“If I am on a Performance Improvement Plan, and fear I might get fired soon, should I tell a prospective employer who will soon be checking my employment history that I am thinking of resigning?”

Question: Hi, Alan. I am about to be fired for performance issues. I believe that because I did nothing to “push back” on this Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), and my boss and I are scheduled to meet in a week, and that is when I believe he will deliver the “news” that things are not working out, and I am fired.

Unfortunately, the PIP came as a shock, as I had not received any negative feedback in the previous six months. As our company is going through some realignments, I am not convinced this is totally about performance, but I haven’t said anything out of fear that if I did they would terminate me on the spot.

I have reached the final round of interviews for a new job with a different employer. I was wondering: (a) Do I tell my prospective employer that I am planning on leaving my present company in the next week? (b) Or just not say anything, and hope that the new employer does the employment verification while I am still employed?

I am hopeful that I could resign and my departure will be listed as a mutual separation. The timing of this thing has me very stressed, and I don’t know how to handle it.

         Boston, Massachusetts

Answer: Theresa, just today I had a client in my office asking me almost the very exact same question. Let me tell you what I told her:

While there are no “guarantees” regarding how people will respond in any circumstance, it is my experience that you are more likely to be able to have some input on the timing of your departure from your present job if you are proactive, and not passive. If you continue to be passive, I agree you are likely to be terminated quite soon.

Instead, I think you should consider writing a respectful, thoughtful, reasonable letter to Human Resources – preferably your employer’s Head of Human Resources – explaining your belief that there is some other reason behind your Performance Improvement Plan.

Also tell the Head of HR what you told me: you have never received any prior negative feedback, and that you would have filed a formal objection, but you were fearful of retaliation if you did that.

Suggest that you believe this may even be a failure of corporate integrity, and perhaps there should be a careful and complete review of what took place; suggest that even the CEO should be asked to intervene, too.
I suggest, too, that you might suggest to the Head of HR that you could probably accept a phasing out of your duties, and eventual departure, so long as you had an opportunity to look for another job for, say, two or three months. Make sure, though, that you are clear that your email is not, in itself, a resignation.

Your memo has to be in writing, sent by email, and should be sent as soon as possible. This will likely give you some input in how fast things happen, when they happen, and even what happens.

Give it some thought. I know that fear can paralyze, but it’s important to stand up, and make your views known. Just the process of standing up for yourself shows people – and HR people, in particular – that you should be “handled carefully.”

Give it some thought. If you take this path, I think you’ll have, at the least, some time to get a new job, and a lowering of the daily anxiety you are experiencing. Remember that “Action is the antidote to despair.”

Hope this helps. Really do. Thanks for writing in; consider subscribing. It’s free.

           Best, Al Sklover

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.