Weekly Wrap: The Dirty Little Secret of Performance Improvement Plans

There are three words that no employee (and most managers) ever want to hear, words that will frighten the bejesus out of anyone who encounters them.

Performance improvement plan, or PIP for short.

If you work in talent management or HR, you surely have had to deal with them on a few occasions — maybe more than you care to admit — but I’ll bet that you always tried avoid them whenever possible, sort of in the same way you would try to avoid a root canal.

Yes, performance improvement plans have that impact on people.

PIPs aren’t about improving performance

For the uninitiated, performance improvement plans are a program that you put an employee on so you can closely monitor their work because, well, somebody, somewhere has determined that they aren’t cutting it and need remedial help.

But in my experience, 99 percent of the time a performance improvement plan isn’t about helping a worker improve — it’s about gathering additional evidence and setting up the framework to boot them out the door.

Here’s the dirty little secret about PIPs: not only do they not work, but they are rarely about improving anyone’s performance.

Here’s what performance improvement plans are really about: providing cover and documentation (if needed) to help get rid of an employee that someone in the management chain of command wants to move out. They’re a CYA exercise, a way for management to claim they did all they could to help the employee in question, while at the same time sending a message to the person that their next step is probably out the door

I’ve rarely seen an employee come back and be successful after being put on a performance improvement plan, although the one time I saw it happen, it was an unexpected and rewarding event that I still consider one of my greatest managerial accomplishments, ever.

The PIP onslaught at Reuters

Yes, PIPs are bad news, and every manager and employee knows it. That’s why this little exercise going on over at the financial news service Reuters is so instructive.

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A Reuters journalist, “who asks not to be named,” wrote to Jim Romensesko’s popular media website this week and said:

Reuters management has launched a push to supposedly help selected reporters improve their job performance through a legalistic process known as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Reporters who are deemed to be laggards are handed a document that warns they could face termination if they don’t up their game, and given 30 days to turn things around.

So far, the process has forced out two respected journalists, and we fear more are on their way out the door. 29 reporters (out of a U.S. Guild-represented pool of 460) in all have been targeted.”

Sounds like a classic PIP to me. There are some other fairly major issues with this one at Reuters that are detailed in the post over at Romenesko.com, but the bottom line is the same: it’s a program designed to get rid of people cloaked in the mantle of helping employees “improve.”

They’re really “close to evil”

Think I’m in the minority here with my jaded and cynical view? Well, get a load of what employment attorney Alan Sklover said about performance improvement plans in this blog post:

Whenever a client or blog reader tells me he or she has been placed on a so-called “Performance Improvement Plan,” or “PIP,” I worry for them. In over 25 years of counseling and representing employees, I can count on one hand the number who have remained employed at the conclusion of a “PIP” . . . unless they’ve stood up for themselves by challenging the PIP.

The concept of helping someone put together a plan to improve their workplace performance is wonderful. However, in 95% of the times I’ve seen PIP’s used, what’s really going on is close to evil: it is nothing but a “paper trail” that looks objective in order to justify firing an employee who everyone knows is a good employee.

Almost always PIP’s involve giving employees objectives that are so vague and subjective no one can really tell if the objectives have been met. (“Poor communication” sounds like one of those.) Often PIP’s involve requiring the employee to accomplish something they have no control over, or don’t have the resources to accomplish. Frequently deadlines are set that are 200% unrealistic.”

You know the PIP is a badly flawed process when an employment attorney calls them “evil.” Is that what is going on with the PIPs over at Reuters? Well, it doesn’t seem like a process designed to get the best out of people, and that in itself should give you a clue to what’s going on.

I’ll die happy if I never have to deal with a performance improvement plan again. They’re bad news all around, and I’d love to hear if you have any experience with them that support my experience, or, show me that I’m all wet.

Health care costs to jump 7.5% in 2013

Of course, there’s a lot more going on this week than the PIP debate. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Who has it worse on the job front? Who has the bigger struggle to find and keep work — young, green Millennials, or aging, veteran Boomers? Bloomberg Businessweek recently wrote that, “Generations are fighting each other from within for work. A 24-year-old is more likely to compete with a peer for a job than with a 60-year-old. But in terms of who has it worse, old or young workers, it’s worth measuring the differences between the two age groups to see which is more in need of help.”
  • Beginning of the end for generous public worker pensions? There is a fight going on over public worker pensions in San Jose, California, and voters are going to get to decide which way they should go. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Should San Jose’s Measure B pass, as Mayor Chuck Reed and the business and taxpayer groups behind it expect, it would be a key test of a city’s authority to reduce future pension costs that exceed expectations and revenues, despite earlier promises to employees. Government employee unions maintain that the measure is illegal, unfair and unnecessary. “It will have nationwide implications on pension obligations and what we can and can’t do when we get underwater,” said Marcia Fritz, a Sacramento-area accountant and president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.”
  • Health care costs may jump 7.5% in 2013. This story from Kaiser Health News probably tells you what you have already suspected: health care costs are going to take another good jump next year — 7.5 percent. And, the “projection is more than three times that of the expected rates for inflation and economic growth, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Still, it’s the fourth year in which the cost increase is less than 8 percent.”
  • Cursing as a workforce management strategy. Is it cool — or appropriate — to swear on the job? According to The Wall Street Journal, “Generally, cursing at work can damn your career. Managers who cuss appear unprofessional and out of control, executive coaches and recruiters say. But that’s not always the case. Deployed at the right moment and in the right setting, a well-chosen curse word can motivate a team, dissolve tension or win over an audience.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


66 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: The Dirty Little Secret of Performance Improvement Plans

  1. Wow, John, this article is spot-on. I’m not an employer; I was on the receiving end of the PIP. And yes, I may be a bit biased since I was the employee here, but I felt like the PIP was basically designed to boot me out as quickly as possible. I do admit my quality of work had been slipping, but the PIP is not really designed to help you ‘improve.’ I’ll never forget one of the mandates of the PIP was: “You can’t make ANY mistakes.” No kidding. Even something small that could be easily corrected would be held against me. Suffice it to say, I resigned and found a much better position 3 months later elsewhere. Honestly, I was unhappy and unfulfilled where I was and the PIP just forced me out of a bad situation into something wonderful and fulfilling now. That’s the only good part I can say about it. Great article!

    1. I am glad to see someone of the receiving end of a PIP respond. I just got put on one, had no idea it was coming. I have only been with the company for 5 months. Have had several conversations with my boss to which were complimentary of how things have changed for the better since I got on board. My boss went on maternity leave 3 weeks ago and voila…I am now on a PIP. The reasons were due to zero training on part of my job that is suppose to be happening, of course there was not a timeline for that, I was suppose to be a mind reader I guess. I am now job hunting while I am on a PIP and hopefully I will be able to find a great employer once again!

      1. I work for a despicable boss who gave me a totally unwarranted negative performance evaluation (my first one with this company), to which I have to respond by writing my goals for the upcoming year. Well one of my (unwritten) goals is to get them to let me go so I can get unemployment benefits and move to another state and pursue work there (oh and to get the heck out of that awful industry which shall remain nameless!).

        1. Well, glad you enlightened all of us about your “unwritten” goal of getting unemployment. That is a typical tactic of lazy employees that won’t quit. Hopefully the employer will have enough evidence to fire you “for cause” and you’ll never get a dime of unemployment. How about trying to do a good job instead of setting up your employer?

          1. Tcolson82 did NOT say he’s trying not to do a good job! I’m a very very hard worker who has adversarial and difficult bosses–they’re attorneys (not a shocker). The pressure is on to curtain OT, to get to a larger quota of attorneys to secretary, and this is, I believe, the real reason for the PIP. It’s patently unfair to the employee to make them feel horrible, that they’re doing a horrible job, when they’re doing a good, and even better than other secretaries NOT on a PIP. But that’s corporate America, right? Tcolson82–stop blaming the employee. What ELSE does the employee do but continue working hard and ALSO look for a job as quickly as possible??

          2. I got a PIP, and I deeply suspected my team lead felt threatened by my talent, but unsure since it was a concerted act with my managers and the HR manager, skills and experience. Using their authority I was silenced and told they didn’t want me to defend myself when HR showed up, it was very difficult to find a person at all to help…I didn’t. I even wrote to the CEO who ignored it. It’s like as if it’s acceptable practice but they really treated me WRONG. I did all I could to win my team lead, and it ended ridiculous and nuts. First of all, they used it to improve my Asperger’s Syndrome, which is discrimination at it’s finest. A huge nightmare and because of my Asperger’s, I was confused, and so I held out to the end because when I asked for accommodation, they gave me PIP. It felt unbelievably evil, and I think if I got this in the media, perhaps people would consider banning it. It can truly be abused!! I felt mainly like they stereotyped my Asperger’s to the male version, when I’m a female, so that everything said about me was stereotypically Aspergers, but a lie about me, and it was like they were “telling” me who I was, as if I am not self aware. I have been praised considerably in industry, so when they started picking, not at my main skills but on parts of my job which were not a main function, on a peripheral, and kept telling me I was not meeting expectations, I challenged it by stating, well first off, you are telling me to be myself since you want me to become who I already am. Secondly, I have been praised considerably, and I know you asked me, since I had Asperger’s saying “can you work?” but I need to ask you if “Can you manage?” because no one has ever had THIS much trouble getting what they need out of me! Anyway, they then started putting in lies, half truths my words out of context, anything that was incorrect, and this was really hurting my feelings to be reprimanded and outright lied to. they gave me a strong hint to leave, but at this point I figured why should I? I like my job, even though they cut out some parts. I don’t have to be bullied! Anyway…I didn’t sign it in the end…my supervisor then send a trick email to make it digitally signed. but I still don’t acknowledge it. I went on leave, and tried hard to get a higher up person in disability to get my accommodation, a different reporting structure possibly, and I (and my doctor) both said I can work, but I am undergoing work induced stress that is amplified by my Aspergers. I said if you accommodate me, I definitely can come in! My doctor sent 2 letters, and got mad at them the second time around knowing full well that they can’t reject it. They said nothing for a whole week and then sent a registered letter of termination, with more lies stating I breached a confidentiality, but not specifically what, and then stating that I said “I can’t work” which is a LIE!!!! I never said that once. Not once, and I recorded my phone conversations and I have email proof. Right now, I’ve filed a complaint to human rights. meanwhile, can I FIND work? I have only one reference which is a peer reference, and he said he’s using his personal phone for it so he can scoot outside the office. Nice guy! See…EVERYONE KNEW I was good at my job. EVERYONE!!!!

  2.      I’ve been in HR management for nearly 20 years at three different large organizations.  We’ve had to use PIP’s on the rare occasion at all three firms.  You can’t make the blanket statement that all companies that use PIP’s are evil, just building documentation to get someone out the door.  All the organizations I’ve worked in HR for that have used PIP’s have done so to clearly get the employee’s attention that their performance has put them on thin ice, and to identify specific things that must be improved.  The PIP’s I’ve helped to write are never vague, and clearly spell out exactly what needs to be improved (with specific examples) and when.  There are also follow up meetings scheduled each one to two weeks to aid in the improvement process.  The meetings with the employee are always done as a method to do some intense coaching to help them get back on track. 
         There are two kinds of employees that may go through this process.  One kind quit working for the company a long time ago, but continues to show up for the paycheck.  Usually this employee does not care about their performance, and are looking for a way out without actually resigning.  The PIP won’t work with them because they don’t want to work there anymore anyway, or think their performance is fine and just won’t admit it really isn’t.  These usually end up in termination.   I find this is most typical when a PIP is used.  (Not the big bad company evily pushing great employees out the door, but helping poor performers make the decision to leave since they can’t/won’t.) The other kind of employee doesn’t realize that their performance has been declining, maybe it has happened slowly.  Or, they are in the wrong position and just can’t perform the responsibilities well.  The PIP will give them the needed wake-up call to get back on track, or they will realize they are in over their head and step down.
         Organizations must have a good way to help employees perform, and a PIP, although usually a last resort, is an excellent way.  You’re right, it does help build the necessary documentation that the organization has tried everything to help the employee succeed, and if the employee doesn’t succeed, is the documentation outlining the problems and issues the employee was having.  Organizations in today’s world can’t afford to keep dead weight, or worse, someone who is making mistakes that cost the organization too much.  If someone isn’t cutting it, and won’t make the decision themselves to go, a PIP is a good tool to use.
         In most cases, those former employees who had a PIP and were terminated as a result, and are whining about it are those that should have already resigned on their own.  Rarely will a company want to terminate a good employee as it’s too expensive all the way around – both legally if there is not a good reason to terminate, and in hiring and training a replacement.  Again, usually if the employee has a PIP, they are an under, or poor performer.

    1. Kris, I have been working with a company for more than 8 years. And had consistent positive performances and ratings. However within the last six months I have joined this new role and my new team leader of 2 months placed me on a PIP due to recent 4 complaints directly or indirectly related to me. I did not have any complaints instead a lot of compliments way outweighing the complaints in the last six months. I don’t believe this is a fair practice at all especially she has had not arranged any official call coach and feedback prior to the session in which she is giving me a PIP. What’s your opinion?

  3. Good article John.  This is how I’ve often seen PIPs used, although not always.  Like most things related to performance management or management in general, it is important not to generalize bad practices used by some companies to similar processes that may be used much more effectively in other organizations.  That said, I think one of the problems with PIPs is not what they are used for, but how they are presented.  Specifically, they should probablly not be called Performance Improvement Plans, but something like “Performance Notices”. 

    From a fairness perspective (and probably a legal perspective in most states), I believe companies should give employees formal notice in advance of letting them go for poor performance.  This seems better than just meeting the employee at the start of the day with “Good morning, your fired now get your stuff and leave.”   This notice should ideally be far enough in advance so the person could potentially turn their performance around if they are able and willing.  A month seems like the minimum time for this in most jobs, but even a month is better than nothing.  Although in most cases by the time you get to the PIP state the plane is usually spiralling out of control toward an inevitable crash.

    The way PIP forms are used in many companies does provide this “advanced warning/last notice to save your job” kind of function.  But if we were candid about how these are used, they wouldn’t be called “Performance Improvement Plans”.   They’d be called “Thngs you must change about your behavior and results in the next 30 days or you will be fired” plans.   But TYCAYBARITN3DOYWBF is a lot harder to write and remember than PIP,


    1. HI I need some Help with this situation. I was put on a PIP today. I normally perform all the launching of the Audio Visual calls. My manager prior to the meeting he himself received bad information from the client at client setup he did not disclose the information or did not collect it efficiently enough. I asked him several times for the correct information and he kept responding to collect it during setup. I collected it and the customer then provided a third number, which I had to connect. He took me aside today and advised that he was going to put me on a PIP due to this situation. I responded with explanation and he informed me that there will be no discussion in this conversation and I had no right to explain anything and he makes the rules is why he is the manager. I believe they are using the PIP as a stepping stone to fire me from the job, Please Help?

  4. I, too, have been in HR for management for many years (25+) and fully agree with Kris’ comments. I work for a large manufacturing company and we’ve used PIPs to exit people from the organization who have already checked out but won’t leave on their own. We’ve also used the PIP process to help employees improve and get back up-to-speed when their performance was lacking. The process is only as good as the people that implement it….if they have bad  intentions and they want to use the process for the wrong reasons, it’s up to HR to assist them in finding another tool that’s more appropriate (e.g., a separation package).

  5. I have to
    say that I am disappointed in the one sided point of view in this article.
    There is no doubt that PIPs are often a ticket out the door as you stated.
    However, I cannot count the number of articles posted about people who are
    “shocked” about being terminated and received no official prior
    warning. Yes, PIPs are usually the last straw before the camel’s back is
    broken. Legally, however, Covering Your A** is necessary. A PIP allows an
    employer to do that. I agree that they can often be written with unclear and
    unachievable goals that are not easily measured; but this is the fault of the
    person writing it, not the program itself. Of course there are people who use
    the PIP to toss out people they don’t like or with whom they don’t work well
    and that is unprofessional no matter what bureaucratic process is employed, but
    negating the relevance of a legally necessary process is not the way to go
    either. Having a lawyer close by has taught me that jumping the conclusion that
    all things “legal” are “evil” is inaccurate and unfairly
    stereotyping. In my experience, the number of people who claim to have been
    unaware of poor performance or not meeting expectations when, in fact, they are
    clearly aware after countless warnings and other HR measures far outweighs the
    number of people who use this “evil” plan to toss out undesirables.
    Employers must also be protected for the litigious world we live in.

    Both sides
    need to be held responsible in the cases of performance review and
    expectations. Employers MUST be clear about the expectations they have of their
    employees. If there are problems along the way there must be a system in place
    to address and rectify them. On the employee side, if you are unsure of what
    you are expected to accomplish, how it is measured or where you are falling
    short of expectation it is imperative that further discussion begin. And if you
    are unable to meet the expectations or you feel they are not “what you
    signed on for” or are unreasonable, it is within your right and obligation
    to seek employment elsewhere.

    Both sides
    need to be professional and responsible. I’m sure many will scoff at that
    sentiment and state example after example of employers who exploit employees
    and simply implement COYA policies; but just because personal responsibility
    isn’t always the norm doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be the goal for which we

    Ken C.


  6. As a manager I’ve used the PIP four times – to improve punctuality, leadership, thoroughness and accuracy – all had specific targets. Three employees made it through the PIP after reaching their targets, one employee went on long term sick then quit before the PIP could start. I do use the tool to give people a shove – but not towards the door, but towards improving themselves to do the job they are paid to do properly.  It is too general to say they are evil and are used just to get rid of people. In my experience that is not the case.

    1. No it’s evil, its a written documented plan which involves HR. A better and more effective plan is just causally giving a list to an employee to improve their performance. Think TWICE before giving another human being an evil plan.

    2. If you were an effective Manager you would not need to use a PIP, no go back to your hole and think about that you Moron

  7. My night job has a problem I’m told with 2 employees one a manager and the other a team lead, the manager told me to rectify that they are going to put the whole department on PIP. She said they don’t feel they can do anything else.. NOTE, I’m not in management at this job so # 1 she should not be talking to me about this anyway… But can they really do that?

  8. I am 53 years old, took a position with a new company about 4 1/2 months ago. They sought me out and made me an excellent offer. One major thing I always ask on an interview is “Do you have a training plan for me”. The woman I work for is 31 years old and has never had any Management training. I was given the answer “yes, we plan to have you mentor with your co-worker for 6 months or so”. My co-worker spent maybe a week and half with me. Then I was on my own. I made a complaint to the General manager, as one day one of the managers got hostile with me and told me I should know all this stuff. I responded with “if I had some proper training I might know it”.. He responded with, “this is an ON THE JOB TRAINING PLACE and perhaps this is not the right place for you. Being in tears, went to the General Manager, he was very appreciative of me telling him what was going on and said, he would handle it. He said I am behind you 100%. Since the day I made the complaint, the training issue got worse, they have overloaded me, was told not to make any plans after work because if they need me to stay I need to stay as late as I need to. Have been forced to cancel doctor appts, etc. I have never been told or been given in writing anything negative about my work. Matter of fact, I have email trails telling me what good job I’m doing. I have spoken to HR about the training issue and was told I am just going to have to muddle through it on my own as no one as time to train me and quit complaining about not getting training. Being I have been in Management position in my career life, HR told me that I should be helping my boss become a better manager….”HELLO”??????

    So, I could go on and on…..BUT here’s the JOLT……Friday before thanksgiving, and

    taking vacation the next week. My boss calls me in her office and gives me a PIP!!!

    I was so offended and taken back, because it came from nowhere. It had expectations on it that would make it impossible for me to accomplish being, I’m still learning. One was, I am to compile a training manual for our department (ya, me the new person put a training manual together, the one who has gotten no training). Also, to clean up their network drive which is HUGE. All this in 30 days. I was in tears and told her I knew what she was doing was setting me up. I went to my therapist on Monday in a total mental breakdown mode. She said I do not want you going back their right now, this is totally unfair, so she filed for STD. which I’m in the process of right now. I also, got some advice from an atty to respond to the PIP in writing, that I disagreed with it and its entirety. At the same time notified them that my doctor has ordered me not to return to work, due to my underlying disability, namely depression. I also, let them know that the harassment hostile work environment and discrimination has exacerbated my condition. I have not heard anything from the company so far. My STD was approved for a short time until we can compile all paperwork from my doctor. ANY SUGGESTIONS ON THIS ISSUE, WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP????? HELP!!!!

  9. I was put on a PIP once…about 2 hours after I (stupidly) went to HR to discuss my manager harassing me. I guess in some cases it is used for a good reason, but it certainly seems to fit a company’s legal reasons quite well also.

  10. For all of you HR folks out there, if you want to leave a paper trail, send an email, schedule a one on one. I’m all for covering your tracks, but the problem with most PIPs is that the majority of individuals are ambushed into these threatening contracts without clearly obtainable objectives, probably after receiving praise for doing such a good job just a week before.

    I received mine last week on the same day another team member was fired and even though it doesn’t matter, my speculation is that my manager received some news from the higher ups that requires some departmental changes that are out of my control (outsourcing certain job functions, budget constraints, etc.). I’m not upset about the fact that I have to leave, what I’m upset about (and mangers please pay attention on how not to handle a PIP) is how my boss handled it. If he would be honest with me, I would consider modifying my schedule, taking on extra responsibilities, taking a paycut even. But instead, he’s trying to make my life as difficult as possible. He gave me three task in the PIP, previously what we were discussing as a year long goal to a promotion, has now become a new 30 day standard to save my job. No one else in the department has, does or will ever be expected to meet the same job functions I’ve been placed on and I’ve been required to take over some of their responsibilities. The funny thing is it is actually attainable for me. I’m fine with looking for a new job, but poor management needs pushback on these issues. If you don’t want work for them, trust me I understand. But until you find a job, make them be specific (even if you already signed the PIP) and save every email (forward it to your personal email if possible). Back management in a corner to answer your PIP questions, and CC the human resources on it. If someone says something like “poor communication” send an email like “in on order to comply with your request, please let me know specifically what would successfully meet the criteria of the PIP.”

    Don’t feel threatened when these come, these are just indications of small inconveniences until you move on to bigger and better things. Sometimes, like in my case, what was meant to protect them may be opening themselves to legal ramifications. I’m currently investigating that now. I don’t want to, I just want to know I have a steady paycheck coming in to provide for my family and my manager just wants to force me out ASAP. If I find a job or they offer me a few months severance while I look, I’ll probably just leave quietly. In the meantime, I’m covering all of my tracks. Lawyer, completing the PIP, paper trail, job search. My family depends on me.

    When I find a new job, I’m going to walk in at the beginning of my workweek, hand in my letter of resignation, and walk out at the beginning of my shift. Any management or HR that considers PIPs should have trouble sleeping at night!

  11. Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is basically formally monitoring an employees work. Before carrying it out, they take you signature. The management may say that they intention is to improvement the employees performance, but when any errors are made within the period of Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) would all be noted down and used against that employee. If it gets worse, the management will set another criteria. If still it does not improve, it would come to point that they will give First formal warning, written warning, disciplinary, final warning and then dismissal or the will make that person resign. Furthermore, the pay rise would not be normal or their will be no pay rise. This is what puts the employee under a lot of pressure as this will be a long procedure.

    1. hi
      i have been put on pip about a week ago. and i have been told that i have 4 wks to improve otherwise it will get to final warning and than dismissal . should they not follow the 2 processes before the final warning .. please advise

  12. I was put on a PIP as a result of a mediocre/poor review by my former boss. He had been forced to resign for poor communication/management skills that I had unintentionally called attention to, so I think the poor review was in retaliation. I was given 30 days to complete two humungous projects under a new boss who told me he wanted nothing to do with it. This was also just before my wife and I were expecting a baby, so I was given a 30 day extension due to 10 days FMLA I took. While our initial follow-up meetings were somewhat positive, once I returned, all he did was denigrate my performance at the follow-ups and kept telling HR about isolated trivial incidents that had nothing to do with my current job duties. I felt like I was going to work only to be kicked around and am now facing termination. I saw this coming a mile away and would rather have quit than go through this humiliating and counterproductive experience, but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to lose the time off I had accrued if I were to start a new job (assuming I could find one) – fun stuff, eh? You would have to be an idiot to think that a PIP is about improving performance, its nothing but an excuse for the employer to create a hostile work environment.

  13. My experiance with my ex employer certainly backs up your article. I had worked my ass of for the company for two years, been the best performer in my team then I make a ledgitimate complaint to HR about my manager not reviewing me, not approving leave, not allowing me to be promoted and the manager of the Dep took an adverse action agenst me (she’s a vindictive manipulator) which was the PIP. Cause my stats were very good and within 4 days of the PIP meeting i lawyered up because the contence of the PIP we contradictiry in some areas and not possible to meet. After she received my lawyers email she abandoned the PIP but had IT go thru everything on my work PC to find something to sack me over. Unfortunatly she found i had sent myself my stats to defend myself from the unfair PIP and i was gone. But i did get some revenge in the form of a Fair Work action. Your right – PIPs are a evil unfair strategy and i would advise any person who feels they have received one unfairly to Lawyer up!!

    1. From the manager’s point of view you were disloyal. Never EVER get your manager in trouble, unless they are sexually harassing you or discriminating against you in promotion, demotion, hiring, or other material conditions of employment, based on a protected classification like race or sex.

    2. If the grammatical quality of your commentary is indicative of your writing ability, you certainly would not make it working for me. The wide world of business is exactly that, business. There are some things that should be taken for granted when supervisors hire employees: punctuality, honesty, effort, accuracy and efficiency. That said, you post is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. While I realize that this is merely a blog, errors matter in professional communication. Your writing is careless at best and projects an undisciplined mind, which is ironic in that we are discussing virtue of PIP’s. If you worked in our office, you’d be on a PIP “evil” or otherwise. I’d show your lawyer a sample of your writing and tell them to pound sand.

  14. Beware of the gotcha during the last week of a PIP. Companies will sabotage a worker and deliberately cause a screw up that the company itself is responsible for. This is classic. Also, to the unemployment hearing judge should be made aware of how the company cooked the books during the PIP. Don’t let an unscrupulous company bamboozle the judge into believing that you aren’t being falsely defamed. If you did your very best while watching other workers screw off unscathed, keep your head high and prepare well for your hearing good worker!

  15. This article is a biased over-generalization. PIPs, when implemented correctly, are plans developed painstakingly by management to improve the performance of an employee who has either been lagging for several months, or is not responsive to coaching. In my experience, it’s generally the latter or of the two.

    For example, I just put together and presented my Assistant Manager with a serious PIP. This employee was inherited, as I took over the store where she has been an under-performing assistant manager for six years. I have tried, politely, to coach and build her people and time management skills for over a year, but she has shown little to no progress. That said, the work and personnel training that she has not been completing falls on my shoulders entirely, making my job 2x as difficult. Essentially, this PIP is a “sh*t or get off the pot plan,” meaning you can either work with me, or not work here at all. I fully believe that she needed to be put on a formal, documented PIP in order to change her mindset. The only other possibility is that she does not have the inherent skill set to be an effective management partner with me. If this is the case, she shouldn’t be in the position at all.

    Your article goes so far as to term PIPs as “evil plans,” but realistically, the workplace is not a venue to be coddled. PIPs may be forceful, formal, and seem excessive by those receiving them, but sometimes there is simply no other choice to convey the message that improvement is needed immediately.

    1. Katie I think what you said is fair since you had spent 1 year to provide coach and feedback. Whereas with my situation my overall performance is good, only because of recent coincidence of back to back compliant from clients, I received the PIP from my new team leader of only 2 months who does not know me well at all.

      1. Get a life Schieber. Based on a review of all your disqus replies (always one negative, demeaning sentence) as well as your profile on Facebook you are just a disgruntled old troll who has nothing positive to say about anything. You should be put on a PERSONALITY performance plan, although it may be a waste of time since you probably don’t have much of a chance of completing it successfully by becoming a better person.

  16. I am an employee in a medical sales position. I took over a territory that has always been ranked last in the company. I began 8 months ago and was promised in-house training, as is customary for the position, but have yet to attend. I have had to learn on my own, I have only seen my manager once, I have been apologized to by my manager, by the head of training and by HR for the delay in my training and in the meantime, I have learned on my own through the help of no one and have begun to repair the horrible business relationships my company had with my customers and have had success. We have a new director of sales (complete jerk, manages by intimidation) and he has taken over the role with something to prove. I, along with three other employees have been handed a performance “development plan.” I have until jan 4th to produce numbers my territory has never come close to reaching and I have yet to attend training and receive my completion of training certificate (I will be attending next week for 8 days along with 7 other recent hires. They were all hired at the beginning of October so training is happening in a timely fashion for them. I fell through the cracks due to budgetary constraints). My question is, how can I be placed on a “plan” when the company has not provided me with the customary new hire training? How can I handle this and do I have any recourse? How can I begin my career with this black mark on me that I didn’t earn?

  17. stumbled across this blog post and while i’m reading it a few years after it’s posted, i must say, this blog is horrible. OK — PIPs are bad. So now what? You offer no suggestion as an alternative! Horrible, horrible post.

    1. Just what I love — someone who reads an article 18 months after it was posted and then says how horrible it is despite numerous comments from others who found value in it.

    2. The alternative is to work with your employees in a constructive, non-confrontational way and maintain two-way communication so everyone knows what is expected of them. Yes, you will occasionally run into crooks, slackers and the just plain incompetent, but you can communicate requirements and document issues without resorting to an ineffective, threatening devise such as the PIP.

      The other issue is employers need to make it clear to managers that abusing and bullying of their subordinates will not be tolerated. It sounds like that is frequently what PIPs are used for.

  18. The more this managerial tool (weapon) is highlighted for it’s real agenda hopefully managers will be held more accountable & natural justice actually stand a chance. I’ve found the process to be so paralysing that performance drops, fear is not an effective motivator & loss of an income in this economic downturn means possibly losing a home, relationship breakdowns, stress, illness & an array of negative outcomes all because of this CYA exercise.

    I’m traveling this road at the moment, because of increased absenteeism I received a letter advising this would be monitored, I dared challenge the role disparity & lack of staffing & found myself swamped in a meeting with the General Manager, Deputy GM & two managers…I was outgunned & humiliated. One issue that had been impacting is the death of my father two years ago & now my mother is terminally ill, I spend much of my free time with mum, it’s draining & the saddest time of my life, I’m shocked at managements callous disregard for the human in their resources. I’m exhausted & can’t afford to lose my job yet won’t abandon mum (she lives interstate) & will continue to make the trip to be with her while I can.

    I’m disgusted with management, I’ve given so much & it should be apparent I’m struggling with real life stressors, I advise my line supervisor the reasons for absences. Feeling lost & frightened, any advise appreciated

  19. I’ve been in positions where I’ve managed and placed structure around the performance improvement process to legitimately help an employee perform better. Now mind you, I have seen organizations that seek to use the plan as a disciplinary tool and it can only go down hill from a legal perspective as you have managers who may not like an employee and try to use the PIP as a way to manage the employee out.

    My role essentially is about educating HR , Managers, businesses, etc. on the PIP process and what they should be seeking to accomplish with the PIP rather than creating a “paper trail”.

    You have to want the culture of the organization to help low performers. So, in developing a performance improvement plan, you should first have had conversations with the employee prior to having even written a PIP about the performance expectations. If the performance doesn’t improve you write a PIP with specific examples and express what should have been done to make it clear where the deficiency lies. You also give them a plan that is specific, measurable, realistic and time oriented. And, you give them ample time to improve the performance. I never go with a 30-day plan because I don’t think that it is sufficient time to develop skills, attitudes and behaviours that lead to performance improvement. I always make it 90-days and include on the job and classroom training in addition to some level of coaching to help change attitudes and behaviours. I also work with the managerial/supervisory staff to hold them accountable to how they administer the PIP to ensure fair and equitable treatment and that they are not using it as a disciplinary tool.

  20. I have been on the receiving end of a PIP a long time ago… and I deserved it. My performance was not that great and the job itself was not a match for myself. While I do believe PIP’s can be used as a valuable employee development tool, there are companies out there that use it for the purposes listed above. I now work in an HR position and creating PIPs is now in our future. If a company truly utilizes it to help the employee than yes I do agree this can be valuable. Using it as a improvement tool would require a clearly defined goal with a set of expectations AND a curriculum to accomplish this. The curriculum could be a grouping of comprehensive learning, on the job training, and/or job shadowing. The company that placed me on the PIP program did not offer that, but did provide me with a significant amount of time and multiple steps to get off of it. Ultimately it did not help me and I left before the final step because I had mentally checked out of the job before placement. PIP success is all in the hands of the implementation team and the managers that deliver it.

  21. I recently told my direct manager that I am pregnant. We always had a good working relationship up until now. She started getting mad at me for stupid little things. She even has gone so far to try to prevent me from doing my work, like interrupting my meetings with other employees. I told HR she was acting weird, but they said I have to put up with it b/c she is my manager. I’ve been doing great work for them so far and have been at the company for almost 4 years.
    However, instead of handling the issue in a honest decent manner, my manager has set up a PIP meeting with me. All of sudden she is super nice to me because she is ready to get rid of me (trying to pretend to have a valid reason, but in reality it is b/c I am pregnant and my maternity leave falls at our busiest time).
    I am ready to complain to the EEOC for pregnancy retaliation, but those things are so hard to prove.

  22. Performance Improvement Plan ( PIP) has both positives and negatives. It depends how the organisation is implementing that . Its very important for each employees to know their KRA and whether they are able to meet those on regular basis or not. We should always keep into mind that the organisation has recruited us for certain plan with set goal and it is our duty to attain those goals. PIP are mainly given when we are not able to meet our organisational responsibilities. Now coming to organisation, Company should also try their level best to keep the employees in confidence for whom we are rolling the PIP. the employee should not feel that now its the exit time for them.

  23. I went through a pip. In my opinion the pip is a way for mgmt to cya and to build up documentation on your dismissal. The pip is very destructive to a workers morale and self esteem. The pip also halts the transfer to another department. The pip also makes your work history more difficult and to work for that company again or to work for one of their other companies impossible. It also makes a reference from that job difficult as well.
    My suggestion. If a co. puts you on a pip go find another job asap. When you get a new job just walk out on those people. I don’t believe in burning bridges but in this case the company that put you on a pip burned the bridges already.

  24. The issue is not that PIPs can work if they are “done right”. The issue is that they are so frequently done wrong, when they are not outright abused, that even if a company is really committed to helping an employee improve their performance the mere existence of a PIP is likely to be construed as an attempt to “get rid” of the employee. It creates an adversarial situation, which is likely only to make things worse.

    I would suggest two things to any company who chooses to use PIPs. First, don’t present a completed PIP to the employee and expect them to sign it. Schedule a meeting, present the problems and then give the employee some time (at least a day or two) to think about the issues. Then schedule a follow up meeting and _work together_ to come up with an improvement plan. This will guarantee that the employee understands the PIP and gives them ownership. And an employee can’t really claim they don’t understand what’s expected of them if they helped write the requirements.

    Second, as an employer, you need to seriously consider how you contributed or created the problem and what you can do to address it. I’ve seen too many employers complain of “attendance problems” when they created the problem by giving employees randomly changing schedules that are impossible to plan around. In that case you don’t have an employee attendance problem; you have an employer inability-to-plan problem and possibly an employer mistreating-employees problem. The employer could write PIPs from here to doomsday and it won’t do them a bit of good until they clean up their own house. Even if the employer is scheduling soundly, the employee might have an issue (kids to get to school, public transit issues) that could be resolved simply by talking to the person to find out what’s going on. For example, if an otherwise good employee is regularly 5 min late because a bus doesn’t reliably get to work by 8, wouldn’t it make more sense to say “OK, let’s adjust your schedule to 8:10-5:10” than to put the person on a PIP that’s liable to fail and create bad will in the process?

    1. HR is usually notified of the PIP well before you are. It’s highly unlikely that your manager presented you the PIP without having HR approve the plan first. Chances are that the firing plan (aka the PIP) was in the works for some time, and that several people have been aware of it already. The best thing to do would be to go through the motions of the PIP while simultaneously looking for new employment. Take your sick days, tell them you have dental appointments, etc. And if you do get another job offer, even if it pays less and even if it’s a contracting job, take it (in my case I was lucky to get a higher paying job that was a full time opportunity, and I was never fired). You may find it difficult to try to get job interviews as well as going into job interviews after being fired for “performance issues.” Telling future employers that you’ve been fired for “performance issues” basically gives them the message that you are grossly incompetent in your field, or extremely lazy.

  25. I went through a PIP in the last six months and the PIP was designed to show me the door. This happened with a few of my other coworkers as well and all of them were fired in the end. It had also happened in the group in the past and every single PIP had resulted in the employee being fired. A little bit about the company – this was a mid size (3000 people) software company which enjoys a 3.8 rating on Glassdoor and has been frequently ranked among the best places to work for in the Tech industry. The areas of improvements listed on my PIP were all too vague (communication, follow through) and were left open for interpretation. If you look up information about PIP you will find that communication is one of those favorite faux issues. During the first PIP I did everything listed very proactively but still at the end of the four weeks my manager just told me I was still not up to the mark. There was no explanation, no examples just one sentence. Also, during this time I continued to be praised for my good work even by other managers but that made no difference. Since the company was so reputed I had a little faith and I was working honestly for the PIP and was doing a little job search on the side. But at the end of the first PIP it dawned on me that this PIP was not happening any differently than so many others you will find mention about on the internet. My manager told me that there will be one final PIP for 4 weeks and if I am not successful at this I would be let go. At this point I shifted my strategy to buy more time for my job search, I was sure I would be fired at the end. All this time my hypocrite manager kept telling me nice things, how I am so capable and how I am just so close to turning this around. My job search was more difficult because I am on an H1B and if I couldn’t land anything I risked having to leave the country. Even if I got a job it takes some time for companies to take care of the paperwork for an H1B. Nevertheless I gave it the best I could and I landed two job offers, both better than what I had at the company. At the time of the PIP I was doing so well at the company that I was treated as an example in the group, everybody praised my work and was impressed by the way I worked. Guess what, at the end of the final PIP, apparently my communication was not upto the mark for the role and I was let go.

    To sum it up, the PIP was a farce, it was just a mechanism to push me out and the decision to push me was taken by somebody higher up and my spineless manager just couldn’t stand up for me. Due to some events that happened during my last week at the company I came to realize who was really doing it. Looking back, I think I should have threatened them with lawsuit or something but I wanted to focus more on the job search. PIPs are not done for performance improvement, even at companies so reputed like mine. Run away at the first sight.

    1. Wow… thanks for sharing. I read the whole post in its entirety. The amount of detail you described is amazing. I can’t imagine how intense it was being on a PIP while being sponsored on an H1B. A 4 week PIP is extremely short. Even the best of companies implement these “programs”, including Amazon and Google (I have proof of this). It’s less about the company, and more about your specific manager and/or team.

      Did you end up finding another company to sponsor your visa? You should have taken the 2 job offers you got (it seems from the post that you waited to get fired), or at least use it as negotiation tool to remove the plan.

      1. The PIP time at this company was the darkest time of my life, because never in my life had I been in such a helpless situation where what I do was not going to affect the outcome of the situation (success/failure in PIP). And that’s why I realized what I could control was my job search. I did accept one of the offers before my employment ended but the H1B paperwork didn’t go through in time so I had to wait till the end and suffer more humiliation at the hands of some ass**%^%es.
        Yes, as you said, its less about the company and more about the manager and the team but what is surprising to me is that the manager who was doing all of this has been with the company for a long time and is at a very significant position. Another thing I learnt from my experience is that HR is not your friend in such cases. They are very well in bed with your manager and if you seek any help from them they will give you wrong advice. Their job is to protect the company from lawsuits and they make sure that PIPs are done in such a way. I believe the only way to get out of this is to indicate to HR somehow that you are not a kitten. Due to the H1B things were tough for me but if you are a US Citizen go full retard on these guys. Bonus for reading until here the zip code for this company’s main office is 01760

  26. Wow… I am an HR manager, and maybe I’m from a different planet, but of the PIP’s I have been involved with almost NONE of them have ended up in termination. There is a need for documentation to protect the company from individuals trying to take advantage of the company or the system, or whatever, but if an employer is using something like a PIP as a step to boot someone out the door without an honest and objective desire to help that person improve and give them a chance to succeed, then that is evil. However, in my experience that’s not what PIPs have been used for. In my experience, the few employees who have not done well after being on a PIP have failed on their own accord, not because of the PIP. Generally it’s because they refuse to do what needs to be done to succeed. My view of a PIP is that it gives the employee the answers to the test; guidelines and expectations for what they need to do to be successful in their role. It should explain current perceptions, how to change those perceptions, observations of sub par performance that can be backed up by examples, expectations for improved performance, how the employee can improve, and an offer of support and encouragement. It should be clear that if you (as the employer) did not believe the employee has the potential to be successful, you would not be pushing them to improve. An employer also can just plop a PIP down on the table, have the employee sign it, and then never look at it or take it into consideration again until the end of the term of the PIP. Once an employer commits for putting an employee on a PIP, the employer also needs to commit to providing that employee with ongoing support and encouragement to succeed. That means checking in with the employee, coaching the employee, helping the employee better his/her communication, and so on. Then the employer truly is doing everything they can to help the employee succeed, and in my experience, that’s what I have done.

  27. Great Article, i would like to have any advise around my past decision that i have made as per my story below.
    I was dealing with a product that had a bad process and very sluggish stakeholder team that i had to work with, at some points i had situations that haven’t been pleasant with my stake holders just for asking if things can get done faster and that made me sound demanding, however my manager had put me in performance review for taking leave and leaving my job behind due to being overworked tired and highly stressed which resulted with a week off to refresh, after i came back i have been put in PIP that i handled very professionally and with promise that things will go up which they did as i did got my job to a level where my manager was happy, then after 2 – 3 months had some other communication friction with other colleagues that resulted on gathering all 3 frictions and have me in another meeting with my manager and my manager’s manager, they have started to read those 3 complaints about me being demanding and trying to get business going, so my manager at that time said that based on this experience we have decided to put you on another PIP, as soon as i have heard that another fever stress coming called PIP i have asked my manager to accept my resignation and i have left, of course in positive terms…So now i’m not employed yet, still looking for job but i’m interested to know if anyone can comment regarding my fast decision to leave or i could stay longer and be fired maybe…

    1. It’s better to be fired. If you quit, you are not eligible for unemployment and you certainly won’t get any severance.

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  29. Hi. Just would like to know, can a PIP be issued to an employee without prior documented discussion with leads to a PIP in the first place?

  30. I’ve been subjected to a PIP (I exposed a marketing VP stealing from company only to later find out she was blackmailing CEO over an after-hours hot tub incident and he asked the CFO I reported to for my head in response to her threats of exposure if I wasn’t fired.).

    And, I’ve used PIPs on my direct reports at HR’s direction because they wanted a paper trail to CYA at the time of termination.

    They are ridiculous and awful for all parties involved. The worst thing about them is, they aren’t secret for long (surprise, surprise) and, even if it one is legitimate, it affects the morale of ALL THE EMPLOYEES around. They tend to fuel a negative and hostile work environment and teamwork goes right out the window. You can end up losing good employees not just the PIP targeted ones.

    Employment relationships are a two way street. And, they aren’t permanent. If you want me out, just let me know. If I want out, I’ll let you know. No need to drag this out like a couple of teenage school girls bickering over some rivalry.

    If you do an employee wrong, don’t be surprised when they strike back. I’ve known more than a couple of arrogant enterprises that have trouble filling positions because the word is out that they treat employees badly and have a high rate of turn over as a result. They end up offering higher pay to induce neophytes to apply for open positions. It’s not a particularly cost effective to effect recruitment and retention.

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