I recently passed my probation period at work with no problems highlighted, however, during the probation review, I was told I was not quite at the level (senior) expected for my salary.

I asked what I should be doing to reach that level, and was unfortunately told it was just a gut feeling he had about me and not something he could specifically word.

How would you proceed? I currently feel like I've been left in a very uncertain place, is it possible they could just fire me for not matching the duties required at my salary, or reduce my salary? I have checked my contract and the job description I was given when I applied for the role, and I'm certainly doing everything they were looking for.

I'm in the UK, working as a web developer.

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    "Not quite at the level of seniority" presumable means that you do good work when given direction, but they expected you to manage yourself more and rely on external supervision less. Troubling that they couldn't put it into words. – Ben Voigt Jun 9 '18 at 18:40
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    "Not working at your level" can mean you work too slow, your work is too low quality (e.g. buggy, inefficient or unreadable code), you ask things you should know or be able to figure out yourself, you need too much guidance, you're not contributing to technical discussion, you're not mentoring coworkers, etc. There are plenty of causes that are fairly easy to word, someone saying it's "just a gut feeling" is not a good reviewer. – Dukeling Jun 9 '18 at 18:42
  • The statement you received sounds like they were potentially issues, and while they didn’t prevent you from passing your probation period, they are issues. So you should pressure your manager for ways you can improve. – Donald Jun 9 '18 at 23:17

Performance feedback is most effective when it's specific and when given promptly. Unfortunately, because most of us hate confrontation, people often don't do this. Instead they avoid the conversation until they're forced to do it, e.g. by formal events like probation reviews, and so you end up getting this sort of vague and unhelpful feedback.

My recommended response would be something like this:

You mentioned that you had concerns about my performance, and I'd like to get a better idea about where I can improve. When you see something that makes you think I'm not working at the right level, can you please let me know about it ASAP? I find that I learn much better when I get feedback quickly, while things are still fresh in my mind. Perhaps we could schedule a short catch-up once a week to check in on this?

This achieves a few things:

  • It emphasises that you're serious about wanting to improve, while making clear that you can't do so without better feedback.
  • If there is a problem with performance, it greatly improves your chances of getting feedback you can use.
  • If there isn't a real problem, and your manager just has an unreliable gut instinct, having to tell you "no problems this week" over and over may push him to reconsider his image of you.

In most companies (UK at least), at a senior level you are expected to be able to complete projects with minimal/no guidance and also to guide/mentor other junior members of the team, in most cases. If you feel that you are achieving expectations for everything in your job spec, it may just be that you are underperforming from this point of view.

You should try to improve your performance on these areas OR look for a way of getting more specific feedback - your line manager should be able to help here, although sometimes it may require to have one honest conversation with him or two.

Still, that feedback is definitely not good to hear, but I'd say that there is no immediate risk of them firing you just because of it (specially considering that these are your first months in the company), or to have your salary reduced (can that happen legally?). IMHO, the best you can do is to try to improve and/or get more specific feedback.

  • Your salary can be lowered legally in Finland, if both parties agree to it with basically a new contract. The employer cannot legally reduce your salary out of the blue. But I think this is highly country-specific. – Juha Untinen Jun 10 '18 at 21:04

This doesn't exactly speak for your manager: Either he's not capable of concisely and effectively addressing problems with his reports (core management capability) - or he's trying to build pressure from nothing to keep you on your toes and working hard through fear.

Tread carefully around this guy so that you don't get hit by his incompetence or malice.

If you can, try to quantify his gut feeling and establish a paper trail:

  • Ask him to come to you immediately when he sees something problematic with your work and let you know - so you can correct it asap, for everyone's benefit.
  • Ask for regular meetings where you briefly clarify what you've done recently, what you're planning to do next, and what the current issues are. Take notes. If he never raises issues but complains later you can ask: Why was this never raised before? How can we ensure that problems get raised sooner, so that they don't cost the company a lot of money?
  • Keep notes of issues resolved, features developed, etc. so that you can quantify your achievements.

Also, regularly but briefly report your / your team's achievements to him so that he associates you with good news (= good gut feeling). ("In the last month, we've implemented features X, Y, and Z and fixed the font size bug.")

I've seen "bad gut feeling" used by an overly busy boss who didn't have the time to regularly check in with all his subordinates and made their yearly evaluations up from the last impression / rumour he got about them. Of course, he couldn't quantify his gut feelings and then got angry when asked to explain. Unfortunately, the only thing that helped was getting the worker's council involved to make him back off and ultimately finding a better job...


Nothing you can do really but prove his gut wrong. I wouldn't let it worry me. If he's not going to give you specifics then he has nothing to give. Second guessing his rubbish isn't constructive.

The only time you should worry is if they try and reduce your salary. It seems unlikely this chap can actually do that. But that's another issue to face if it eventuates.

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