Sunday, November 04, 2007


An employee of a major company had a tough year. Her company was reorganized, creating more work for her. She lost her assistant and wasn't allowed to replace him, even after a company-wide hiring freeze was lifted.

Still she toiled on, completing all of her own projects as well as another that was tossed her way, and achieving results that surpassed expectations.

At the end of every year, all employees at her company are required to evaluate how well they believe they have met the goals set for them at the beginning of the year. They then review their assessments with their supervisors.

For the past decade this hard-working employee had always chosen to give herself a "very good" rating instead of an "excellent." This year was exceptional, however, so she checked off "excellent" without hesitation.

Her boss thought differently. At her evaluation meeting, he urged her to change her "excellent" rating to "very good." She reminded him about her work throughout the year and made her case for the "excellent" rating.

When she was through, though, he had one question for her: "Would you rather have an `excellent' rating or the promised new assistant who will make your work easier?"

She capitulated, and changed the evaluation as requested.

Later she told two other people, one a former colleague and the other a current one, what had happened. The former colleague told her that she should have gone to human resources to report the issue. The current colleague responded by telling the former colleague that she didn't understand how the company was now being run, and saying that the hard worker had done the right thing.

The former colleague still believes, however, that what the boss did was unethical.

Bosses have a right to evaluate their employees honestly and directly. Not everybody is above average or excellent at every workplace.

The hard-working employee's boss would be justified in discussing whether or not her self-rating accurately reflected the work she had done. Good evaluative tools provide a means for supervisors and employees to discuss an employee's strengths and weaknesses in order to come up with goals for improvement. But the boss stepped over the line when he bluntly insisted that the employee change her evaluation of herself or he would withhold the promised hiring of an assistant.

Granted, he may have felt that he could make a stronger case for the need for the assistant if he could show that the worker needed the assistant to improve her work -- after all, if she can do excellent work without an assistant, why hire one? He offered no such explanation to her, however. His response came down to a threat: Do it my way or I will withhold something that has been promised to you.

That's bad managing and, yes, bad ethics. A promise is a promise, not an invitation to further negotiation, nor is it a weapon to be wielded in employee management.

As for the hard-working employee, she did the right thing: She chose the option best suited to what she needed to be able to do her job well. The boss's approach was unethical, her response was not.

Should the human-resources department have been alerted? I say yes. The boss's actions make the end-of-year self-evaluations dishonest and meaningless. If his behavior can't be reformed and if it's determined that others behave similarly, the evaluation tool is a waste of everyone's time and should be dropped.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have worked in workplace consulting and have never heard of such a bizarre scenario as a self evaluation being attacked by way of a veiled threat.

There are more questions in my mind than "was it ethical?" One-- why did the manager care? What possible motivation could he have had for invalidating a self evaluation? Did he feel it was inaccurate and thus the employee needed to revisit her performance with a more critical (or accurate) eye? If so, how did the quesion "Would you rather have..." bring this about? It would seem it did not.

Second, what are the parameters of performace? Were they measurable? If so, what purpose did the manipulative question serve as to assessing performace? None.

Third, if the assiatance was indeed "promised" (Promised how? Was it really promised or just thrown out as a teaser? or a maybe...???)

Why couldn't the employee simply state "I would rather have both-- what is it in my performance that you feel rates a lower grade?" Why did she need to permit this blatant manipulation?

And last, but not asked... why would this employee stay at such a job? If this is what happens when she rates herself as an excellent employee, what will happen if a more important issue arises? Nothing good.

This is called "selling your soul". This is not something i personally would do. If this employee was "excellent" then she should be able to obtain a posiiton where she can do excellent work and also be dealt with in a decent, honest, NON MANIPULATIVE manner. But if this question was a test of her mettle... she failed. If she is not excellent, or the two are evaluating different parameters she is still worse off than if the communiucation had accomplished something or cleared the situation up. No one seems to know what the problem was. I don't! She doesnt! Your readers don't!

Nor am I sure if the issue is one of ethics. Many things are not ideal because they lack some value other then "ethics." Respect and honor come to mind.

I say the employee made a poor choice--unless she likes being disrespcted and maniplated for no apparent reason at all. And what example does this set? We wonder why kids these days view work as a necessary evil!

Nothing about this adds up or bears scrutiny. Not what he said, not what she did.

My 2 cents worth.