Placed On A Performance Improvement Plan At Work? What You Need To Know

by | Career Growth

What do you need to know if you’re placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) at work? As an executive coach, I regularly work with high-performing leaders who have been placed on a PIP.

Being put on a PIP at work can be anxiety-inducing, especially if you’ve traditionally been seen as a strong leader who consistently exceeds expectations.

Continue reading to learn more about PIPs, including why employers use them, what to do if you’ve been placed on one, how to tap into available resources, and potential outcomes at the end of the PIP process.

What Is A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

For starters, what is a performance improvement plan, and why do employers use them?

As the name implies, a PIP is a tool used by companies to document and monitor your performance, with the hopes of driving an improvement. You will typically meet with your manager, and potentially one or more HR representatives, to review your performance and discuss opportunities for improvement when the PIP is first introduced.

During this meeting, you will review a performance improvement document that outlines your performance issues, activity goals, and available resources.

Companies with a coaching culture often use performance improvement plans to truly support a change in behavior and support you in getting better. Conversely, some employers use PIPs to “pad” your file in case they later decide to terminate you. Tech companies sometimes also place a percentage of workers on PIPs before a pending layoff.

What To Do If You Get A PIP?

If you’re placed on a PIP at work, you’ll want to get a clear understanding of why you were placed on it in the first place, as well as how success will be measured by your employer.

You’ll also want to understand whether the company is using the tool to coach you or push you out the door. You can often figure out the underlying intentions of the PIP by uncovering what has happened to previous employees who were placed on one. Did they stay with the company after they completed the PIP, or were they terminated?

Process your emotions.

While often easier said than done, you want to try to avoid acting from a place of fear or scarcity, as being put on a PIP at work can bring up a lot of complex and difficult feelings. Give yourself time to process the emotions and grasp the reality of your situation.

Communicate your progress often while on the PIP.

As you make progress on your PIP, don’t wait for your manager to ask for updates or hold off until the end of the process to share your progress either. Instead, you want to regularly communicate with your boss and ask for feedback on your performance. Additionally, if you need help, ask for it.

Tap into available resources – internally and externally.

Speaking of which, your company should set you up for success by providing you with resources and support to drive behavior change and get you past the PIP. However, if they don’t provide you with all the tools you need to be successful, it’s your responsibility to advocate for yourself.

Tapping into mentorship can be incredibly valuable when placed on a PIP at work, too, as they can provide you with an external perspective and sounding board. You might also consider partnering with an executive coach to support you in identifying your blind spots, leveraging your strengths, and navigating workplace dynamics.

How Long Can A PIP Last?

PIPs can vary in length but typically last from 30 to 90 days. However, some PIPs are action-based, which means you are being monitored until you complete certain actions such as attending a series of training sessions or meeting with an executive coach. And some PIPs are performance-based, which means they’re based on your results, such as a reaching certain sales quota.

Should I Quit If I Get A PIP At Work?

You might be tempted to give up or quit your job if you’re placed on a PIP at work, but you want to weigh your options before you jump ship, particularly in the current labor market, since it can take multiple months to land a new job.

You’ll want to keep in mind that you’re ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits if you voluntarily leave your job without “good cause.” Notably, the definition of “good cause” varies from state to state.

It also never hurts to dedicate time and energy to updating your resume with your current role, optimizing your LinkedIn profile to attract recruiters, and putting feelers out for a new job.

Is A PIP The Same As Being Fired?

No, a PIP is not the same as being laid off or fired. Rather, it’s a tool to monitor performance and encourage and support behavior change. However, you can be fired while on a PIP if you do not meet the documented expectations. You can also be terminated at the end of the PIP if you fail to improve your performance.

What Happens At The End Of A PIP?

At the end of your PIP, you will likely meet with your manager, and potentially HR, to discuss your performance over the course of the PIP and whether you met the expectations outlined. You will want to come to the meeting prepared with a list of your goals and associated accomplishments.

The following are some of the possible outcomes at the end of a PIP:

  • Completion of its objectives, which is the ultimate goal
  • Extension of your PIP
  • Change in your scope/responsibilities
  • Reassignment to another position
  • Demotion in job title
  • Transfer to another department
  • Termination of your employment

Important: A PIP does not always result in the termination of your role. While some companies have a reputation for placing people on PIPs as a precursor to firing them, others use them as they’re intended — to drive behavior change and support employee performance.

What Happens If You Fail A PIP At Work?

There are several potential outcomes if you don’t meet the expectations of your PIP, which might include it being extended, having your role and responsibilities augmented, or having your employment terminated.

Your manager or HR representative should educate you on what might happen if you don’t meet the expectations outlined in your PIP, as well as their availability to support you through the process.

Conclusion: Being Placed On A PIP At Work

Being put on a PIP at work can feel scary and bring up a lot of new and challenging feelings. Here’s what you want to keep in mind if you find yourself on one:

  • Check in with your manager often on your progress, even if they don’t ask for status updates. Ask for feedback on how you’re doing, what’s working well, and what you need to continue to improve upon.
  • There are a lot of potential outcomes at the end of your PIP, so don’t assume the worst. A PIP doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be fired.
  • Make use of available internal and external resources. Leverage the power of mentorship, and consider hiring an executive coach to support you in navigating your workplace dynamics.

On a final note, please know that a PIP doesn’t define you. It’s only a single moment in your career. You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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