update: my performance evaluation is based on activities outside of work

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was told their performance evaluation would be based on activities outside of work? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my letter, and thank you to everyone who commented! It’s been over a year since then, and I finally have a somewhat satisfying update.

As several comments pointed out, the goals that my supervisor assigned to me seemed strangely generic. I had thought about my actual career goals beforehand, but my supervisor had a list of examples from HR, and she said that we should stick to those. At least the examples I mentioned in my original letter were work-related, but my supervisor also suggested other activities to help me meet my quotas for relationship-building and community involvement, such as volunteering for a local church group (which seemed like a bizarre and inappropriate suggestion to me, but I digress). I got the impression that corporate just wanted to say that all employees volunteer in their communities because it was good PR, and my supervisor just wanted to check off boxes on a list to keep corporate happy.

When I tried to clarify whether or not these activities were paid, or how they should be recorded on my timesheet, I got very vague responses. She just kept repeating the phrase “on your own time” and emphasizing that these are supposed to be “volunteer” activities that didn’t need to be recorded on my timesheet at all. When I asked coworkers about it, they had mixed experiences and basically told me it was up to the supervisor’s discretion. When I tried to push back in my next review, my supervisor doubled down. All of the extracurriculars had been annoying but doable in my first review cycle, but in the next cycle, the list became a lot longer and was no longer doable for me, especially unpaid. Since she wasn’t receptive to hearing that, I essentially accepted that I would not get perfect score on my review and that I probably wasn’t a good fit for the company culture in the long term. (Special shoutout to the commenters who helped me make my peace with this!)

My supervisor was very hands-off and we didn’t work together directly, so she couldn’t really give me any meaningful feedback, and it made the review process feel very impersonal. She didn’t seem familiar with the core responsibilities that I was supposedly hired for (which made me worry that I had misunderstood my role), and she often forgot basic information about my background (which made it feel like I was being reviewed by a total stranger). For example, when I mentioned that I’d been working towards some certifications that I’d like to include as goals for my review, she responded, “Are you sure you’re ready for that? I don’t think you’re even eligible yet.” These certifications are common in our industry and anyone with a few years of experience would be eligible, so it seemed like she was under the impression that I was a recent college graduate (likely because I was hired around the same time as some recent graduates), even though I was hired with a mid-level title and salary. I clarified that yes, I was definitely eligible, and others had encouraged me to obtain these certifications since they would benefit both me and the company, but I understood that it was up to her whether or not to include these goals in my review. On paper, based on her ratings in my formal review, I would have seemed like the most mediocre employee in the world. Meanwhile, I was regularly getting high praise from the people who actually did work with me directly. Even my supervisor’s boss would occasionally call me out of the blue to say that everyone had been so impressed with the quality of my work, I was a valuable addition to the team, they couldn’t afford to lose me, etc. So I was getting mixed messages to say the least.

Eventually, due to some organizational reshuffling, I was assigned a new supervisor. I met with both supervisors to discuss the transition, and my old supervisor expressed concern that I hadn’t completed all of the goals for my review yet, e.g. I participated in the formal mentorship program with one mentor, but she wanted me to have multiple mentors through the formal program. My new supervisor agreed with me that I was getting the mentorship I needed in other ways and that adding more of these formal mentorship meetings to my schedule wasn’t the most productive use of my time. I asked yet again about which activities could be paid, and my old supervisor started giving me her typical vague response, but my new supervisor quickly jumped in to say that most of these activities were for the company’s benefit (especially things like attending networking events with clients) and I should absolutely be paid for that time. It took him less than 30 seconds to answer a question that my previous supervisor had been dodging for over a year.

Since then, I’ve been promoted twice. I still don’t expect to stay at this company forever, but I’m satisfied with where I’m at right now, and I consider that a happy ending.

Thanks again for your excellent advice! I continue to read your blog regularly, and I’m incredibly grateful to you and the commenters for sharing your workplace wisdom.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

    1. Lauren*

      It sounds like the original supervisor had no real power or training so created some with BS managing speak. What is sad is that OP is still turned off by the whole company because of that manager even with things turned around.

      1. Letter Writer*

        LW here! I wouldn’t say that I’m turned off by the whole company necessarily, just that I wouldn’t want to stay here forever. The organizational reshuffling revealed other issues as well, and also simply from being at this company for a couple years by now, I’ve become more familiar with the way they operate, and I just don’t see myself fitting into the company structure and/or culture in the long term. I’ve been interested in a career pivot for a while now, and I’ve been exploring those options when thinking about my future in the next 5 or 10 years, but it’s nothing personal! I certainly don’t have any intention to leave immediately, and I’m happy with my current situation.

  1. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Wow. Reading that made me briefly wonder if they work for the same company.

    I think your former supervisor needs to have a performance review.

    1. Nea*

      Yes, if my grandboss was praising my work and my immediate boss wanted me to spend 100% of my personal time on her checklist, I’d be asking for a meeting with grandboss ASAP.

    2. Anon4This*

      The former supervisor needs remediation training on FLSA, too, before they buy the organization a labor law violation. The message my entire management team receives from HR is that, if they are not clear if a specific task outside the office is paid or not, they should ask because the OT was guaranteed to be cheaper than a complaint, investigation, and fine.

  2. Beth*

    SO glad to see such a happy outcome!

    Almost fifteen years after leaving my old company, I am STILL pissed off at them for including personal private activities in our annual goals to qualify for what passed for our bonus. And requiring the activities to be changed every year. And requiring metrics. And quibbling over the metrics. And using the whole thing as an excuse to dock our already pathetic “bonus” amounts.

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here! This sounds so familiar… I’m sorry you had a similar experience (but it’s also validating). When talking to coworkers about this, it definitely seemed like some of them had it even worse than me (especially coworkers from marginalized backgrounds… it seemed like they were certainly pressured to be extra “visible” for the company’s benefit on a “volunteer” basis). I feel lucky to finally have a supervisor who gets it!

    2. Just me*

      My husband’s new boss has a requirement of at least 40 hours of volunteering in a year in the community in order to be eligible for his bonus. That is after he doubled his workload. Half the time I’m expected to show up to these events on weekends or nights.

  3. Kyle S.*

    Wow, your old supervisor sounds like someone who was promoted into management but clearly has no idea what management actually involves. I wonder if their previous role required adhering strictly to protocols handed down from above.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Manager is a live action phone screen.
      Press 1 for your goals
      Your first goal is mentoring.
      “Am I to mentor someone or be a mentor?”
      Your first goal is mentoring. Press 2 for your second goal.
      Your second goal is certifications. Would you like to take certifications?
      1/yes 2/no
      You do not qualify.,.

      1. Jaydee*

        “For goals, press one…”
        “Speak to a person”
        “…for performance metrics press two…”
        “Speak to a person!”
        “…to repeat these options, press three”
        “Speak. To. A. Person.”
        “Transferring you to the appropriate department. Goodbye.”
        “Wait…didn’t you mean ‘please hold’?”

  4. 2023 is Ending Soon*

    Alison : I just read the post where you talk about the behind the scenes details. Interesting read but I would like to suggest – please update the cat bios! I know you have new feline supervisors, I think they deserve equal representation.

  5. Generic Name*

    This is a great update! Until I left my last job, I never appreciated how having a boss who (for whatever reason) isn’t really supportive of you can make a huge difference. My performance reviews at my last job were also uniformly mediocre, even though during that time I was asked to give talks at conferences and was on panels of statewide experts to inform some new legislation AND I had also helped develop a corporate program for the company from scratch. I eventually left for a job that was created for me for a substantial raise. My old company made no effort to keep me (even though they said they thought I’d stay there forever), yet they posted two full time and one part time job to replace my responsibilities. None of which have been filled 6 months later. My point of all this is that it’s awesome your new boss seems to see you and your work accurately, but don’t hesitate to look for a new job if you are not getting merit raises in addition to better reviews.

  6. I Am On Email*

    That sounds like a really frustrating year but I’m really impressed with you OP, well done on those promotions!

  7. Daniel*

    This sounds like a great update–I’m happy for you, OP.

    Also…multiple mentors?? What were you supposed to do if you got conflicting advice?

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Supervisor clearly did not understand the role of a mentor. She seemed weirdly focused on extras instead of acual work.

      1. MassMatt*

        Yes, especially considering she seemed to have no idea what the LW actually did.

        It’s remarkable to me how common it is that “goals” used for evaluation actually have little or nothing to do with the actual work someone does, or what will actually most benefit the employer–making sales, writing code, seeing patients, or whatever.

        I mean, attending networking events is fine, but unless the job is about networking for recruitment or maybe marketing (which it sounds as though it very much isn’t) this is all side work at best. And yes, if it’s for the company, it should be paid.

        1. Zelda*

          I suspect it was t least partly *because* she had no idea what the LW actually did– she wasn’t knowledgeable enough in the technical aspects to be able to tell whether LW was performing well or not, so insisted on basing the evaluation on things she was able to judge.

          Bloody infuriating. I can’t help wondering what might’ve happened if LW had gone over the supervisor’s head earlier, to HR or to the supervisor’s boss. So glad a competent supervisor is finally giving LW due recognition!

        1. Texan In Exile*

          “I need you to get The Ring by the end of the year. Wait. No. The windmill. No. No. No! WAIT! THE HOLY GRAIL.”

          “If you do not meet this objective, you will not be promoted and you won’t even get a COL raise.”

          1. Texan In Exile*

            “Yeahhhhh – I’m seeing you loosened that sword but you did not remove it from the stone. I’m afraid I will need to put you on a PIP.”

    2. Collect 'em all*

      Multiple mentors bring different perspectives to the table. Each mentor is likely to have a different approach, but there’s often not a one-size fits all solution to achieve a goal or follow a career path. Multiple mentors can help you find the approach that works for you. In the case of conflicting advice, find which solution works for you. It might involve some trial and error, but if you just had the one mentor, you wouldn’t even know that there was another possible solution that might work better for you. Research shows that lawyers with multiple mentors are more likely to make partner (Kay, Fiona M., and Jean E. Wallace. “Is more truly merrier?: Mentoring and the practice of law.”).

      1. Amy*

        Yeah, one of my mentees sheepishly told me recently that she has another mentor at our company which technically is against the rules but honestly seemed pretty smart. I know the other woman and we compliment each other. There’s no reason this can’t be officially allowed. Neither one of us is going to turn another mentee down because we’re too busy. There’s not that much demand. I told her to enjoy her dual mentorship and tell my colleague hi for me :-).

      2. MassMatt*

        This may be a standard practice in law, but I am wondering how much time is expected to be spent in meetings with all these mentors, preparing for them, etc, and whether this is in place of or in addition to actually practicing law–meeting with clients, doing legal research, writing briefs, etc, and whether it’s time during the day is devoted to this or whether the mentees are expected to do it on their own time.

        I went through an official mentorship program, time for the meetings (1 hr/week) was given during work hours but any additional research or reading was assigned was on my own time. It was an OK experience for me, it is really hit or miss depending on who the mentor is and whether or not you “connect”.
        I can’t imagine the company would double or triple the time out of production work in order for mentees to get multiple perspectives to pick and choose among.

        1. boof*

          While multiple mentors can be useful for having different perspectives or different areas of strength/mentorship (and I think that’s all that Collect ’em all is getting at – the general idea) – I totally agree in this particular case it was wild to focus on mentorship when the supervisor didn’t seem to have any idea what might actually be useful to the LW. That’s like saying “collect some data!” when you won’t actually say what question you’re trying to answer with the data. Like, collecting data is necessary and good to answer a question, but you have to have a question that you then collect data to answer, not just run around collecting a nebulous concept!

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            That’s like saying “collect some data!” when you won’t actually say what question you’re trying to answer with the data.

            Oh goodness, the flashbacks…

            But, seriously, this is an excellent parallel.

            1. boof*

              My personal pet peve in academic medicine
              “let’s build a database!”
              Me: ok, what are we trying to answer?
              Them: it’ll be a good resource for a lot of things!
              Nope, i can speak from experience it will be a lot of work that will only have to be redone once you come up with a question, and there are already resources to answer generic questions like “how many patients with ____ do we see”.
              But I digress – back to attempted relevance to the OP – sounds like your spider sense was accurate and your old boss was giving you a lot of bad advice / advice that wasn’t particularly relevant to your job

        2. Jaydee*

          An hour a week plus additional research and reading outside of work sounds pretty intense!

          I think it’s less about having multiple mentors through a formal mentoring program and more about having multiple people from whom you can learn different things about the law and practicing. Could be partners or senior associates in your practice area, a professor you keep in touch with or a judge you clerked for, someone you meet through the local bar association. These aren’t people you’re having regularly scheduled meetings with necessarily. But you might have someone you could call if you have questions about a particular type of case and someone you could reach out to for advice when you’re considering a job change.

    3. Letter Writer*

      LW here! Thank you :) There are several great comments under this one, but I figured it was simplest to just respond here. For what it’s worth, I do have multiple people I consider mentors and I value them greatly. It’s often very helpful to get different perspectives on a topic (even if that sometimes means conflicting advice). But those relationships developed naturally, and personally, I’ve always preferred that style of mentorship over the formal programs. You need rapport and trust for mentorship to mean anything. I’ve participated in plenty of formal mentorship programs over the years (both as a mentor and a mentee), and for the most part, the experience feels forced and awkward on both sides. I feel like mentorship happens naturally when you cultivate the right environment / workplace culture for it. And there are definitely concrete ways to do that without pairing up random strangers through a formal program.

      But for the record, I think if all of your mentorships truly are genuine relationships, then it’s great to have multiple mentors!

  8. L. Ron's Cupboard*

    I could feel my blood pressure rising just reading about your former supervisor’s dodging and weaving. So nice to hear there was a resolution in your favor – and that you’re in a much better position now!

  9. Alan*

    Re unpaid labor, I just got an ad today from a company bragging about how it gives back to the community, with a picture of apparent employees shoveling dirt. And my immediate thought was “Are these people being paid? Or are you just leveraging unpaid employee labor to market your company?” It really left a bad taste in my mouth.

  10. Perilous*

    My company by default pays for 5 hours of volunteer work per month (if you want to volunteer, no pressure if you don’t, you just work your regular job the whole month). Sometimes someone will organize a group volunteer project, but mostly it seems to be that people just pick a cause they believe in and volunteer on their own.

    I understand your valid concerns, but you should research to see where the truth lies.

    1. StarTrek Nutcase*

      Sure, but I think the employers using unpaid employee volunteer time as a marketing tool is much more likely – but I’m cynical. Just like all the companies who solicit donations from customers and employees, and then publicly report the company’s donations (without noting actual amount donated from corporate profits vs solicitation). My sole-source municipal utility provider does use profits BUT I’d prefer lower rates & ability to donate as “I” choose not the municipality.

      1. boof*

        Yes I think corporate “charity” is a bit weird to me unless it’s something directly within their wheelhouse that they have an advantage on – like a product or service they normally provide, donated instead at cost or free. I guess charity is nice but seems it’s better the purview of individuals not orgs, which should probably focus their resources on their products and employees; maybe stakeholders too I guess (another odd-to-me and potentially counterproductive concept!)

        1. MassMatt*

          Why is “charity” in quotes and suspect if it comes from a corporation? Food for the hungry and shelter for battered women are good regardless of the identity or tax structure of the donor.

          You seem to be taking a typical talking point about how charity should not come from government and extending it to corporations. Why are you trying to narrow the worthiness of charity?

          1. allathian*

            I hate it when companies are demanding charity donations from their employees and take the kudos from that in their marketing.

            I have no issues with companies donating to charity out of their own profits. At least as long as the donations match my values… If they don’t, I can usually take my business elsewhere.

    2. Jay (no, the other one)*

      The job I retired from had two paid volunteer days each year. The first year I was there the whole office spent a day packing backpacks for kids in shelters. It was too far for me to go (I mostly worked remotely) and nobody was upset that I didn’t participate. The next year I was talking to my boss about getting time off for the High Holidays and I mentioned that I’m the volunteer hazzan (cantor) for my synagogue. He told me to use my volunteer days – turned out it didn’t need to be for a group thing that the company organized. Anything we did for a registered non-profit counted. I really appreciated that.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I think an afternoon off to sort cans at the local food pantry or dig some dirt in a community garden is a way more meaningful “team builder” than any laser tag event. The company can put you in logo t-shirts and take a pic for the social media at a group event, but their real benefit would be that they have employees who feel like their company values them and their contributions to the community.

  11. boof*

    Wow LW, sounds like your prior manager should… not be managing? Or get some serious remedial training – glad you have a much better manager now! And I agree orgs shouldn’t be demanding a bunch of unpaid “volunteer” time of their employees. Sometimes a bit of networking is nice if the company is at least, say, providing a fancy part/food/venue but even that should be really optional almost always

  12. M*

    OP, I want to say how relieved I was when you wrote about getting a new supervisor. The parts about having vague, weird additional ‘requirements’ that you volunteer, etc. seemed really familiar to me. Eventually, I realized that my supervisor frankly wanted me out, despite my excellent work. I’m now wise enough to spot that kind of supervising behavior as toxic and it’s crucial to get another view on it ASAP especially for the purposes of performance documentation.

    So good for you AND if you ever end up mentoring someone yourself, give them some insight into this particular pattern for the sake of their future as well! I really wish someone could have named it for me early in my career. It takes advantage of imposter syndrome in a really cruel way.

  13. Certaintroublemaker*

    I LOVE that New Supervisor was in the same meeting as Old Supervisor. It made it so apparent to LW and to OS just how incompetent OS was. “It took him less than 30 seconds to answer a question that my previous supervisor had been dodging for over a year.”
    It’s also very clear NS figured out exactly who he was getting with LW, rather than confusing them with other hires, since LW has been promoted twice, since. Good management for the win!

  14. Bookworm*

    I am so happy to read this satisfying update! As someone who has been penalized for not engaging in things like the holiday party (no, it was not paid), this was very nice to read. I’m sorry you had to go through all of that, though.

  15. INTPLibrarian*

    I only read the original post because of this update and I can infer that this’nt the case here, but this is totally normal in higher ed. I’m only adding this for information’s sake. I’d be worried about any faculty who DIDN’T participate in off hours professional activities.

    1. Ask me*

      Respectfully, this sounds like a really different situation than higher ed. Higher Ed does have off hours things, like participating in recruiting events for prospective students and parents, or going to conferences and presenting, etc. Further, most faculty would tell you that there’s not really a concept of 9-5 What the OP has described sounds super different – with the vague volunteering in the community, etc.

  16. DivergentStitches*

    I feel like, when the supervisor’s boss called OP to tell her how well she was doing, if it were me, I would have taken the opportunity to act confused and be all like “OH! I’m so relieved, Supervisor had told me X and Y and I was worried I was headed for a PIP.” Try to get the Boss involved in the Supervisor’s crappy management.

  17. lilsheba*

    Wow, volunteer for a local church?? really?? Yeah that would never fly with me. At my old job we DID get a set of volunteer hours that were paid, and they did kind of force us to participate in group volunteer activities but that was the ONLY volunteering I did in regards to work. There is no way I would have let my personal time be evaluated for my performance review!!! That is insane! My job now doesn’t push volunteering at all for which I am extremely grateful.

  18. OMG, Bees!*

    “It took him less than 30 seconds to answer a question that my previous supervisor had been dodging for over a year.”

    Love that line, hopefully new supervisor makes things easier (and maybe old supervisor needs some training). Sounds like a good 2024!

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