I was talking with a co-worker the other day about my company’s performance review system and they were venting about some of the problems with it. I pointed out in fact the entire system was structurally unfair, so why bother getting upset about the details of it?
You see the system does mean well in some regards. Overall we have four ranks in the system: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, developing and doesn’t meet expectations or in number form the highest rank is 4 and drops down to 1. You can tell someone tried to make the system meaningful by limiting the number of people in the company that can be assigned a 4 rank or exceeds. Which in theory I agree with otherwise the rank becomes sort of meaningless if half the company get the exceeds rank (trust me this does happen…everyone likes to think of themselves as better than average).
Then you are supposed to set your annual goals. Then you rank yourself on your goals at the end of the year and your boss does the same. Then you compare notes and discuss the areas of disagreement. Up until now the process is somewhat fair in the fact if your goals clearly outlined the criteria of exceeds. Unfortunately I have yet to see that happen all that well or consistently in my company. So the unfairness starts to creep in.
Then it gets worse, because your boss then takes your draft rating to a calibration session where all the managers and your director discuss the proposed ranks and adjusts them as required. On one hand I appreciate the concept here. You shouldn’t be able to suck up only to your boss and screw over everyone else in your work place and still get a good rating. But all to often I can see these turning into popularity contests which sort of negates the point of calibrating the ranks. The people that are liked best end up with a higher rank.
In effect, the title of the process, performance review, is rather correct. This isn’t about how good you do your job, but rather how good of a actor/writer you can be to make yourself look better than everyone else (ie: your artistic performance). This isn’t to say results don’t matter, but rather their presentation of those results are more important than most people realize. Oddly, I’m sort of shocked that more people haven’t clued into this fact already. Thus the most proficient players at this game will purposely let their projects go a little off the rails towards the start of the evaluation period so by the time they do the review they can point to the fact they brought everything back on track just last week. The look like a hero and managed to also exploit the fact we have a significant bias to more recent events rather than what happened at the start of the year.
Then the final insult to this entire mess of a complex process if each department is given a set budget to offer raises out of, so the amount of money on the table between each range is rather tiny. I learned this year the difference between the top of rank 4 and top of rank 3 was a mere 1.5% raise. Seriously, you want me to work my ass off for an entire year to get only 1.5% more than just coasting along and doing an ok job? Are you nuts? Do you not understand the idea of diminishing returns?
Then on top of this entire mess I was told the following: because I do such good work already the expectations for me are higher than my co-workers. Pardon?!? Did you just tell me I’m being held to a higher standard than everyone else because I do good job?!?! Um, perhaps the people doing crap work should just do a better job…nay, that would sound like actual performance management. Or god forbid actually fire the crappy performers.
So rather than bitch with my co-worker about the process I have decided instead the sweet spot in this insane system: coasting. Since I only have another 30 or so months less the entire appeal of getting my income to compound is much less important than getting my investments to compound. After all the tax rate on most of my investment is less than my job income anyway.
Therefore I have said goodbye to the following:
- Extra effort to get the job done. Why bother when I have been informed that won’t be rewarded anyway?
- Working late or coming in early. Nope. My contract stated 40 hours a week and I’m sticking to it.
- Going above what was asked of me. Again why put in the effort when my only reward is more work? Which seems to get dropped on my plate anyway, so why add the stress?
- Speaking of work, I now will try to actively avoid extra tasks. No volunteering to help out with a project that isn’t assigned to me or saying yes to requests. My default answer is now: no.
In HR lingo I’m now ‘actively disengaged’ or in plain English: I just can’t scrap together the motivation to give a damn about what I do. I show up, do my work and then leave and never think about it much beyond that. Which I could perhaps feel bad about it until you Google workplace engagement and realize that majority of workers (depending on the study 60 to 70% of your workplace) either are just apathetic to work or outright hate their jobs. On the spectrum, I’m not into hating my job at this point I just refuse to put anything resembling like extra effort into a system that only punishes people who try and be engaged.
So that is the tale of my lack of motivation at work. How is your workplace? Does it also choke out extra work for no actual benefit to the employee? Or worse yet give extra work to the high performers because they are more productive? Or do you just game the system for all its worth?