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I'm a data analyst at my company.

I'm currently roped into an analytics task where I'm setting the criteria for other employees to receive quarterly bonuses.

I have two key objections to my involvement.

1) I don't work in HR. I'm in business analytics. The fact that I can see all of these other employees' salaries and benefits packages really bothers me. I don't think I should have access to it at all, and I feel uncomfortable judging the value of these employees to the business without being able to evaluate their work directly.

2) The executive's process for assigning bonus acquisition is pretty scummy. Q4 2016 was pretty productive, so more people hit bonus targets than they'd like (47% vs. their desired 33%). They want me to fudge the criteria going forward so that bonus attainment will be less and they can hoard more cash like dragons.

As an analyst, that last part really sticks in my craw. It goes against the discipline to fudge data to fit the desired conclusion rather than let the performance of hard-working professionals speak for itself. The employees shouldn't be punished for being productive by raising the ceiling even higher so that 2 year employees are expected to produce at the level of 10+ year employees.

I'm grudgingly moving forward on the task, but I'm not sure how hard I should push back on my objections. I've made it known that I don't feel comfortable having this degree of access to employee information, but I've kept my judgement about the goalpost-moving to myself.

My questions:

Am I right in thinking that I shouldn't have access to other employees' financial information?

How can I frame my objection to the goalpost-moving in a way that sounds less judgmental of my superiors?

Ultimately, I don't expect the executive to follow the guidance of an analyst, but I feel like I need to raise a formal objection to my unwilling participation in this task.

EDIT: At no point (at my job or in the question) have I indicated that I won't do it, or that me not liking it precludes me from having to complete a task that I'm assigned. Obviously, I'll do it, and to the same quality that I perform any job task. I feel that subjective evaluation of fully objective performance measure to be a morally objectionable tactic, particularly when revenue is soaring.

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    Now you have some insight into how your company does business. If it bothers you - and it seems like it does - perhaps you should start looking for new employment. Kudos for your desire to speak up against the injustice (although it's a really crummy career move). – AndreiROM Mar 8 '17 at 18:59
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    In tough years where they fall well below the desired 33%, do they adjust in the other direction? – mikeazo Mar 8 '17 at 19:16
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    adjusting criteria != adjusting data...? – user42272 Mar 9 '17 at 4:41
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    Here's a suggestion. Run the calculations for both the original bonus guidelines, and the "moved goalpost" guidelines, and calculate the difference. In your final report, present all three numbers, the two totals and the difference, and say "The likely consequence of proceeding with this plan is the utter destruction of your reputation with your employees. They will never again trust anything you say. Do you value that good will and trust that lightly?" You can find a better way to say it, but that's the gist of the idea. – John R. Strohm Mar 9 '17 at 23:30
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    @JohnR.Strohm I'm working closely with my director on it. Our company has a reputation for being notoriously stingy with its rank and file employees. HR and the executive don't seem bothered by that, which is unfortunate. – sleddog Mar 10 '17 at 13:34
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Am I right in thinking that I shouldn't have access to other employees' financial information?

In general, companies do want to limit access to employees' financial information. Clearly though there are roles and projects that require such access. It sounds like this is one of them.

If your job is analytics and the task you have been assigned involves accessing other employee's financial information, you can think what you like but still have to do what you are told.

You could (and probably should) ask that you be given a dataset with the individual employees' names and identifiers redacted. That way you'll be analyzing the data without involving individuals. You'll know the what without knowing the who.

How can I frame my objection to the goalpost-moving in a way that sounds less judgmental of my superiors?

You can start by avoiding words like "scummy", "fudge", "hoard", "goalpost-moving" and "my unwilling participation".

Instead, focus on what your superiors hope to achieve and how you think they can best get there.

Or you could request a meeting with the board and say that you feel it is unfair to "change the criteria going forward so that bonus attainment will be less". Perhaps you can propose an alternative process that will still let the company have it's desired 33% bonus attainment rate. It's often good to have an alternative when you express a complaint.

The company I recently worked at has a performance appraisal system tied to annual salary increases. The department I managed was given a budget for the increases prior to the appraisals and could not be adjusted. Thus, the dispersal of increases was a zero-sum game. If I had all terrific workers on my team, I couldn't given them all terrific increases. I had to give less to one in order to be able to give more to another. Or I had to give everyone an "average" raise.

I argued unsuccessfully for several years that is was unfair and that the budget should be spread across more than one (small) department.

I didn't have to be personally happy about it, but I still had to follow orders and stay within my budget.

In your case it doesn't sound like you are being asked to judge people individually. Instead, it sounds like you are being tasked with coming up with a "passing grade" such that 33% of people attain their bonus. And it sounds like someone (with an analytics role) would have to do that anyway.

If you really have a moral objection, you can argue your point. But in the end you need to decide if this is sufficiently morally objectionable that you would quit or not.

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    +1 Great answer as always Joe! In particular the example you gave about the fixed budget is very helpful. – David K Mar 8 '17 at 19:46
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    I'm looped in on the e-mail chain. Their goal is to "pay out less in bonuses, 47% is far too much." I'm in the know of the finances for the business: paying out a large amount in bonus for one quarter is a drop in the bucket, hence my objection. If there were difficult financial situations to be made, I'd be a lot softer in my view, but this is very much a "hoard money for the board" scenario, and is described as such. – sleddog Mar 8 '17 at 19:54
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It is a job related task if it was assigned to you. You are an analyst and they need an analyst.

As an IT person you are likely to come in contact with sensitive information. Most people get used to ignoring it.

Refusing this task or objecting to it would impact you career negatively.

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  • Yeah, I know it's a "suck it up, buttercup" situation. As I mentioned in the question, I'm still performing the task, but I'd still like to express my objection to this specific practice. – sleddog Mar 8 '17 at 19:50
  • I get you may really really want to express your objection and it may really really hurt you career. Not telling you what to do but be aware. – paparazzo Mar 8 '17 at 19:52
  • I'm not planning on banging the gavel on this one. I've aggregated a number of objective measures on employees in the past which have impacted whether or not employees receive raises, and to what degree. But those measures were objective and set ahead of time. In this case, the executive already set these targets, which 47% of the workforce met, and now they're reneging on that target. I guess bonuses are just that - a bonus - but I still feel it's dishonest to raise the bar behind the scenes. – sleddog Mar 8 '17 at 19:58
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    You can feel a lot of things and the paycheck that hits the bank feels good. And analyst that refuses an assignment goes to the bottom. – paparazzo Mar 8 '17 at 20:05
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    @Paparazzi Sounds like I've contracted a case of "suddenly giving a damn". – sleddog Mar 8 '17 at 20:08
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Probably too late to help OP, but I want to leave this here for others in a similar jam.

I strongly recommend that you do not fudge any data. IANAL, but as I understand it such an action has legal implications for you, and probably breaks Sarbanes-Oxley rules. It is particularly wrong for them to ask you to do this for them. If you are cornered, I would keep a second set of the records - make sure if you do this you strip out personal information.

There may be a way out for you. Instead of fudging the data, ask them to alter their criteria for getting a bonus. They can do it, unless they had everyone sign a contract on how their bonus will be determined. Point out that this was is less risky for them. After Enron, falsifying financial data got to be serious business.

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