A PIP is a formal document to let an employee know about recurring performance issues. The performance improvement plan (PIP) indicates that the employee is not meeting expectations for their job, and without an improvement, they'll be let go.
There's no denying that receiving a PIP is extremely unpleasant. In this post, I'll talk about the mechanics and timeline of a PIP, and why you should almost always leave the company, even if you feel like you can survive the conditions of the PIP.
I’ve been a software engineer and manager at companies like Pinterest and Meta, and I've talked to thousands of engineers directly through my role in building Taro. Throughout my decade in the tech industry, I've built a deep familiarity with how PIPs work and how tech companies use them.
The anatomy of a PIP
As the name implies, the performance improvement plan will outline a plan to improve your performance. This will almost always be based on time: deliver a feature, project, or milestone by a certain deadline (generally 1-3 months).
A primary purpose of a PIP is to formally document issues so the company can avoid any legal liability when firing employees. That's why the PIP can feel so humiliating and de-humanizing:
- The manager will spend a bunch of time writing down instances where your performance was lacking, pulling in quotes from colleagues, individual code reviews, and emails you may have sent (or have not sent).
- Human Resources (HR) will be looped in, and they will likely attend the PIP kickoff meeting. As a general heuristic, HR involvement is almost always a bad sign. The job of HR is to protect the company, not to protect you.
- The language presented will be filled with "corporate speak" – impersonal, dry claims about your deficiencies, without much encouragement or support.
In order to “graduate” from the PIP and no longer be in danger of getting fired, you'll have to meet or exceed the expectations presented to you. Needless to say, this can feel like you’re under a very uncomfortable spotlight. The extra attention can lower your confidence, making it even harder to recover once you've been PIP'ed.
Why you should choose to leave after a PIP
In almost all cases, people who receive a PIP will leave the company, either voluntarily or due to the enforcement of the PIP. In my opinion, this is the correct outcome. When I was at Meta, I did hear various success stories about engineers who rebounded from a PIP, but these stories were the exception, not the norm.
The biggest reason a PIP is not worth fighting is because you want to work for people who believe in you. This is critical for career success: you need someone who is unfailingly supportive of you, whether that's a friend, mentor, or manager. A PIP does not feel like support. In fact, it feels like the opposite. Your manager felt your performance was weak enough that they literally spent hours documenting how you fell behind, and then informed you in a legal manner.
If you feel like your manager is no longer supporting you, that’s a sign that you need to get out of that situation. Since the company will generally block employees on PIPs from switching teams, the most common outcome is to simply leave the company.
Even if you do think your manager is supportive, another major issue is the perception created from a PIP (whether fair or not). If your teammates find out you're on a PIP, they'll treat you differently since your longevity and career at the company are now unclear.
Finally, your personal mental well-being is at risk. Being on a PIP is like being on an extended interview. You have all the anxiety and judgment from a high pressure environment, but it's actually worse: instead of starting from neutral, you're starting with negative perception. And a multi-month interview sounds terrible.
Why companies uses PIPs
The company or manager might claim that the PIP is designed to help you, but that’s almost never the case. There are two primary motivations for the company when they put an employee on a PIP:
- Remove low performers so they don’t drive away other people on the team
- Get people off the team in a way that minimizes the chance of a lawsuit
If the company has deemed you a poor performer, your feelings or priorities don't really matter. The company is much more concerned about the others.
What you should do
If you're dealing with a PIP right now, here are 3 things you should do:
- Realize that the PIP is not entirely your fault, but also not entirely your manager’s fault. Do some honest reflection about what happened. Often times the PIP is a symptom of a larger problem: poor communication, too much scope, a lack of motivation.
- Inquire about a severance package if you decide to quit. Most tech companies want to let go of their employees in a humane way: they may provide a few weeks of pay, a few months of insurance, and some managers will even try to help you with finding a new role.
- Understand if you are regrettable vs non-regrettable attrition, and how long these labels will last. Generally, on a PIP, you'll be non-regrettable attrition -- you probably can’t change it but at least you’ll understand the implications in terms of interview timeline.
-- Rahul Pandey, Cofounder at Taro