP they accused us of bullying them and claimed that (i) they hadn’t been told what they were supposed to do (we literally had a step-by-step process in our office manual, they’d had multiple, documented meetings and have been given additional training when it first became clear they were not doing it correctly) and (ii) that everyone else was doing what they did and signing off without actually following the process( they weren’t, when we found this person was not doing it correctly we reviewed everyone to check and in case it was an issue with the policy and training not being clear enough. Every other member of staff was doing it, and doing it correctly)

          Even after confirming that t them they still believed, and said, that they felt they were being unfairly targeted and that we were trying to ‘force them out’

          We’re not in the USA and employment isn’t at will, but the fact that they were deliberately signing off to say they had done something they knew they had not done would have allowed us to fire them, instead we put them on the PIP to give them the opportunity to fix the issues.

          They no longer work for us.

        2. MassMatt*

          I’ve encountered this. Someone survived their PIP (barely) and cited it as an accomplishment that merited a raise.

  2. Addison DeWitt*

    I assume they’re for covering the company’s butt when they eventually do fire someone. In any case, coming from a field (advertising) where people move around a lot, I have always reacted to primarily negative feedback by immediately looking for a new gig, figuring the thrill is gone—and I have no desire to work under a cloud.

  3. Wintermute*

    This is really 100% company dependent. In good well-run companies a PIP can, and should, be taken at face value, if you meet the milestones you will have improved enough to be retained. In many they’re a pure pretext to help indemnify them against a lawsuit. In others, even more poorly run, they’re automatic (think “we put the bottom 10% of all employees on a PIP every quarter, even if the team’s performance is between 150 and 350% of quota, the guy with “only” 1.5 times the expected performance is going on a PIP and if they don’t get even higher they will be fired”) or even just used to scare people into or out of some behavior.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep this is right. PIPs are a tool, like performance reviews, retention bonuses, or many other things that a lot of companies use. How you wield that tool really impacts how effective it is.

      One thing that’s different about PIPs is that they’re used so poorly so often, that they carry their own stigma. So even if the company is using it with the correct intentions and implementation, they can still backfire because they scare the crap out of someone/make them think they’re being set up to be fired.

      1. Bryce with a Y*

        Agree 100 percent that PIPs are tools, and like any other tools, they’re effective and safe when they’re used properly and they’re the right tools for the job; and when they’re the wrong tools, they’re ineffective and can be harmful.

        Trouble is, I’ve seen quite a few cases where PIPs have been used improperly and were the wrong tools for the job.

        If you want to make employees aware of “blind spots” in their performance and genuinely believe that they can get back on track and the desire and resources are in place to make that happen, PIPs are the right tools.

        If you’re dealing with a case of wrong fit for the job, personality conflicts, or need to reduce payroll costs/headcount, PIPs aren’t the right tools. And they’re used improperly when you are using them to encourage people to quit.

    2. Merrie*

      “we put the bottom 10% of all employees on a PIP every quarter”

      We had similar to this in Exjob at one juncture. PIPs for everyone who had gotten below a certain score on their performance review. I supervised a guy who fell into this. He was making progress already in the several months since the review was done, and I wasn’t actually concerned about him. But corporate mandated a PIP. My boss and I didn’t want to fire this guy, so she deliberately wrote a really vague PIP such that it would be very easy to say that he had satisfied it. The whole thing was a stupid exercise, but then again, Exjob had a lot of stupid exercises.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I had an Exjob where the lowest performers of your starting year were dropped every year, which meant that after a few years you were in the rarified company of those who had survived all the previous purges. It was a cruddy way to manage and mostly functioned to push out the most experienced employees.

        1. I have RBF*

          I worked for at least two companies that did this type of “rank and yank”. The bottom 10%, 15% or 25% got fired every year with the annual reorg.

          At one company, if you had two quarterly reviews that were less than “meets expectations or better”, you were fired.

          Now, that may seem fine if it’s really “someone hasn’t been doing their job for half a year”, but all groups had to have a certain percent of their people in the lower two tiers. (1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, 3 being passing, and 1 and 2 were about 15% of all groups.) So, essentially, they had to fire about 10% every quarter.

          This “rank and yank” thing does two things to your company:
          1) It greatly increases turnover and the loss of institutional knowledge, especially when middle management was informally “encouraged” to give poor reviews to older or more expensive (long term) workers.
          2) It creates competition between employees who are peers, including “do your own work first”, “work only on your own quarterly goals”, “don’t help others lest you miss your own objectives” and other anti-collaborative symptoms. Add in the already existing silos, and morale takes a hit too. It’s really hard to do teamwork with people that you are competing for your own job against.

          Rank and yank, with stack ranking, requiring a certain percentage to be low ranked, and firing the “bottom” 10% to 15% is an abysmal performance management technique. I had managers at companies who did this deny that they were doing “stack ranking”, but when I compared notes with my peers that was exactly what they were doing and it just tanks morale. Jack Welch should have never graced a C suite.

        2. Ellie*

          Did you have to rate people in the lowest category? Say, if you have a team of 10, did there have to be 2 that would be dropped, or could you rate everyone average or above? If so, I would have just done that – people tend to get better over time, why would you want that kind of turnover?

          1. MassMatt*

            That has its own problems. I’ve worked at places where, while they didn’t require a certain percentage of employees be given lowest category ranks, strictly limited the upper ranks and had a ceiling for the overall average score.

            In practice, it meant that a manager giving an outstanding employee a high rating would have to downgrade someone else to adhere to the average.

            We also used a 5 star rating system quite common, 1=Does not meet expectations, 2=below expectations, 3=meets expectations, 4=exceeds, 5=greatly exceeds expectations.

            The policy was if someone was a 1, they should be in a corrective process, I.e. on a PIP or otherwise in the process of getting fired. A 2 was similar, though maybe a bit more used if someone was very new to the job. I tried giving a truly outstanding performer a 5 once (they produced DOUBLE the sales revenue of the next highest performer, who had considerably more experience) and was told “you cannot give anyone a five. To get a five is the equivalent of a Nobel prize”. Fours could be given for specific job skills/duties but discouraged as overall ratings.

            This really means we were not using 60% or more of the rating scale.

            At times I WAS a very high performer, and resented when my manager took the lazy route and gave all his reports threes just because it was easier. To me, this was promoting a culture of mediocrity.

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

      I think it might also be manager dependent. I wish I had known more about the PIP when I went on one at a previous company. Looking back, I know I was having problems but I was asking for help and not getting much in return. I had actually wanted to change to a different department as I had been in the same role for 3 years ( basically customer service). I had experience and a degree in something else and was told after 1 year that I could move to the marketing department or anywhere else. this was company that had the customer support as a stepping stone into the company. Many people did this. However, things changed when I got a different manager and that’s when things started to go down hill. But I got a better job now.

  4. Ben the PM*

    My experience is similar to Chairman of the Bored. This is also wildly dependent on the company. One prior employer I had was really bad about recognizing and actually acting on underperformance, so by the time a PIP happened, everybody around them was really pissed off they had to work with a low performer, and their time at the company was already over. By contrast, I’ve also worked places that put people on PIPs much sooner, once a pattern was established, and a pretty sizable minority of folks came out of them successfully.

    Some companies they really are a butt-covering formality for a firing. But some, it truly is a framework for coaching and changes, and that generally aligns with a good culture on management in general.

    1. Katydid*

      I was in a team leader position for years, and in that time was given a significant number of PIPs to carry out. While some took longer than others, every single person was able to bring their work up to and even above standard. As far as I know, this was the norm. (It was the norm in the branch with maybe 2000 employees; not so sure about the one with 3000+.)

      I only know of one person who was fired at the conclusion of a PIP (not one of mine), and they had been the team leader for some of the people I worked with, and were most likely the reason the other people had had difficulties in the first place: they’d been taught to do their work incorrectly.

      So I agree that it depends on the workplace. My agency had rather poor management by AAM standards, but PIPs were used to help people become successful at their jobs.

  5. Fishsticks*

    Ideally they are a last-ditch effort to SAVE employment, but my experience has been that they are generally used as a way to create a cause for firing, often when there isn’t actually a cause for one. I have seen a lot of “metrics or forms of improvement that are nebulous and deeply subjective and so can’t be accurately measured” (my own case, when they wanted to fire someone for budget reasons but didn’t want to pay much severance or unemployment) or even “metrics that are impossible”.

    But yes, ideally a PIP is a warning to pull yourself together, and something you can come back from. That’s what they are designed for. But so much in business has been corrupted from its designed purpose to be wielded as a weapon.

    1. Sweet Clementine*

      My SO went through such a PIP early in his career. Honestly, the workplace had so many dysfunctions that it could multiple AAM letters. The reasons for PIP were:
      1. Did not communicate sufficiently: This related to a project which my SO delivered on an unrealistic timeline over Christmas/New Years by working through the holidays, and the management did not check their messages during their time, even though he updated them.
      2. Did not work with junior coworkers: His team had none.
      3. Did not respond sufficiently to case reviews: He had the most reviews amongst his immediate team.

      He was being set up for failure via multiple management sabotages, which he managed to walk through by working awful hours. When they couldn’t find ways to fire him for performance, they came up with nebulous reasons which would be easy to fire over. The workplace was a dumpster fire. :/

    2. ceiswyn*

      The only time I’ve been on a PIP, it was the ‘metrics that are impossible’ kind.

      I’d had a lot of sick time due to recurrent episodes of tonsillitis, but doctors hadn’t found any unerlying issues that would explain them. My grandboss was unhappy about the amount of sick time, and put me on a PIP with the metric of ‘take less sick time’. But the HR representative in the meeting was absolutely clear that I shouldn’t work if I was ill. They danced carefully around the obvious question, and it was very clear to me that they were assuming I was just lying about being ill.

      Unsurprisingly, I quit. In retrospect, the problem was stress; I’m currently being investigated for possible ADHD, and that company was a highly corporate and inflexible working environment with a long commute.

      I still have sigificant bitterness about that job.

    3. DD*

      I’ve seen that at a previous job. Need to reduce headcount next quarter. Gary performs better than Jeremy but Gary is 50 and makes significantly more than Jeremy who is 30. Gary gets put on a PIP to CYA when it comes time to reduce.

      1. I have RBF*

        That reflects my experience as well. As an older worker, PIPs tend to mean “you’re too expensive/old/senior and we want to get rid of you without paying severance.”

        Yes, I’m cynical. I’ve seen too much.

      2. Fishsticks*

        Oh gosh yes. Pushing out older workers is such a problem in certain companies and industries.

    4. Same*

      Removed. I’ve asked you before to stop repeating this misinformation here; it does a disservice to readers. – Alison

    5. Two Sense*

      My two cents as a long-time HR manager is that PIPs work as a supportive improvement tool only if there are truly objective parties involved that understand, and can do, the job of the person in question. They also need to be a last resort, not something that’s used early on.

      I’ve seen well-constructed, well-managed, much-needed PIPs work very well, and they have been successful for everyone involved almost every time. But I’ve seen a bit too much of the total opposite to be sold on them as a good idea.

  6. Fuel Injector*

    I think this is partly company and manager dependent. Some places/managers create PIPs in good faith to give an employee a chance to improve. Other places, less so. I think a barometer is whether or not an employee was notified on the problems and given a chance to improve before the PIP was issued. A large enough company probably has some formality in place with guidelines for managers on when to move to a PIP. If that is available and nobody followed it, I’d say the PIP was issued to collect documentation to fire the employee.

    I have a ridiculous PIP story from a previous employer: Management a couple levels up decided that a particular functional group needed to have a particular capability and wanted them to all complete some training that would give them a certificate. So that director pipped the entire group. This was a long training series, and over the course of months, strategic direction changed and the PIPs largely fell by the wayside. Only one person completed the whole thing.

    1. Once upon a PIP*

      Much like others, I was on a PIP at one point and turned things around. two things had happened that caused the issues I was having, and I hadn’t realized either one: I was moved from the quietest spot on the floor to the noisiest/most interrupted spot. and I discovered I have ADHD.
      Moving my desk away from the break room and getting myself tools to deal with ADHD went a long way toward fixing my issues.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    I know of two PIPs at my workplace (I found out about them later, either from the person themself or from a remaining employee who was a friend). One succeeded and stayed with us until they retired voluntarily, on good terms. The other one just could not or would not get it together and was let go.

    I feel like my employer is very clear about expectations and really tries to work with people before letting them go. I can only think of a few people who have been fired and the causes that I know about have all been things for which I think one could reasonably expect to be fired, and things that we were definitely warned not to do (and that it was reasonable for us not to do, and for which there were simple alternatives that should have made doing them unnecessary if we were honest).

    1. ferrina*

      I’ve heard my company actually brings in the Learning & Development representative on some PIPs so they can make a personalized training plan when warranted. I love this idea.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I don’t know that much about it but I wouldn’t be surprised if ours has done that.

        I also know that when we were phasing out a specific kind of work that department got extra employment counseling and job search help for several months ahead of the actual shutdown. In general, I’m very comfortable with the way they handle things here–there aren’t any surprises.

  8. Garblesnark*

    I truly hope there are good PIPs out there. I was put on one because my cancer was inconvenient to the company.

    For example PIP standard 1 was “garble will always be professional.” I said “What did I do that was unprofessional?” they said “you told another employee that you’d been on medical leave & that questions about your leave should go to HR.”

      1. Garblesnark*

        I talked to several lawyers. I can’t sue them because my next job paid $0.50 more per hour, so I have no “standing” legally.

      1. Garblesnark*

        So you’re correct that what they did was not legal.

        However, the only consequence for breaking the laws in question is that IF the employee demonstrably loses money, they can sue you for the money they lost. eg, you fire them and they are without income for a significant period of time.

        I got incredibly lucky (because otherwise I would have been homeless with cancer) and found a different job paying a tiny bit more, so I didn’t lose any money and have nothing to sue them for.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I was put on a PIP because I was sexually assaulted by a member at an event I was staffing, was lied to about that person being banned from our organization’s events, and then was pulled off of an event I had worked on for several years because the member was going attend.

      When I pointed out that what they were doing was retaliatory and punitive, I was – surprise surprise – put on a PIP after over 5 years of excellent reviews.

      Yes, I quit.

      1. Garblesnark*

        I’m so glad you got out of there! here’s to better pastures for both of us.

  9. Brain the Brian*

    What advice would fellow commenters have for someone who is fairly certain they would be on a PIP if not for the fact that their manager is too busy to even read most emails, let alone go through a PIP process? Someone who has historically been a high performer but has lost motivation as they’ve tried to reset work-life boundaries and is now so far behind on so many things that they can’t fathom asking for help — either from their own manager or from coworkers — getting back on track? Someone who, with a more engaged manager, might already be gone?

    Asking for, uh, a friend.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      So, uh, for your friend.

      Lists. It might be a step by step of how to tackle, it might be an action plan with check-off-able completion points, it might just be a list of priorities.

      1. Tio*

        Make two lists of the same kind. First one is of things currently on the most fire and/or most likely to cause attention if not done. Second list is of things you can complete fastest. Look at the Fire list, and see if you can tackle the most on fire thing quickly. If not, do the next most on fire thing, etc. If you are out of time or just can’t force up any motivation, do the quickest thing off the Quick list. Checking things off that list may lessen the stress and pressure of feeling overwhelmed , resulting in more motivation to do the big things.

        Finally, once your lists are done, look over them and see if you can call in a favor or two from trusted coworkers and give them a Quick task or part of a Fire task. “Hey I’m running a little behind, would you have the bandwidth to do ____ for me?” Hopefully, this organization and strategy can cut down on the lists quicker than you think.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          This will sound ridiculous, I know, but lists stress me out. Someone in my management chain found a to-do list of mine once and informed me that I had things in the wrong order, that my sense of what was urgent and important was off, and that I shouldn’t make lists anyway because What If Someone Found It On My Desk And It Had Sensitive Information On It? So I keep them in my head, which is a bit of mess, and that makes it hard to keep on top of things.

          1. Tio*

            I use OneNote, and it’s been amazing. Nothing on your desk, easy to alter (comes with built in to do boxes!), saves paper, and you can sync it across multiple devices. But that aside, your former manager kinda sounds like a bit of a jerk.

          2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            Wow, that person was unhelpful and rude. If your list works FOR YOU, then it’s fine. It doesn’t matter if it wouldn’t work for someone else. And the whole “what if it had sensitive information on it”? They were just reaching, there. A to-do list is a summary, which is by definition not where the details go.

            Here’s my unsolicited suggestion, for if you physically enjoy hand-writing: get some really nice paper that feels good, and pens in several colors. Then make your lists and enjoy the actual writing process, so you’ve got something pleasurabe to balance any bad feelings about the content. (Me, I canNOT keep lists in my head. Just doesn’t work for me. I’m a writer; I write things down.)

          3. allathian*

            Lists stress me out too. I talk about crossing things off my to-do lists because it’s a part of the jargon. But in my job we have fairly quick turnaround times for the vast majority of tasks, and I also have quite a lot of autonomy in deciding in which order I do the work. Sometimes the priority is set by an urgent deadline.

            I’m a translator, and some jobs can take a week, but most take between a few hours and a couple of days to complete, and the real quickies can take ten minutes. I can almost always fit in a quick urgent job between longer less urgent ones. I almost always know which job I’m going to tackle next, and usually which one I’m going to do after that, but then it gets less certain.

            I find it much less stressful not to have a list at all, except as a ticket queue. than to have a list that keeps changing as priorities change.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I don’t know, but I have similar issues. They don’t seem to do PIP here (or I would have been on like 5 of ’em by now), they just write you up a lot, but they never seem to quite “go there” on firing.

      If it was me, I would probably not poke the manager with a stick to let them know I should be on a PIP. Beyond that, frankly I don’t know if your office is “safe” enough to ask for help and it doesn’t sound like you want to, and I’m not even sure if your manager considers you to be A Problem. If the manager is too busy to notice your problem-hood, I honestly would say to keep on flying under that radar, because people Knowing You’re A Problem is really bad.

    3. ferrina*

      I’ve been on that ride. It is not a fun one.

      First, block a couple hours to reprioritize. You need to invest the time in organizing and prioritizing. Lay out all of the projects. Identify where timelines can be pushed, reinforcements can be called in, or simply things can be dropped without anyone kicking up a fuss (if you crush it on a few big things, they may forgive you the little things that you “depriortized to focus on Big Things”. When I’ve got a crazy workload to dig out from, I usually make a 3 month plan. I can push for 3 months, then I need things calmed down. So how do I get from here to calmed down in about 3 months?

      For performance, at one point I found myself unable to focus due to *waves vaguely* life stuff. You need to take a 3-pronged approach: 1) Dealing with work 2) Dealing with *vague life stuff* and 3) Caring for yourself. Item 3 is essential- “put your own oxygen mask on”, etc.
      For item 1, I put myself on a PIP (I called it that mentally, but not to anyone else). I identified several areas I wanted to improve, then created plans for how I would improve in that area (metrics I wanted to hit, training I would do, etc.). Eventually my manager realized that my performance warranted a PIP, but by the time that she had that conversation I had already been on my own PIP for several weeks. She had already seen improvement, and was impressed that I had the awareness to realize that I was struggling and the initiative to improve. It was a very good start that made her want to try harder to fight for me.
      For item 2, well, I can’t give much advice. I can tell you my story- I ended up with undiagnosed depression. My symptoms were primarily exhaustion, without any of the sadness or hopelessness. Once I got on medication, that gave me the push I needed to get through the hard times and get back to equilibrium. I was on meds for about a year before weaning off (since everything had gone back to manageable levels).
      For item 3, well, item 1 and 2 are going to zap your energy. You will be exhausted. Do what you need to to have the energy you need. Clean your house less. Eat easy meals more. Set aside time to go outside/exercise/hang out with friends/do your favorite things. Sleep enough. If therapy is an option, get a therapist so you can just vent and process and rehash things. Therapy goal: get through this. That’s a very, very good goal.

      Good luck!!

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Good advice all around — thank you for it. I certainly have *vague lie stuff* going on right now, and I do see a therapist just about weekly to help with it (as well as Very Much Diagnosed anxiety, for which — unfortunately — medication is not an option because of other brain meds that I already take). I particularly like the three-month plan, although realistically much of my list needs to be done this week — so we’ll see how it goes. Thank you for the luck!

    4. CaffeinatedPanda*

      For me, it was changing not just jobs but industries. I was in that place and bounced from one related job to another every couple years for a while until it finally caught up to me. I was in a highly recruited industry so there was always someone else looking for what I could do, and I could move on before I got too far behind at the current place. But the fresh start never lasted, and in the end I lost my last job there. It took getting to that point to figure out that it had become the wrong sort of role entirely, for myself and for my family. It’s been a lot of work starting over but it’s work that I’m motivated to do, which makes all the difference.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        This is what I fear. I have invested a lot of myself — my time, my living location, my family life, and my credibility — into this industry, and starting over in a different industry would mean reexamining a lot of that. Alas.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      I see what you said about lists, but there is definitely some truth that if you have 3 hours to do a thing, 15 minutes of organizing at the start can make the rest of the task take 2 1/2 hours instead of 4. (And the principle CAN work for longer stretches of time, and in fact the organizing time becomes a smaller percentage of the whole.)

      Maybe not lists, then, but some sort of organizational method; there are others (and while it’s true most of them are just lists in disguise, the disguise might be enough to get past the list aspect. I liked Habitica for a while for that aspect, but my party as a whole kinda stopped doing it, which makes it hard to resume). Break the tasks down; the “quick to do” and “on fire” is a viable suggestion for a start, but if a thing looks itself too dauntingly large, break it down more.

      Alternative: Find a single individual not too big thing on your list that you can ask someone for help with. Instead of letting them know how behind you are on everything, get help on that one item. It doesn’t reveal the issue as a whole but it gets that off your plate and you can go back to a big fire.

      I do agree with Ferrina that if you do ever need to talk to your manager, doing so AFTER you have already begun to put things back on track is better than doing it in the pit of the problem. If you are already improving, it’s much easier to get support to get over the last hump — or, unfortunately, get forgiveness for the thing that STILL fell through the cracks.

  10. Teapot Unionist*

    I spend a lot of my time in PIP meetings as the union rep. in my experience, there are some that resolve successfully. there are some where through the process, the employee recognizes that some underlying condition needs accommodations/treatment (often ADHD or anxiety/depression that they thought wasn’t impacting performance) and with ADA support or some medical leave they are able to return to previous levels of performance. some are clear personality conflicts and we are able to get the person matched to a better fit supervisor. some are a matter of a new program that the person needs more support to learn and use. but, I represent people in a job that has critical shortages all over the country so termination is rarely the end result (unless needed for a disability retirement claim). if people clearly need a new employer, I am usually able to help them find one that is a better fit for their philosophy and skills.

    1. Fuel Injector*

      there are some where through the process, the employee recognizes that some underlying condition needs accommodations/treatment (often ADHD or anxiety/depression that they thought wasn’t impacting performance) and with ADA support or some medical leave they are able to return to previous levels of performance. some are clear personality conflicts and we are able to get the person matched to a better fit supervisor. some are a matter of a new program that the person needs more support to learn and use.

      Those all sound like things that should be investigated before issuing a PIP. Was the outcome of the PIP meetings in those cases to go forward with a PIP? It does seem like going directly to a PIP rather than giving the interventions a chance to work is a sign that management is heavy handed and maybe being employed elsewhere would also lead to improved performance.

      1. Tio*

        An employer can’t investigate underlying conditions for an employee. they can suggest you check with a medical professional if they think there might be some issues, but you can’t just tell an employee “You seem light you might have ADHD, go get checked out.” They can only really tell an employee “You’re not performing to standards, we need this from you, can you make it work?” It’s up to the employee, before or during a PIP, to determine if they have any health conditions that may be impacting their work. And really, do you want your boss walking around diagnosing you because they don’t like your work enough?
        A good PIP is an agreement, not a punishment.

        1. Fuel Injector*

          I never suggested that employers diagnose employees. Teapot Unionist said “some where through the process, the employee recognizes [snip]”. I question why an employer would go right from “You’re not performing to standard” to a PIP with no steps in between. Whatever part of the PIP process is uncovering a need for an accommodation or a personality conflict should happen before the PIP is started. Pipping a person who really needs an accommodation *is* a punishment, not an agreement.

          1. Tio*

            Well, they don’t specifically state whether there were or were not steps in between. Yes, you should talk to your employees before PIPing them, but sometimes it doesn’t really hit a person until the “Oh no I might lose my job” level.

            1. Teapot Unionist*

              Tio has it exactly right. Sometimes, the person doesn’t realize that a medical condition is impacting their work. Sometimes, they don’t realize that their “scatterbrain” or their “lack of motivation” or whatever else is actually an underlying medical condition that can be treated. Since I am not their employer, I can have conversations with people that HR cannot have.

      2. smirkette*

        So I once had to fire someone after putting them on a PIP (which itself only came after many meetings over months where we discussed how performance wasn’t up to standards, offering extra supports, asking if there was anything I could to make processes work better for them, etc.), and at the final firing meeting, they told us they had ADHD. Things suddenly made SO much more sense, but unfortunately, it was too late at that point. (ADHD wasn’t the only issue at play with their performance—there were some skill deficiencies and they could not deal reporting to a woman.)

        I have ADHD myself, so I understand why this person didn’t disclose. Unfortunately, the position required things can be really challenging for some flavors of ADHD, and while some of the issues are things I would have approached differently had I known, there were also some necessary changes that could only be done by said employee (i.e., showing up to events on time).

  11. PIPPILongstocking*

    I was put on a PIP once and passed it with flying colors but had been looking elsewhere the entire time (a lot of the reason for the PIP was my fault but in reaction to the overload of work, unhappiness and other things) – left about 1-2 months after it ended. Learned a lot from that situation.

    1. singularity*

      I had a similar situation. Put on a PIP for various performance and political reasons, accomplished the goals of the PIP and then quit a few months later. It felt like a way to push me out anyway, and I’d been looking for another job for a couple of months by then. Leaving that job was one of the best things I could do, it wasn’t the right fit.

  12. Seahorse*

    I knew a person given a PIP for some concrete, resolvable issues. It wasn’t meant to be a prelude to firing. Instead, he got fired for having a hostile meltdown about the PIP itself and insisting everyone else was the problem.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep this is unfortunately not uncommon. I wouldn’t say it’s the usual reaction, but it’s one I’m always braced for.

  13. Luna (the other one)*

    I survived a PIP and am now one of the most valued employees at my school. I started off in the after school program, and it was my first “grown up” job. While working there, our supervisor left and our coworker got promoted to her job. I had gotten to know this person as a peer, and not being used to professional norms, I didn’t change the way I interacted with her when she became my boss. I wasn’t respectful enough, I was negative and pushed back on every new idea she had, I called her out whenever I thought she was being a hypocrite (she kinda was, but it was the type of low-level necessary brown-nosing that keeps most jobs running smoothly).

    She tried to gently talk to me about my attitude, but I kept focusing on how I was technically correct. “You said we weren’t ever supposed to do X, and then you were telling us to do X, so I just wanted you to explain why it was ok to do X when you always said we were never supposed to before.” And the poor thing was trying to explain that it was an emergency, just to trust her, if there was negative fallout she’d take the blame, etc. but I just would. Not. Stop. It’s really hard to manage a team when one of them is always looking for a “gotcha.”

    I also had no idea that I was having a negative influence on the other employees. Me? Influence? I’m not important, no one gives a shit what I say. Turns out, I’m loud and persuasive and people do listen to me. I honestly had no idea.

    Anyway, my boss’s boss had to meet with me, and had to explicitly say “Your job is in danger. You are going to get fired if you don’t stop this. The only reason you haven’t been fired yet is because you’re good with the kids. But that is not the entirety of your job. You also have to respect your manager and contribute to a positive environment for your coworkers.”

    And then they both laid out a specific plan of what I was to stop doing, start doing, and continue doing. I took it seriously, changed my actions, changed the way I interacted with people, and it actually made me happier at work. 17 years later I’m still here, in a different role, but at the same school.

    1. Olive*

      Wow, this really lands with me as a perfect example of how people in a “first grown-up job” can become great workers and coworkers if they’re given the chance to hear exactly what they need to change. I had some similar behaviors when I was just out of college too – I think a lot of us did.

  14. Potato*

    I recently managed an employee through what I would call a “pre-PIP” which was really almost exactly like a PIP, except instead of ending in termination if unsuccessful, the pre-PIP would have ended in a PIP.

    The purpose of this was really to give the employee (who is quite young/new to the workforce + struggles with anxiety) the structure of a PIP, with clear expectations and measurable goals set out and seriousness of the situation explained, without the “oh my gosh i am about to be fired” panic of a PIP.

    To be honest, based on her performance, I thought it would end in a PIP and eventual firing—but she really turned it around! Focused on professional development in the necessary areas, made lists to keep herself organized, and met the metrics we set out. I really pleased with her progress and thrilled that she has, so far, been keeping it up in the couple of months since this happened.

    1. Fuel Injector*

      Clear expectations, measurable goals, and coaching through problems is a general part of an ongoing managing role. Some people need more development than others, but I think of everything you listed as just management.

      1. Goldie*

        A lot of professionals would consider this micro-managing. Everyone is different and it can be difficult to know which staff want and need close monitoring and which thrive with lots of independence.

        1. Fuel Injector*

          Clear expectations, measurable goals, and coaching through problems is micromanaging? I agree that measurable goals are difficult to set with knowledge workers, but clear expectations and coaching through problems are not micromanaging. Expecting to be free from expectations and rejecting coaching when problems arise is not independence, it’s problems with authority.

    2. Elissa*

      I did something similar with one of my employees & it really helped us both. For context we were both new in our roles, her role had been vacant for a while before she started, & working from home due to lockdown prevented the casual support opportunities you get in the office (particularly as my role tends meeting heavy). We had clear goals, regular catch-ups including my manager in addition to our 1:1s, and documented everything. Her performance has improved markedly & a PIP wasn’t necessary.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I do think there is a “turtles all the way down” element to this. Feedback prior to a formal PIP is good in general and correcting thing before it getting to the that point is a win. But the more effort and formality you put into the “pre PIP” process the more the actual PIP becomes a perfunctory check box on the way to a firing.

        The PIP process has a lot of baggage associated with it at this point so deescalation is helpful. On the other hand, structing it so that a formal PIP means you are going to get fired feeds into that baggage. I don’t really have the answers here.

  15. RJ*

    I envy anyone who has either witnessed or experienced a well-managed and well-balanced PIP because I have not. I’ve seen it used for all the wrong reasons and not once can I say it helped performance of the employee in question. More often, I’ve seen it just used as a tool for management to retaliate against employees who speak out at their companies and encourage change.

    1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      I have seen layoffs used the same way. Get rid of people who “question” management and seen as “problems to work with.”

    2. NotSoEvilHRLady*

      To be honest, there is a chance I may not have gotten off my PIP back in early 2020 had the pandemic not happened, as my supervisor was suddenly overwhelmed with all the questions that arose around new COVID policies, including a paid leave one. (She was the labor relations manager at my organization.) It would have been fair for her to let me go, as I work in state government and was not performing at a very high level.

      Fortunately I was given a chance and really made an effort to improve, worked my butt off on overseeing COVID and other leaves, and after 2 years I got promoted and moved to another agency!

    3. Lee*

      I relate to your experience entirely, RJ. I wish I didn’t, but I haven’t been that lucky.

  16. Olive*

    Is a PIP the best process when it appears impossible that an employee will be able to fulfill the requirements? For example, I knew an employee who simply didn’t seem capable of doing or learning one of the core functions of her role. Her education and past work history all indicated that it was a skill she knew and had experience with, but she… just didn’t. Like her education was in large animal training, but she’d never trained an animal larger than a hamster and there wasn’t a safe way for her to train the llamas or the budget to completely re-educate her.

    Realistically, there wasn’t a way she was going to learn it in 3 months, and there wasn’t another role on that team/office for her. She was put on the PIP with everyone knowing she would probably use the time to try to find a new job. Was there a better way to handle the situation?

    1. Tio*

      I mean, you could have fired her immediately, or they could have paid for her to go be trained properly – but I could certainly see why they wouldn’t want to do the last one when she was supposed to have come in with the knowledge, even if they had had the budget. The PIP may have been meant as more of a timeline for her to demonstrate that she actually had the skills she supposedly had, and if she couldn’t, then she got fired. But it sounds like this employee was on her way out either way.

      1. Olive*

        The oddity was that she seemed to genuinely believe she had those skills and maybe rightfully so, since she had graduate degree. English wasn’t her first language, so it took some time to be sure that she actually didn’t know how to do the job rather than simply not being familiar with specialized language or different conventions. Anyone’s best guess was that she had always found people who were willing to go above and beyond to help her, do group work with her, etc. to the point where her own lack of knowledge had been masked.

        Unfortunately, because it was legitimately graduate level work she was hired for, there wasn’t a simple training course she could have taken that would have put her back on track.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      It sounds like a reference check during the hiring process might have pointed out the discrepancies in her resume, if she was claiming skills and experience she definitely did not have.

      Honestly it sounds like the PIP was the best option once she was hired though – better to clearly identify that she was ill-suited for the role and have a concrete timeline to manage her out than ignore it and be stuck with an underperformer.

    3. WellRed*

      If she was fairly new it seems kinder to agree it’s not the best fit, agree on an end date and maybe pay some severance.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      One thing to consider is that exercise of formulating a PIP can reduce the amount that these decisions are based on vibes. By sitting down and formulating what “acceptable performance” looks like it forces you to think through what is actually necessary and what might rub you the wrong way but it ultimately not a real performance issue. This can reduce unconscious bias.

      It also gives the employee a chance to push back on requirements that are problematic or suggest accommodations to make it work out. For instance things like “professional appearance” are a minefield and frequently the employee will have a legitimate alternate perspective on things.

      Having the discipline to go through the exercise even when it’s all but certain to not change anything helps ensure that everybody gets equitable treatment. Though it might be helpful to find a way to say “this is a heavy lift and maybe you should be looking for a better fit” so everybody understands the situation.

      And you never know, may in the instant case the employee decides she’s really committed to large animal training and will put in the time and expense to develop the requisite skills outside of work.

  17. Goldie*

    As a manager of managers, the three steps before a PIP is for the manager to outline for me what the specific problems are and what improvement looks like and coach the employee on it. Then put that in writing. Finally, HR puts it in writing. If it doesn’t get better, we go to formal PIP.

    This ensures to me that the manager is actually giving the employee a chance to improve. Usually when I outline these steps, it gets resolved with better feedback or the manager determines to live with low performance because the are not into actually interested in managing the employee. Often there is a toxic employee in the managers ear about the employee in question and the manager hasn’t really give the employee in question a fair shot. The pre-PIP and PIP process helps me to know that there is a real problem.

    Usually once you start down this road, the person will find another job. Sometimes I will move the employee to another department if there is a vacancy and frequently they are a better fit in that department. I would only do that if I felt like the new position is a better fit for their skills.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      But wait, isn’t PIP just a formalised plan of deliverables (a project, a new feature, etc.) for a month, two months or three months with clear milestones, deadlines and consequences of both success (e.g.: continued employment if meets expectations, possibly promotion if exceeds expectations) and failure (demotion or firing)? What’s the difference between the manager and/or HR putting the expectations in writing and PIP?

      1. Goldie*

        Before a manager can put someone on a PIP, I want to make sure that they gave the employee feedback already. So often, they haven’t. Literally most of the time or the feedback wasn’t clear or documented. Honestly, we almost never get to the PIP stage. I think only a few times in 10 years that I have seen.

      2. Fuel Injector*

        PIPs are sort of nuclear bc they do result in firing if the standards are not met. They are an ultimatum. For that reason, it’s generally bad practice to jump to a PIP as soon as issues arise. That would be like threatening to evict a renter the first time rent is late. Just remind them rent is due on the 1st and collect the late fee. With an employee, there is, or should be, an escalation in communication from a verbal discussion the first time to a verbal discussion followed by a written summary of the discussion after subsequent times, to a larger picture discussion about the pattern, and onward with the PIP coming at the end. The length of the escalation chain depends on the severity of the problems and the patience of the manager.

        Using a PIP to have an employee do a project or create a new feature is a misuse of PIPs. The point of a PIP is to improve performance in your regular job. I’ve certainly seen a PIP that was a project, but it was definitely a misuse of PIPs. The guy’s manager assigned him a project that was way outside his area of expertise. No surprise, he couldn’t complete it. However, a one-off project solely for the sake of the PIP isn’t necessarily going to help improve day-to-day performance in one’s regular role.

        Measurable outcomes are things like meeting deadlines or fewer errors. Progress is generally monitored, but milestones aren’t always applicable. If the PIP is for multiple miscoded entries in data entry, for example, the manager should set a bar like 95% correct entries or whatever. Then they monitor the level every week and talk about it in a regular meeting, but there is not necessarily a milestone like by week 7 out of 12, the employee must have reached 94% correct.

  18. Head sheep counter*

    My PIP felt like a training exercise (a bad one) for my manager to “prove” they had managed a situation like that. While I don’t deny that there are always areas one can improve – it was a bitter shock that has had long long tendrils (still) into shaking my confidence and wrecking one avenue of my career. I had worked for the manager for several years and with the person for something like eight years. At the time of the PIP, I was working on a high profile project and trying to get help for the team (managing up). Our team was small (2 direct reports to this manager and one other person working in another group). We supported other projects on assignment. The organization made the choice to change software and reset all of our affiliated documentation and processes… while I was trying to implement the old on the project I was assigned. I tried to participate and work through the changes and tried to ask germane questions… but ended up being perceived as argumentative (to be fair I did have some disagreements but had thought they were in the space of debating next steps). And presto my first write-up… ever. Then a second one came that I disputed (as it wasn’t factually accurate) and then a warning about my final notice. These were not actions of folks who were trying to keep me. The narrative that I was a problem child and that “people” were talking about how I was a “problem” was deeply upsetting and inconsistent with my lived experience. The elements of things that needed improvements and that I would have worked to improve were lost under the weight of the specters from other areas of my job that kept creeping into each new letter. I found another job in the organization away from this management team. My confidence was blown. I lost enough weight to cause people to be concerned. If you find yourself writing a PIP and you are doing it to try and keep the employee… please… keep it concise, factual and demonstrably actionable.

  19. Owlet101*

    I personally do not have any experience with a PIP. However, my SO does. He was placed on one before I met him. My SO completed everything to the standards that were laid out, and well before the last day of the PIP. Unfortunately, his supervisor saw it as a way to get rid of him. And fried him before the planned last day of the PIP and after my SO had completed all of his projects.

    That is definitely the wrong way to handle a PIP. My SO would have just preferred to have been fired outright rather than have the chance of staying dangled in front of him like that.

    1. Elle Woods*

      Sounds similar to what happened to a relative. He was put on a PIP and fired three weeks later. Though, in his case, the criteria they had for his PIP were super vague (“communicate better”) and/or didn’t have measurable metrics (“substantially decreased turnaround time”).

      1. Owlet101*

        Yeah. That’s not super actionable. PIPs need to be clearly laid out and measurable.

  20. CSRoadWarrior*

    I have never been placed PIPs, so I can’t really speak from personal experience. By my ex back in 2018 was placed on one. It didn’t end well. Within a few months, he was demoted with a pay cut and a few months later after that he was fired. It was a very unpleasant experience to say in the least. That’s not to say he was a bad employee, but that workplace was known for nitpicking and didn’t really have a healthy work environment. It was not a corporate company either; it was a non-profit for a well-known college. None of this is an excuse but it did certainly was a contributing factor.

    For me, if I were placed on a PIP, I would most certainly get ready to quit. Because it will definitely put me on edge and fear for my job security. Fortunately for me, it hasn’t happened yet and hopefully never happens.

  21. Anon*

    Living proof that is does not! You can succeed and thrive, if you are serious and if your boss is serious about moving forward. When I was young I made some errors of judgement, combined with procrastination. They were serious. I was lucky though. My boss did not *want* to fire me. They wanted me to succeed. I did everything they laid out in the entirely reasonable pip. I made new habits. More than a decade later I still count that boss as a great friend and mentor.

  22. Sparky*

    Mine ended in going back down a level in the job title/duty, which is for the best, because I am good at this job but wasn’t good at the next one up.

  23. Risha*

    At my very toxic last job, I was put on multiple pips because the manager didn’t want me to transfer to another dept. Of course you cannot transfer while on an active pip. Each time the pip would be close to ending, she would start a new one. I was put on them for things such as I didn’t sit up straight in the chair (seriously) and being too loud on the phone (no one else had any complaints regarding that). And HR was useless, they are usually only there to protect management so I didn’t even waste my time speaking to them about it.

    So no, I don’t think pips are always the step prior to firing. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re actually to improve the employee’s work, and sometimes they’re used as a weapon like in my case.

    1. allathian*

      I hope you got out of that by getting another job. That’s awful.

      I guess I’m lucky in that in my organization, managers are expected to support the career development of their employees, and a manager might get put on PIP if they tried to block an employee’s transfer to another department. This is also why I didn’t hesitate to ask my then-manager to be my reference for a job interview in summer 2020. I knew she’d hate to lose a good employee, but she wouldn’t hold it against me. I ultimately didn’t get the job although I was in the top three.

  24. Former Retail Lifer*

    I work in a sales-focused job and we will put our salespeople on PIPs when they’re consistently not making their sales goals. However, our PIPs come with training classes and mentoring. They all get training when they join our organization, but sometimes they need additional help and if they don’t seek it out themselves (with additional classes we offer), then we’ll formalize it as a PIP. It often helps. However, if you’re put on a PIP in an operational role, it’s probably so your boss can provide a paper trail when they let you go.

  25. Mx*

    I’m on a PIP currently due in part to worsening fatigue from multiple health conditions and the fact that I suddenly seem to really really suck at my job. I’m trying my best but I’m 100% gonna get fired the week after next. I’m trying to look at it as a blessing in disguise but I also don’t know what my next steps are and I’m really anxious about it.

    1. Anonymous*

      I am sorry! PIPs are for people who can do the job and aren’t – it sounds like you currently can’t. I suspect you do not suck but are tired and ill and at the point where you don’t realize how much it affects you. Could you go on medical leave? I hope you have people to talk to. Please be kind to yourself.

  26. Llama Llama*

    I have put two people on PIPs. The second one quit. Then I rally got to dig into his work (training and getting his work done). He should have been fired… The first one didn’t get fired out of luck and then a turn around. We were acquired by a new company and I was told I couldn’t hold her to that PIP. She wasn’t great but at least mediocre after that. She got a new within the company months after that. It’s been 8 years and she is still with the company (though hasn’t been on my team for 7 years).

  27. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    In my long experience as an HR Professional, 50% of PIPs end with a termination, which means 50% are successful. The real problem is when you have an employee who is a repeat offender. You know they know how to correctly do , they just choose to slack off or repeat the bad behavior. Instead of addressing the repetition issue, the Manager only addresses the incorrect behavior. Drives me bonkers!

    1. Fuel Injector*

      Which are the successful PIPs–the ones where the employee was fired or the ones where they were not?

  28. Galaxiid*

    I was put on a PIP a couple months into my first job out of college. At the time, I had no idea what a PIP was. It happened without warning and had no measurable goals. I was not fired after the 90-day timeframe, but I was let go after about a year. (I wasn’t fired, but I found out they did replace me.)

    I was able to succeed in another similar job after that. In hindsight, with more experience, I realized how weird the situation had been at my first job. I had received minimal training/feedback and my boss had never managed someone before. Later I found out my replacement there only lasted 6 months and had the same issues I had. I don’t really know if my boss was trying to get me to quit with the PIP. I wish there had been clearer communication overall.

  29. Abominable Snow Woman*

    I love that you re-address old letters with updated and expanded answers.

  30. Journey of man*

    I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. A friend was put on a PIP in order to document minor mistakes (formatting docs) and consisted of “changing goalposts” as punishment for calling out bosses on certain discriminatory actions. My PIP lit a fire under me, but confirmed the job was a bad fit, as the verbal job description was exactly the opposite of what it was that I said I didn’t want to do. I shaped up in a week but handed in my resignation with plenty of notice, leaving on decent terms.

  31. There You Are*

    Inside Sales, world’s largest software company, mid-2000’s: Every single person in my department was on one — or many! — PIPs at some point during my 2.5 years there. If your numbers dropped below the monthly goal in any of the dozen metrics they used, you got put on a PIP. Bring all metrics up to or above the goals by the end of next month or get packing.

    Worst place I ever worked, and I once had a boss who did cocaine on his desk and asked me and my assistant on a daily basis what kind of bras we had on and if they matched the panties. Yeah, that inside sales job was worse than that.

  32. Nina from Corporate Accounts Payable*

    I had a direct report put on a PIP. He turned it around to the point that three years later he was going to be promoted in my group but was sought after by another group for an interesting role. He opted for the different opportunity, but it was great to see him move on from the PIP and get stronger in his role.

    I figured he had one foot out the door after the PIP, but he stuck it out and made a concerted effort to improve. He is very bright and well-spoken, but he often struggled with follow-through. Maturity might have been a factor.

  33. MakeTheImportanceClear*

    Sometimes a PIP could ge a blessing. At least they make it clear what’s important to a boss. I once had a boss who asked someone to do something. They explained why they couldn’t do it and moved on. A few months later the boss asked them again. They explained again and privately grumbled that the boss forgot about the previous conversation. A month later that person was fired for not doing that thing. They were shocked as they thought they had adequately explained why they couldn’t do the thing – twice – and nothing about either request made it seem more important than any other thing people are asked to do but for various reasons don’t do – and this person had provided a legitimate reason why it wasn’t possible for them to do it. None of us ever figured out why this was considered so important or why the explanation of why it wasn’t possible was disregarded. At least if there had been a PIP this person would have known to raise the impossibility of the request higher up the chain or, if they weren’t willing to listen, had some advance notice that things were going south.

  34. Buffy the Vampire*

    I was a lead and not the manager but it meant that I implemented the PIP, did all the training and documentation then gave my success/fail opinion at the end. Out of 8 employees I had to do this with, I only had to give a fire recommendation for one. In her case, she was such a bad fit that the job was literally making her physically ill. I always approached it with the attitude that it was cheaper and less time consuming to give an employee extra training and guidance than it was to hire and train a new one.

  35. i am a patient girl*

    I’m a PIP success story! When I started at my current company 8 years ago I was in recruiting operations as a coordinator, and on a smallish team spread at a few locations across the country. We had a ticketing system where we handled individual requests and tasks, then there was a bunch of assigned reporting and then some project work and around 8 people on the team.. Because I was on the east coast, I would get into the ticketing system, do a ton of uninterrupted work before the west coast folks logged on, and worked almost exclusively on tickets. I also started to notice that the next ticket in queue when I left for the day was almost always the first ticket waiting for me the next morning, and I started getting really annoyed and a bit resentful of my colleagues.
    I ended up making a few mistakes on some tickets, including one that was a BFD and got pulled into a meeting and had the PIP conversation. During the conversation I brought up that it felt like I was the only one doing any of the tickets, and I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I was putting in to keep up with our 24hour SLA. To her credit, my boss listened to that and looked into my claims and pulled data showing that I was, in fact, doing all the work. Something like just under 90 percent of the tickets- around 175-200 per day. She did end up still placing me on the PIP, to make sure that I didn’t make any additional mistakes, but adjusted it so that I was allowed to do no more than 25 tickets per day. She had to circle to everyone else on the team and instruct them to do tickets, and I ended up having like, a SUPER easy week of work and then actually got to start doing some of the reporting and finally got assigned to a project.

    So, I guess the flip side of this is that it also can force a manager to really examine any disparities of how they are treating ppl on their team. My manager was so far away in California, and didn’t have a complete picture of what I was doing on a daily basis, but she did put full faith into listening to my concerns and making sure I really did have the opportunity to improve.

  36. Bryce with a Y*

    One thing that I’ve wondered about is whether PIPs are the right tools to address the problem of one’s job being the wrong fit, which I have experienced myself.

    I’ve wondered about whether it’d make sense in such cases to have a conversation that would sound something like this:

    “As you know, it’s been a struggle. At this point, I’m willing to work with you on a plan to get things back on track, but my gut says that this job might not be the right fit for you. You have real skills and knowledge in A, B, and C, but you’ve had a hard time with X, Y, and Z, which are what are needed to do this job well. I think you might be happier and do better with a job in which A, B, and C skills and knowledge are important.”

    “As mentioned, we need to see the following results in the next 30/60/90 days in Q, R, and S, or your job could be in jeopardy.”

    That said, would you like me to move forward with a plan, or would you rather we work on transitioning out of your current job and helping you find a better fitting job? Take the next X days to think about it, and we’ll discuss next steps on date Y depending on what you think would be best.”

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I honestly see that as part of the PIP process. The key element for the PIP for the employee and manager to get on the same page about the requirements of the position and establish a timeframe for when the employee needs to be meeting those requirements. Laying it like that also helps to clarify if the position is just a bad fit and being explicit about the alternatives if the employee can’t or doesn’t want to meet those requirements seems like a useful thing to incorporate.

  37. DayDreamBeliever*

    I was talking to my husband about this on the weekend. The question popped into my head.

    In one role I was put on what seemed to be a PIP by my manager, and the requirements to get through the coming months were so vague and subjective that, because of the toxic nature of her management, there was no way I would make the improvements she expected of me. It was her way of firing me because she missed her probation window to get rid of me (normally a 6 month probation but because I did two months of contract work it was reduced to 4 months) So based on that, I wondered just how useful a PIP would be.

  38. kiki*

    I’ve worked at an office that gave PIPs and offices where they didn’t and I really preferred the one that did. Maybe it was better executed than most, but I feel like the intention of the PIP was to give the employee a genuine chance to improve and/or sufficient warning that they should begin looking for something else. In the latter cases, it still felt very fair– sometimes folks just aren’t a fit for a role. Being extra clear about what they need to do in order to succeed in the role and giving a set time period of time for those improvements to take place is a lot better for the employee than what I’ve seen in my jobs that didn’t do PIPs– firing someone in ways that felt out of the blue for the employee, not giving them any time to get their ducks in a row, etc.

  39. RNix*

    I work in education; PIPs for early career teachers are usually for the purpose of helping them develop as teachers (it’s a hard job to start!) PIPs for folks further in their careers tend to be for the purpose of moving them out

  40. Full Banana Ensemble*

    I have a coworker who was recently put on a PIP as a result of her one-year performance review. She’s in a role that works cross-functionally with other departments (primarily mine), and the odd thing was that she got GLOWING reviews from people outside her department, but within her own department, she’s seen as difficult to work with.

    Obviously, working well with one’s coworkers is essential for success, and her manager has raised this issue before, so in that sense, a PIP feels like the next reasonable step. Except that she’s never been able to get concrete feedback on what she should do differently to work better with her department (ostensibly for the sake of maintaining the anonymity of the coworkers who are complaining about her).

    So really, the PIP seems to set her up for failure, because she needs to show marked improvement without any concrete goals or direction other than “make the department like you.” Some of it might just be down to a bad culture fit, but it seems like a miscalculation to fire someone who’s otherwise producing great work (it’s honestly the best work I’ve seen from someone in her position in my 5 years with this company, but being outside her department, I’m clearly not where the issue lies). For what it’s worth, her manager seems to want to help her improve, but can’t seem to give her any specifics.

    1. Fuel Injector*

      I’m sorry to hear that. I agree that she is being set up for failure. If her manager isn’t able to look for common threads in the complaints, then they are not doing that part of their job very well.

  41. Mandy*

    I thought PIPs were okay until I was put on one because I requested a workplace accommodation for my newly diagnosed kidney failure that my boss found inconvenient.

    PIPs can be helpful when used well, but they can be easily abused at some workplaces.

  42. KeeWah*

    I put PIPs in the same category as performance appraisals, write-ups, reference checks, background checks, and probation periods. When utilized carefully and solely for their intended purpose, they can prove to be highly beneficial and valuable instruments.

    I’ve seen PIPs used well, I’ve seen them used badly. I’ve seen them not implemented when they really need to be, and I’ve seen them used illegitimately and people have lost jobs that they shouldn’t have lost because of it. I’ve seen some employers pay dearly for this in some way or another, but nowhere near as often as they should.

    But anything that can lead to someone losing their livelihood should not be treated flippantly, and employers need extremely strong safeguards in place to make sure that these processes are used carefully and solely for their intended purpose. Factors like bias, assumptions, projections, and subjectivity have no place. Hard, written evidence is key. It cannot be based on, or decided by, the opinion of one person.

  43. Siggie*

    As a manager, I subscribe to the idea that my employee’s successes are their own, but their failures are mine. If someone isn’t performing, the person most likely to be responsible for that is me. Before a PIP is even considered for someone, I’d recommend asking a neutral HR person to speak to them and ascertain what training, support, adjustments, and accommodations could be provided to help ensure their success.

    I think people’s opinions on PIPs often depend on if they, or someone close to them, has seen or experienced one, what the reasons behind it were, and in what way it was handled. While many managers and employers would never be cruel or imprudent enough to unreasonably invoke a PIP, I do think it’s misplaced to always assume that if someone has been put on a PIP, or lost a job from being on a PIP, then they must really deserve it.

    I dislike PIPs, and I have never had to use one in a decade as a manager. But I’ve personally experienced a PIP not being used appropriately, and it was a painful, scarring, embittering episode. I eventually got a decent settlement, but only to keep it out of court because the evidence in my favor was so damning. But while I say it taught me a lot about what not to do as a manager, it irreparably corroded my sense of trust and safety in the workplace.

  44. Stillwater*

    I was put on a PIP a few years ago at a startup where the manager was absent for 3 out of the 8 months I was there and the other project lead constantly said negative things about the project and the compounds we were working with. It gutted me, I was always a high achiever and consistently performed over expectations in my previous role — I didn’t even know what a PIP was! I was stunned and totally blindsided when it happened and lost all trust and safety in people I worked with, in addition to my job and livelihood. I still suffer from the trauma I dealt with and the horrible things I was told. I quit but the damage had been done.
    PIPs and how toxic managers use it cruelly on people who aren’t similar to them should be discussed in college/ uni. At the least, one will know what it is and perhaps how to deal with it.

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