14

We have recently been shown our new performance review system and one of the questions asked was:

"Are you prepared to prioritise [the company] over personal time when necessary?"

This was not particularly well received. It is completely fair to say that everybody on that call had prioritised the company over personal time at one point or another but to actually ask this and record the result as part of a performance review feels wrong. The answers to the questions are fed into a complex system of calculations and eventually return an evaluation on, essentially, a 1-9 scale. Anybody receiving a one or a nine will get 'reported' to the management, those in the middle will hear nothing.

The exact mechanism that calculates the evaluation is not known so it feels like the company is setting people up to fail by asking this. If somebody answers "no" then they are not showing themselves as a company person and automatically increase their likelihood of getting a one. If somebody answers "yes", then at some point says they cannot prioritise the company for whatever reason, there is a record that could be used as a tool against them.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the company does not pay overtime and any extra hours are returned as time in lieu. N.B. The dubiousness of this arrangement is for another question. We work in England as part of a multi-national based in the US.

Can a company legally ask if an individual will prioritise the company over their personal life as part of an official performance review?

10
  • 3
    The question is very vague. What does "when necessary" mean and who decides when it's necessary? Is this something that happens every second Friday or is it a very exceptional event that will happen only once a year? The answers will be received dramatically different depending if it's situation A or situation B.
    – Elerium115
    Feb 26 at 12:31
  • 6
    What's the downside of answering the question the way they obviously want you to answer? Later on you can still say "no, I have a funeral to go to, I'm not available". It's not like a legal document you are swearing to under oath.
    – DaveG
    Feb 26 at 16:20
  • 1
    @DaveG they can try to guilt trip you into putting them first because "you said that you would"? Clearly there is one answer to give for a better pr... and the real life answer which is opposite that question....
    – Questor
    Feb 26 at 19:16
  • 1
    Unless of course they are using that question as a check to see how honest you are... In which case saying "no" is the right way forward.... hmmm
    – Questor
    Feb 26 at 19:17
  • 5
    I don’t understand how this is a performance management system - no review I’ve ever heard of is based on speculative answers to survey questions.
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 26 at 23:29

6 Answers 6

32

It's a stupid question, and everybody should treat it as such.

The first thing everybody should do is to go and talk to their boss about what this means. Is the company going to be asking for more overtime? What does the company mean by "prioritizing the company"? Give the boss specific cases - if you have vacation booked, or a family wedding (or your own wedding), or a family member is sick, or you are sick - is the company going to insist that you come to work? What will be the repercussions if you don't? What about getting overtime pay, or time off in lieu, for any extra work you do. And most importantly "what will be the effect on my performance review for different answers to this question?". If any of the answers your boss gives are outrageously unacceptable ("Yes, we would require you to cancel your previously approved vacation plans.") then make sure everybody tells their bosses that.

The point of this is to get clarification, but also to communicate to the boss your concerns with the implications of this question.

After the conversation above, it's also obvious that everybody should answer "yes" to the question. Answering "no" is going to result in a worse performance review (Duh!). So answering "yes" is the only sensible option, even if you have absolutely no intention of doing so.

When at some point in the future the company asks you to do more work and deprioritize family, then hopefully your clarifications have helped: "But boss, you said it would never be more than two evenings a week" or "but you said that you wouldn't cancel pre-arranged vacations". And if the worst comes to the worst "Yes, I said I would do extra work if necessary, but this isn't really necessary". Or "Of course I will prioritize thecompany, but it's only fair to give me time off in lieu". Your answer to a PR question isn't binding, and they can't force you to do extra work just because you answered yes.

Finally, you should always be evaluating your workplace for "is this still a place I want to work". The fact that this question was asked should be factored into that evaluation.

P.S. The question probably isn't "appropriate", but there's nothing much you can do about it. Companies get a good amount of freedom to ask what they want.

P.P.S. If the question weren't part of a performance review it might be a "feeler" question, looking to determine how willing the workers are to do extra work. But in a performance review, you have to assume it's not.

8
  • 2
    Why would you pick a fight over something that's stupid but entirely inconsequential otherwise. Elevating through your boss is just going to annoy your boss as well (since they will have to deal with it).
    – Hilmar
    Feb 26 at 14:53
  • 12
    You don't pick a fight, but you do let your opinions be known. And maybe show your willingness to pick a fight if necessary. The next step for the company may be to mandate weekend working whenever the company wants, whether or not you have other commitments. You want to let the company know that's unacceptable. The earlier you do it the less likely they are t follow through. It's also easier if many people push back of course. Feb 26 at 16:56
  • 3
    Yes, nothing wrong with weekend working appropriately compensated. But I don't agree about mandated weekend working. What if my daughter is getting married? Or I have an expensive dream vacation booked? Should I have to skip those and come to work instead? Feb 26 at 19:40
  • 1
    @Hilmar If management is upset by being asked for clarification about their stupid question, then that acts as an incentive to not ask stupid questions in the first place. The process of reaching out to management for clarification is part of the self-correcting nature. If you avoid doing so, then you avoid providing the exact kind of concrete feedback that could prevent this issue from reoccuring in the feedback. In a similar vein, not being able to put a comment on answers here would prevent giving the kind of feedback that would lead to answerers writing better answers.
    – Flater
    Feb 27 at 2:41
  • 1
    @Hilmar Your boss is the conduit for getting "management" to hear your views. If this question is a prelude to the company starting to ask for excessive uncompensated overtime then it's an issue which might cause significant numbers of resignations. Just because the question itself is silly doesn't mean the issues underlying it are not serious. Feb 27 at 9:09
10

Just say "yes".

It's a stupid question that deserves a stupid answer. "Yes" will help with your review and there are absolutely no consequences otherwise.

Whenever you are asked to do overtime or extra work you will have to decide on a case by case basis on how to react. What answer you put on a stupid questionnaire 6 months ago will have zero impact on what will actually happen in real life.

6
  • unless the question is a really meant to measure your honesty... In which case lying by saying "yes" when they know (or at least should know) that the only honest answer is "Heck no. new jobs aren't hard to find... Family/Friends? irreplaceable."
    – Questor
    Feb 26 at 19:23
  • 1
    And really, all you are saying is that you are 'prepared' to do this, not that you actually will do that in every case.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 26 at 21:56
  • @Questor It's just as likely to backfire either way. Actually that's wrong. It's even more so if you answer no because frankly, people who choose to ask that question just aren't as smart as they think they are regardless of their reason for doing so.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 27 at 2:02
  • @DNKguyen Oh... I agree with you. Saying yes is the safest option if you don't want it to backfire on you... because all of the people I know that ask this question think that work shoould be the most important thing in your life... which is the thought process of people who don't have a life.... I work to live... I don't live to work.
    – Questor
    Feb 27 at 17:33
  • @JimmyJames It also asks whether you are prepared to do it "when necessary". I just wouldn't find it necessary that often.
    – Helena
    Mar 2 at 23:01
6

"Are you prepared to prioritise [the company] over personal time when necessary?"

Yes. I do that generally 9-5, Monday to Friday!

I think potentially what you're reading into the sentence is that "personal time" consists of that which you wouldn't usually expect to be at work, and that "when necessary" consists of arbitrary management opinions rather than your own opinions.

1
  • I do enjoy not working each and every day, all day, but this company is special so I'll sacrifice 9-5, five days a week, just for you.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 27 at 2:00
5

Lets assume the question is harmless. Then the obvious answer is yes I will sometimes put the company first. It is likely to get you more points and there is no downside risk. Answering no means you won't get a perfect score. Therefore almost nobody answers honestly.

If the question is being used in an evil way. Answering no, will mean that you are likely to get a very low rating. Answering yes may eventually comeback to haunt you. What you don't know is will a no drop your score a point, or limit you to a 1 or 2.

Of course if they told you how it would impact your score, then everybody would game the system.

You have to judge the company and answer accordingly.

4

I think it is acceptable, provided that they have an option to answer "Hell no!"

Seriously, I don't see anything actually wrong with it, but it would indicate a place that some may not want to work. It does not violate any privacy nor is it sexual in nature.

This sounds like the company hired some high-priced consultant who suggested this system. As usual it backfired. Now you and your coworkers are feeling like they are "setup to fail". This is not desirable from a management perspective.

For me, I'd answer as honestly as possible and yes some good people could be called in before management, or receive low ratings. Then it is all how management will respond?

If they mindlessly follow the recommendations from this system, it is a crappy company anyway, it was either going to be this or something else. Move on or stay, whichever works best for you.

0

It's interesting to me how some answers assume "yes" to be the "best" answer and suggest to just answer "yes" to be done with it. This seems to me like a naive short term gain.

Imho, if there is a "correct" answer, the correct answer is "no". (Or rather "depends" if the question is open).

Why?
If everyone answers yes, everyone might get a slightly better performance review and a hassle free review talk, the bosses think the question was fine and expecting you to stay for overtime is fine. This encourages a terrible work atmosphere. So, short term avoidance of a little stress for increased likelihood of longterm stress (this is probably a typical game theory problem, where the individual local optimum leads not to an optimal solution when everyone picks it for the whole group).

I would clearly communicate that the question is ridiculous and imho offensive. It's ridiculous because it is terribly vague, you can read anything into this from "would you think about a company problem while taking a shower" to "would you abort your wedding for a company emergency - with the emergency being that a single customer needs their 5$ product wrapped as a gift, but there is no wrapping paper in the preferred colour left so you need to go buy some right then". It's offensive since it implies you should be willing to work unpaid overtime or your bosses lack the ability to properly plan for when you can take PTO and when not and might ask you to cancel booked holidays or the like. Cause otherwise there would be no reason to ask, since regular work is regulated in the contract. I'm not saying you can never work unpaid overtime or in any other way give and take with your company, but it needs to be a give and take for cases that are not easily planned ahead for - it cannot be a general expectation. Any hint for such an expectation is typically a red flag for a mismanaged company. The other issue why this is ridiculous is that it seems to be a binary question ("yes", "no" options) when the actually realistic answer is typically a "depends". If the question is open however, you could answer similarly vague to try and beat the question with it's own weapons: just be as vague. A "depends" can hardly be counted against you (so some short term benefit for the review) and might have the management realize that the question actually gives them no concrete insight (so a chance to reduce the risk of a "misinterpretation").

My personal answer on an open question would probably be "A little less everytime I need to read such a question".

A good company tries to make sure you enjoy your private time and don't get into the conflict between private time and company issues but accepts if despite all their efforts you choose to put some additional energy into a project that caught your heart.

A company asking such a question seems not to be such a good company as it either tries to blur the line and prepare you to spend private time for the company or is too stupid to realize what they imply with such questioning.

Side-hint: Whatever you do, talk with your colleagues about the form and the question in particular. Get a feeling for the mood of your colleagues. If everyone feels this is a non-issue and totally fine, be more soft when you want to address it. If everyone is realizing this is an issue or is easily convinced of that aspect, you can be more open and direct typically in your feedback. It's always a bit weird if you are the only critical voice.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .