“Young and PIP’ed? Here’s five thoughts to ponder.”

Question: Alan, I work for a very large and prestigious global private equity firm. I am 3.5 years out of college and just started an Analyst/entry level position at my firm 7 months ago. I routinely work 70+ hours per week, sometimes 100 hours, and have sacrificed countless weekends and most holidays to perform my “normal” tasks. 

I was recently given a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), which feels like 30 days until a termination letter, due to a need to (a) produce quality work equal to my peers, (b) take initiative/request work before it is assigned, and (c) better prioritize my deliverables. The points of improvement are, of course, vague and the same managers who put me on the PIP will be the ones assessing my improvement over the next 30 days. 

With this, I have several questions: 

First, if my normal work load requires 2-2.5x “normal hours” as stated in the employee handbook, how am I being reprimanded for errors any normal person would make during such a work week? 

Second, my ability to meet/miss deadlines is directly linked to my workload, I have been assigned the most number of assets, which includes the biggest and most complex asset in our $10b portfolio. My situation is dissimilar to my peers and my assets require unique/specific knowledge that was not included in my job description. Wouldn’t this create an apple-to-oranges comparison to my peers? 

Thirdly, because I signed the PIP, this means that I have acknowledged I am deficient in my role and if terminated/resign I will receive no severance or unemployment even though my level of commitment and stated intention of performing at or above expectations has not contributed to my receiving a PIP? I appreciate any insights. Thank you.

Boston, Massachusetts

Answer: Dear Arlen: Sorry to hear of your predicament. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind:    

Thought 1: You are probably right to view your PIP as the near-equivalent of a 30-day notice of coming termination; that’s what they usually are. I wish it was not the case, but in my experience, the experience of most of my clients over the past 30 years, and the experience of most blog readers who write in, that is what PIP’s are. It seems exceedingly rare for a Performance Improvement Plan to be what its name suggests it should be: a mutual plan designed to improve performance. So, at least you are not living in a state of denial of what is happening to you, and what may happen to you, as so many people in your shoes often are.   

Thought 2: One thing you must come to grips with is this: putting in a lot of hours is not a ticket to job security; that requires “a perception of value to a person of power.” From the way you describe your perspective on the matter, it seems you believe that putting in a lot of hours should protect you from job loss. That is simply not the case, it never was, and it never will be.

Can you imagine a car salesman saying to you “I work seven days a week; for this reason you should buy this car.” Would you be motivated to buy that car for that reason? Well, neither is your boss motivated by your putting in a lot of time to continue to “buy” your services.

I’m not sure why you are being pressured to leave, or threatened by job loss, but I do know that putting in a lot of time is not going to help. Instead, you need to focus your thoughts on “What does my boss want, need or feel he/she deserves?” That perspective – perceived need of the “purchaser,” and that approach when put into action is the key to job security.

While it may be too late to put that perspective into action on this job, you have a lifetime and a career ahead of you to do so. Most people don’t learn these lessons until it is almost too late to take advantage of them. Don’t feel bad about not understanding this: I didn’t understand it myself until I was much older than you are.   

Thought 3: At Wall Street firms, in large Law Firms, and at Private Equity companies, 100 hours a week is defined as “decent productivity.” For generations, the large financial and legal firms have all prided themselves on making their young associates work 80 to 100 hours a week. It was a rite of passage, and was very profitable, as well. In fact, the way most “prestigious” private equity firms have gotten to be “prestigious” is by purchasing companies and requiring the employees of those companies to work as many hours as you do. Until recently, large hospitals did the same thing with their young interns and residents, that is, until too many patients died as a result. Though young investment bankers, attorneys, financial analysts, and – yes – doctors do not like it, they do so because of what they view to be as the expected payoff over time. I don’t think it is right or wrong, because it is a matter of choice, and a matter of values. But I do believe that, despite promises and assurances you may receive during interviews, your long hours are pretty much to be expected so long as you work in companies like your present employer.

Thought 4: All “PIP-recipients” should consider “pushing back at a PIP,” but at the same time immediately start looking for new employment. As you will surely know if you’ve reviewed our blogsite materials and videos on Performance Improvement Plans, we nearly always recommend that employees in your situation “push back at the PIP.” Some people meet with different kinds of success in doing so, including (a) keeping the job, (b) getting a transfer, (c) getting more time to look for a new job, (d) getting paid severance, (e) getting a good reference letter, (f) getting an agreement that the employer will not contest unemployment, (g) getting an expungement of negative references in your HR file, or (g) simply getting the satisfaction of “speaking truth to power.” In standing up and pushing back at a PIP, there’s so much to possibly gain, and so little to probably lose.

We offer lots and lots of materials, from Newsletters, to Q&A’s, to YouTube videos, to Model Letters, to help you. It just takes your taking the initiative to help yourself.

If you’d like to obtain a Model Letter entitled “Model Letter to Push Back at a PIP” that you can use to adapt to your own facts, events and circumstances, simply [click here.]

For great info and insight, consider viewing our 12-minute Sklover-On-Demand Video entitled “Performance Improvement Plans – How to Respond.” To do so, just [click here.]

Thought 5: Don’t lose your spirit; instead, learn a lesson. No matter what the experience may be, you always have a simple choice ahead of you: respond in a positive way, or in a negative way. It’s up to you. Remember that Steve Jobs was fired – several times – but that didn’t stop him. So was Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s Mayor and richest person. From each experience take what you can, and move forward. I know it’s not fun being fired, rejected and pushed out unfairly; it’s happened to me at least a few times, too. If this employer hired you, you must present yourself well. Get back up on that “bicycle” and get rolling down “your road.”  

You are young, educated and capable. The world is your oyster. Don’t lose sight of that.

Arlen, I do hope this is helpful. And I do hope you do all you can – with a clearer perspective – in moving forward in pushing back here, and in being of supreme value on other jobs, too . . . for your employer, and for you and your loved ones, too. I am confident this will, in the long term, be a blessing in disguise. 

My Best to You,
Al Sklover


Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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