toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

January 13, 2007

unfair performance reviews

Vera is 29, single, sharing an apartment and recently changed jobs after receiving an unfair performance review from the new manager at her old job - an ogre who took an instant dislike to the vivacious and career minded young woman.

"I've kept copies of all of my performance reviews," says Vera. "Mostly they are glowing records of my performance - results exceeding requirements and expectations - but some are nothing more than records of dissonance between myself and a manager that have nothing whatsoever to do with my job performance."

"Granted," says Vera, "we do not live in a perfect world and in the workplace, as at school, and in families, we all face the prospect of being evaluated by some small-minded person who takes an instant dislike to us and abuses his or her position of authority to demean us."

"However, when performance reviews are used as a personal vendetta, or as a cunning method to get rid of staff, I believe that this is discrimination at its lowest."

"The only assignment from my schooldays that I decided to retain is an essay that bears the scrawl of a really small-minded man," says Vera. "I was twelve years old, blooming into adulthood, brimming with ideas and in love with life."

"Looking at the essay now I can appreciate that it is not exactly brilliant, but for a twelve year old it is still pretty good. And yet that moron who taught me English and History that year marked it with the distain and spite of someone who probably aspired to be a famous literary critic but was stuck for life in a job as a poorly paid teacher."

"His concluding remarks were: 'What a precocious child you are, this subject is far too complex for you - stick to dolls', says Vera. "At the time I had no idea what the word ‘precocious’ meant and even after I learned its meaning I did not take his comment as being the least bit complimentary. Having ideas beyond what is expected - by virtue of age, gender, social position or place on the career ladder - is both a curse and a blessing."

"People who do not aim to better the world, or themselves," says Vera, "have a far easier life than those who do. I wanted so much to shine in my own right. I was fed up being overshadowed by my sister and brother, and I was prepared to work twice as hard as anybody in order to make a mark on the world."

Vera is the type of person who derives enormous pleasure from accomplishing the impossible. Within workplaces run by managers who appreciate initiative, creativity and monumental hard work she was rewarded with almost embarrassing accolades when performance evaluations were carried out. However, within workplaces run by mean-spirited little Hitlers who want everything done according to the book, even when the book is riddled with worms, her performance reviews were distinguished by remarks very similar to those of her moronic English-History teacher.

"One of my first performance reviews," laughs Vera, "went as follows - ‘you have been employed here as a Researcher, not a Director or even a Manager, and in performing the duties of a Researcher you have consistently failed to meet the position's requirements and expectations’."

However, the performance review most remarkable for its gross unfairness is one Vera recently received from a place she had worked for two years very happily until a fair and pleasant boss was replaced by an ogre.

This woman took an instant dislike to Vera and another employee, who is also one of Vera’s roommates, and she virtually set them up to fail their performance reviews.

"She singled us out to be, in effect, her personal assistants," explains Vera, "and set out to make our lives misery. She was an absolute slave-driver. Given a whip, she would have used it on us!"

"The endless menial tasks she gave us to do bore no resemblance whatsoever to what we were supposed to be doing, but we carried them out with gritted teeth and tried very hard not to cave in with the stress and humiliation of it all."

"Shortly after, our performance reviews were held and the ogre produced a list of all the tasks she had given us - most of which we had forgotten about, or deemed too trivial to be given priority over our regular work - and proceeded to tell us that because we had not performed these tasks to her satisfaction she was recommending our discharge."

"The ogre's list had columns for the dates, times and results of each trivial little task she had given us," laughs Vera. "Our regular work was entirely overlooked."

"We were being judged on arbitrary tasks, totally unrelated to our roles!"

"In a court of law, this list would have been torn to shreds, but we weren’t interested in pursuing the matter legally. Life's too short for that sort of thing. We just quit! Since she had taken over, that workplace had become so toxic that it was exhiliarating to walk out of it for the last time and breathe some fresh air."

"This story would have had a different ending," says Vera, "had we not been financially secure. We could have been out of work for months. We could have been evicted from our apartment and got into all manner of financial and personal difficulties as a result of the discriminatory actions of that ogre."

When performance reviews are used unfairly as a means by which a mean manager or boss can get rid of staff he or she does not like personally, Vera believes that we should all be very wary of management changes as well as sudden changes in duties.

Vera believes that a bona fide performance review should cover the key responsibilities of a job, and should not include new duties that have been foisted onto you just prior to the performance review date.

"If new duties are to be allocated to you," says Vera, "then they should be raised at the performance review, thus giving you a chance to come up with some goals regarding how you intend to carry these duties out. For instance, if your new duties involve re-organizing the client and product databases then you would want to say something about how you intend to maintain quality and consistency, what extra costs the task would involve, and how long you plan on taking to do the job."

"In other words, you are setting goals for your new duties that will be assessed at the next performance review."

Bearing in mind that the whole purpose of a performance review is to see how you set goals and accomplish them, Vera believes that it is grossly unfair for a manager to review your performance on new duties that were foisted upon you prior to the review.

"It is a good idea, too," says Vera, "to be aware of other factors that are assessed in performance reviews because these can, and often are, used against you. But on no account should these factors take precedence over regular duties."

Immediately before performance reviews Vera accepts that some situations are deliberately 'contrived’ in order to assess one's ability to think on the spot.

"For instance," says Vera, "if you receive a telephone call from a very rude client watch what you say. The client is probably a plant or the call is being monitored!"

"Another contrived situation," confides Vera, "is a sudden and unexpected workload at 5pm - don't go home before prioritizing what's important and what's not!"

"A very loud and angry argument between two managers happening within earshot is another contrived situation," says Vera. "Don't pretend you didn’t hear it - you are expected to foster harmony by interceding with a quick-thinking resolution for their problem!"

Interpreting performance reviews causes a lot of confusion. Vera believes that very few people receive an ‘Exceeds Expectation’ performance review for the simple reason that many of the critical success factors are unknown, or are unreasonable to be expected to be met.

"Far more common," she says, "is an ‘Achieves Expectations’ performance review where you exceeded expectations in some areas, and just met them in others - or a ‘Needs Improvement’ performance review where you just met some, but not all expectations."

"As for the ‘Unacceptable’ performance review, well," says Vera, "it often says more about the manager carrying out the review than it does about you and if you remain in the company long enough to get your say in a performance review of superiors then by all means tell it like it is!"

"The purpose of performance reviews of superiors by staff is for those who have been judged to do some judging themselves, and believe it or not," says Vera, "but company executives do take notice of comments made about managers by staff."

"Poor reviews of managers by staff can, and do, get some lousy managers justifiably fired," laughs Vera, "and it was a pity we that didn’t have the opportunity to use our clout to get that ogre fired before she used her clout to get rid of us."

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