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I've been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Obviously I disagree but that's not the point.

Regardless of the specifics of my situation, I'm curious how often these "work out" to the satisfaction of the both the employer and employee. Given the possible outcomes I can foresee...

  • I fail the PIP. I am fired.
  • I pass the PIP but am less effective than before.
  • I pass and my productivity is unaffected.
  • The PIP causes me to "come to Jesus". I am more effective than before

...what are the specific odds of me falling into each of those buckets? Does there exist any study of the aggregate outcomes of PIPs as a tool for effective management?

My impression is that this is the "kiss of death" for my job and I need to start looking elsewhere immediately. How likely is it that I'm wrong?

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    Honestly, no-one can answer this. Some companies genuinely use PIPs as a way to improve performance. Others (most?) use them as a way to manage someone out of the business. It doesn't really matter what the proportions are in the whole population, it matters what your employer is doing. Sep 30, 2022 at 9:30
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    Why might "passing" the PIP make you less effective? Even if it somehow caused you to be able to perform less work, that doesn't make you "less effective" if you are doing what your employer wants. Sep 30, 2022 at 15:16
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    Actually, disagreeing is a large part of the point. If you don't think the PIP is appropriate, your chances of succeeding at this job are nearly zero, even if the company is operating in good faith and truly wants you to improve. Sep 30, 2022 at 15:58
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    Have you had a frank conversation with your manager about this? Sep 30, 2022 at 16:06
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    "I pass the PIP but am less effective than before. I pass and my productivity is unaffected." - how can you "pass" the PIP if you are less or even equally as productive as before? Surely the point of it is to improve and you will only pass it if you become more productive than before.
    – komodosp
    Oct 3, 2022 at 7:10

10 Answers 10

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My impression is that this is the "kiss of death" for my job and I need to start looking elsewhere immediately. How likely is it that I'm wrong?

It's very unlikely you are wrong. I've personally never seen a PIP that ended with the employee staying with the company.

Everywhere I have worked, a worker is only placed in a PIP when everything else has been tried and failed. It's the last step before dismissal. These things happen.

In my career, I unfortunately had to put a few folks in a PIP. I had tried to coach them up, counsel them, give them help, change their workload, etc. In the end I was forced to conclude that they simply weren't a good fit for their job. Where I worked, the process as dictated by HR required a PIP before dismissal. So I constructed a PIP having deliverables appropriate to their job. In each case I gave the workers an honest chance to succeed in the PIP, but it never worked out, despite their trying. At the end, the workers were let go.

Work hard to try and do whatever is required by the PIP. Meanwhile, start looking elsewhere for your next job. If you display the proper effort and attitude, most likely you'll receive a standard severance package when you are let go. And hopefully, you'll be close to starting your next job.

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    “only placed in a PIP when everything else has been tried and failed” While you may have had lots of experience, this is still anecdotal. My own experience is I was put on a PIP but it came out of no where after I had been working long hours to do my job. As a junior with no mentors I didn’t know how to best tackle a PIP; in hindsight there were a lot of problems (no coaching, no specific “do better”, and yes, I know I’m not a unicorn developer so there’s that). I try not to believe it and to this day try to keep improving, but rumor was they wanted to FT hire a more fun intern.
    – Erika
    Oct 1, 2022 at 15:33
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    I asked this question from a burner account because I respect the company I work for and the people who have brought me up so far. In my assessment the PIP is in bad faith (comically so) but I would like to assume otherwise where I can. I'm curious how often it does work out if and when there is mutual respect between all involved parties. Idk if I'll get to de-anonymize the post at any point but I thank you for your perspective as a manager.
    – user136921
    Oct 2, 2022 at 0:20
  • @user136921, "the PIP is in bad faith (comically so)". If you truly believe your assessment to be correct, you need to send out your resume to other employers now! It will be infinitely easier to find a new job when you're still employed. Oct 9, 2022 at 1:18
  • I hate to agree with you on the likelihood that it's a negative thing. I've always used the PIP in the fashion it indicates. I use them as a positive agreement to set an employee on a positive path. I also recognize that I'm in the minority on this. Jan 4 at 22:38
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I've been placed on a PIP equivalent twice in my career. Let me use them as examples of what can happen.

The first time was because my boss didn't know his job. My team lead had gone to him and reported (without talking to me) that I "wasn't fixing bugs fast enough". My boss took him at his word and threatened me with consequences if I didn't improve. He had no idea what a good bug fix rate was, or what mine was, or what "improvement" meant, or any other measurable that could indicate how well I was doing. Nor did he have any idea on what we might do to address this problem. So I proposed that we agree a bug fix rate that, if I achieved it, would mean I was doing a satisfactory bug fix rate. I suggested a rate I was absolutely certain I could achieve. He agreed, I achieved the target easily, and stayed at the company for many years. Both my boss and the team lead were later fired for incompetence, unrelated to this incident.

The second time I was put on a PIP for "my attitude". When I asked specifically what that meant I was told "we just want a better attitude", and given no examples. When I pressed the point my boss finally came clean and admitted the company just wanted me gone. I negotiated an exit strategy that gave me some money and time to find a new job, and was simpler for them than having to make up reasons to let me go.

I have also once placed someone else on a PIP. This was someone who was hugely underperforming as a developer, to the point where they produced non-working solutions to straightforward problems even when given extensive coaching and help. The PIP was a last chance to produce adequate work, although we didn't expect her to be able to. (Our expectation turned out to be correct).

So yes, a PIP can have different out comes.

In short, your success while on a PIP depends entirely on whether you are able to achieve the conditions that the PIP lays down. That's the point of a PIP. Sometimes the conditions are virtually impossible (either because you are a bad fit for the job or the company really just wants you gone) or sometimes they just require you to change the way you work.

Advice for if you are in a PIP:

  • Make sure criteria can be measured. Don't accept vague criteria like "unless you get a lot better"
  • Make sure criteria are written down
  • Make sure criteria are reasonable, and are similar to what other people are achieving
  • Make sure your side is heard - if there was a reason for you behaving the way you did, make sure you get to say it
  • Always express your willingness to do your best to achieve what the company wants
  • Look for another job in case it doesn't work out
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    I agree, just because one is placed on a PIP doesn't necessarily mean they were the one in the wrong. Sometimes office politics is simply chaotic. Oct 1, 2022 at 0:39
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    @MarkRogers but it does mean something is about to happen for the OP if nothing is done, and whether the OP is "wrong" or not is irrelevant; he's about to be fired. As others have already said, you cover both bases by doing your best AND looking for a job.
    – Nelson
    Oct 1, 2022 at 12:13
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    @JoeStrazzere I don't feel it's about accepting the terms, it's about knowing the terms. "Improve your attitude" without telling what's wrong is unactionable and the person under PIP is not going to improve (and it's not their fault). Wanting to know what the improvement target is and being denied it is a big red flag IMO.
    – Zachiel
    Oct 2, 2022 at 16:17
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    I agree with this. I was placed on a PIP and immediately started looking for a new job. It just so happened that I handed my resignation in the same day my boss gave me a letter telling me I had passed the PIP. He didn't seem to understand the perception that a PIP gives an employee and seemed quite downcast to lose me.
    – Dustybin80
    Oct 3, 2022 at 8:11
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    There is often room for some pushback on a PIP. If the conditions are vague, go to HR and point that out. Oct 3, 2022 at 15:55
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My impression is that this is the "kiss of death" for my job and I need to start looking elsewhere immediately. How likely is it that I'm wrong?

It's possible for a PIP to work out well - but overwhelmingly they don't. This is for various reasons - either the employer is using the PIP as a box-ticking exercise before termination, or the employer is using them genuinely but the employee can't or won't meet the targets set in the PIP.

This means the only times it works out positively for the employee is in that combination where the employer is genuinely looking for the employee to improve and the employee is both willing and able to satisfy that.

We can't tell you what your employer is thinking - and I doubt they're about to tell you if the PIP is genuinely aimed at improvement so the best course of action is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In other words do your utmost to satisfy the requirements of the PIP while also searching for alternatives. This maximises your chances at a good outcome for you.

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    Yep, keep a low profile and job search, I've never seen a single PIP end well
    – Kilisi
    Sep 30, 2022 at 10:20
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    This is 100% what the OP should do +1 for employers having a PIP process with best intentions but them being pointless unless employee and employer are on board.
    – Old Nick
    Sep 30, 2022 at 12:53
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I survived a PIP. But it was clearly not one I should have been on in the first place, given that we had just finished yearly review and I'd gotten an excellent rating.

I don't know if my manager had any idea what a PIP was before he started it, or if it was pushed upon him by someone in HR and he wasn't willing to admit to having caved to pressure and failed to protect his people.

After pointing out the absurdity -- and that they might have set themselves up for legal action by providing their own evidence that this wasn't what it claimed -- I sat down with my manager, got a very specific list of what they wanted to see from me, and negotiated specific tasks which would meet those goals, trying to keep them within scope which could be met. I also pointed out that these had to be my only tasks until this was done.

Them I blasted through them. They want a specific kind of technical document? I can do that. They want an invention disclosure? Fine; here's a legitimate idea (not a patentable one, probably, but that wasn't the ask; disclosure was). On a few things I held them to the explicitly written definition of success; if they wanted more I could do that after the PIP was off the table. It took being hard-assed and accepting that my relationship with that manager had already been ruined, plus making sure that folks higher up the chain were willing to promise this wouldn't happen again.

If they wanted me gone, there were less offensive ways to do it that I might have accepted. Impugning my value and honor, and trying to dismiss me without severance and good recommendations, was simply not acceptable.

So that one was winnable. But only because it was obvious to everyone that the incompetence was not mine and this was in no way "for cause", and because I was willing to spend entirely too much effort managing my manager. If I had been in a smaller company where the hurt feelings would impact my job and I couldn't transfer to a more supportive management chain, and didn't have the evidence that I was worth bringing into that new department, I might not have had a path forward.

At least there was no gag order on this, and I knew and spoke to folks throughout the company, so I think the outcome was more damaging to the manager's career than my own.

Don't count on winning the fight. Don't assume fighting is worth the aggravation. But in at least some circumstances, an especially stupid PIP can be satisfied and quashed.

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I been both the receiver and giver of PIPs. In my own case, I suppose I deserved my PIP. I was in a new job and given a project without much guidance, and I did not do a good job. I had a terrible boss, who I was afraid to approach for help. In my case the PIP ended up being the direction and guidance I needed. I completed the PIP with flying colors, but I was so worried that they would get rid of me anyway that I had also started looking for other jobs and I found one. Only two weeks after I got a great review...I filed my 2 week notice.

On the manager side, I've put a few people on PIPs. From my experience about 25% of folks survive a PIP. In one case, I was promoted into a manager roll I didn't really want, but was strongly encouraged to take. The first day my director told me that he wanted 2 of my 6 direct reports on PIPs. At our company, often it isn't your direct manager making the call, it comes from higher up.

I think the key to surviving a PIP is to make sure it's attainable (if you're in a position to negotiate it) and to have really good communication with your boss about what you're planning/doing to complete it. I suggest having a weekly meeting/call to discuss progress.

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In practice, a PIP is just giving you some extra months of notice. It's also some advice about what you did wrong, so you might learn from it, but you won't save your job.

Focus on getting a new position, probably sign a contract where you can start immediately after your notice period. Or one where you can start at the end of PIP plus notice period; with a good company you can hope for some severance package.

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One issue others haven't yet addressed is that the source of the PiP can matter in the chances of a positive outcome.

In companies where one member of upper management has sway over what another department does (whether the reason is nepotism, a poorly-working hierarchy, stifling bureaucracy, dotted-line issues, etc), PiPs can be weaponized as a means of punishing perceived-from-afar issues. If the person who ordered the PiP isn't in your direct hierarchy or doesn't have the authority to fire you, but the people in your direct hierarchy have no problem with your work? Sometimes managers take the easy way out and schedule PiPs to say they're 'doing something'.

Should they do this? Of course not. But I have met many managers in my life who would rather give a subordinate an unjustified PiP (with the potential of losing said subordinate either due to quitting or failing the PiP) than challenge a complaint from an 'influential' person in the company. This isn't something that a healthy company does, but it does happen.

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"It Depends"

Okay, obligatory vague answer out the way - I have seen some people go on PIPs and come back stronger, I've seen some people go on PIPs as a mere formality before exiting the company.

Judging by your initial response, I'd suggest you are more likely to be in the latter category. If you don't agree with why you were placed on it in the first place, it's highly unlikely that you are going to use it as a learning experience to turn yourself around and be productive.

Look, sometimes - Life happens, you get burn-out at work, you get comfortable half-arsing it, you start cutting corners or you have some home problems that are distracting you - And sometimes a PIP is the reality check that someone needs to get back on track. As above, I've seen some people use a PIP as a Wake Up call and have turned themselves back into productive employees.

I'd say that in most cases it's 75% on the Employee (You) and 25% on the Management. If you approach the PIP with the right attitude, you can turn it around - but as above - if you disagree with why you are there in the first place, it's probably best to start looking at other options.

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There's some good stories and answers here, but I wanted to sum up and see if I could hit the nail on the head:

...what are the specific odds of me falling into each of those buckets? Does there exist any study of the aggregate outcomes of PIPs as a tool for effective management?

My impression is that this is the "kiss of death" for my job and I need to start looking elsewhere immediately. How likely is it that I'm wrong?

Summary - this stuff as as unique as the PIP, you, and the company you are working in. It generally takes a lot of time for a manager to run a PIP, so it is a last resort in most cases.

For the most part - a PIP should aim to be clear, measurable, reasonable & appropriate to the job of the person getting it, and measured carefully. It should also be confidential. In short - it should be doing a process that aims at rebuilding the manager's trust that the employee can do their job, and that it can be over with no further blame or career damage.

That said, in my experience, here is how your buckets sort themselves out:

I fail the PIP. I am fired.

A pretty common case. If the performance issue is something the employee just cannot or doesn't want to change - this happens. Often by this point, "doesn't have the skills", "doesn't have the motivation" and "can't for some other reason (like work/life conflict)" - are so blended and entangled and distorted, there is no sorting them out.

It's also a higher risk if you are on a PIP and the company is in the kind of financial condition that leads to a layoff. The bonus in that case is you get a layoff package, and not a termination for cause.

I don't care about the PIP because I decided to quit.

Also a pretty likely case, and I put it in here, because it is so common and distinct from failing the PIP. Depending on the company, quitting may cause less damage than being fired. It certainly saves you and your manager some pain. Not a crazy idea if you get the PIP documentation and realize that what is described here is absolutely not the job you want to be doing, and that you can get a different, probably better for you job somewhere else.

I pass the PIP but am less effective than before.

Unlikely. The only way I can conceive of this is the company is asking you do to stuff that is important to how the company sees your effectiveness, and detrimental to how you see your effectiveness. Examples - following arcane security procedures, doing a truly excessive amount of documentation, obeying other obscure formalities. Back up far enough and squint and someone thought this stuff was really important to the health and well being of the company and it's customers. It may be that it's not your job to agree, but just your job to follow the rules. If you hate that - see the previous section on quitting.

I pass and my productivity is unaffected.

Possible. Also unlikely. If you and your boss are really out of touch with each other on something you've already been doing, that they didn't know you were doing and all is well, PIP was unnecessary, and it's all over.

In practice - I've never had this case occur and I've been involved in a fair number of PIPs. Unless you have a case of the utterly not paying attention boss, or your in a job where what you do is very specialized and your boss had no context for it, so wasn't setting their own expectations properly - it's hard to imagine how you'd get here.

The PIP causes me to "come to Jesus". I am more effective than before

I've actually seen this one happen. Cases where the employee really honestly had no idea of a required aspect of their job, and having it explained in the (usually excruciating) detail that a PIP requires actually clarified the problem and the employee was able to improve with practice, feedback and maybe even some training.

That epiphany is what we all hope for and what the folks who train managers on PIP processes tout as the goal... but in my experience, the first two cases are more likely.

There's a variant on this - which is sort of a mashup of "productivity improved" and "this isn't the job I want now that I understand it" - which is that the employee and manager realize that although the employee could do this job, they really aren't a great fit, and there's actually a better job elsewhere in the company for them. I've seen that happen... but it's still a rarer case. This one gets more complicated and company specific, as the rules around a PIP are usually pretty rigid, and not every company will let an employee in this situation make a transfer. Usually an employee will have to get through the PIP successfully and then make the transfer. If that works, then they end up more effective than they were before because they are now doing a job they enjoy and are well suited to.


Bottom line: The level of damage being on a PIP can do to a career at a company is largely related to the reason for the PIP, how much the theorized performance issue has impacted other members of the team, and to what extent the employee can change the behavior that led to the reasons of the PIP. When trust is broken, it's really hard to rebuild, so the big question is - what trust is broken?

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The biggest giveaway is the content of the PIP as to it's true intention. If it seems to involve a lot of busy work to distract you from the job at hand then the PIP has been designed to set you up for failure. Also you can read the attitude gleaned from your supervisor administering the PIP. Are they readily available, accessible and eager to assist you in achieving the goal(s) as laid out in the PIP. If not, then it's easy to read the tea leaves. There are only 2 roads and intentions. Either the PIP was issued as part of a sincere effort to garner your improvement or it was issued as a pretext for termination. Trust your gut. You know the answer. But it can be hard to face, particularly when you have been loyal, hard working, sincere, and dedicated in your job and career. The world is filled with injustices. And a PIP can definitely be a tool to administer injustice.

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