Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst
November 11, 2009 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Countdown to my annual review--and I'm a freaking out (sort of). What's the best way to get through it?

My annual review is approaching. My employer (law firm) is doing OK, but many colleagues have been lost to "stealth layoffs" this year. There is an air of randomness to the whole thing, and everyone has one or two projects where their performance was not 100%, which is more than enough to give you an ulcer over your future. If I am going to be one of those unlucky stiffs who get canned, the decision would have been made in advance, so no amount of reciting my accomplishments will help me now.

At this point, I've been sweating bullets at work for long enough that I'm numb to the whole process. I don't want to lose my job, but I don’t love it or the environment anymore. I fear that this ambivalence is counterproductive when I go into the review--though, as I said above, I don't think there's anything I can say to keep my job if I've already lost it. My reviews in the past have been positive, but everyone's files have been papered to support a dismissal (this is an at-will state).

Any tips on getting through this? I'll definitely have a good breakfast, but other than that, I feel like I'm flying blind. If I were to be let go, I'd like to stay classy, though I'm not averse to playing hardball (but I am pretty certain I would be out hardballed). For instance, should I record the conversation? In general, do you negotiate for severance (or better severance) on the spot, or after the dust settles? I respect the people who will give me my review, but I generally feel that any performance-based justification for my dismissal would be mostly bullshit. Is it worth fighting back when they give you a trumped up reason, or just let it go? I'm not sure whether I would continue in this field if I were to look for a new job (do they even have new jobs these days?).

Thanks. Any advice is appreciated, whether or not directly in response to the specific questions above.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Make a list of all your achievements and feel free to read from the paper when you're in there. Take any valid criticisims on board (and if you're honest with yourself, you probably know what those will be) but also stand up for yourself to any allegations that are way out of whack.

If they do let you go, definitely play hardball. The moment they tell you they no longer need you, you're no longer bound to that fake sort of politeness you all play at in the office everyday. That doesn't mean to be rude... at the very least you want a good reference, but you should ensure you get whatever cash and entitlements you deserve, and accept nothing less.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2009

Paraphrasing some golden advice given to me years ago: If you focus on the job, the review will take care of itself. If you focus on the review, you'll lose the job.
posted by forforf at 5:25 PM on November 11, 2009

Prepare for the worst, but be optimistic. Can you diplomatically talk to some of your former colleagues who have been let go? Finding out how things went for them might give you some insight on what you can expect if they do let you go.

Also, are the ranks being thinned for financial reasons? Because in that case, sometimes it has less to do with your performance and more to do with your role, or the size of your paycheck. You say that the layoffs have an air of randomness. Are good performers being let go, or is it the weak links who are getting the axe? If good performers are being let go, it may be that they were just too expensive to keep.
posted by cleverevans at 5:34 PM on November 11, 2009

First, I would prepare my work area. I would remove personal items that I definitely wanted or did not want anyone going through and mailing them to me later. Leave enough stuff so it does not look like you are planning on getting canned, just make it look like you tidied up. Any files of YOURS you have on your pc you would copy on a USB drive and take home. Delete personal files or emails. Be prepared to turn in company Blackberry.

Second, if you do get canned, let them do most of the talking. If they ask you for your reaction to anything including the severance package, respond that you are a little taken aback and would like a chance to process this before responding, but with all the hard work and accomplishments you have had, you expected a more.

Do not talk poorly about collegues or the firm. Go out with class. Thank them for the opportunity and ask if they would give you a good recommendation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:27 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

forforf has it. honestly, stop worrying and love the bomb. if the decision has been made in advance then the review itself is meaningless, right? forget about the countdown and go about your life. do your job, same as you ever did. Eat, sleep, watch movies, visit friends. when the review comes and you learn the good (or bad) news, you will have spent the previous week calmly, happily living instead of twisting yourself into knots, and you will be able to deal with it. stress and fear only make the situation more difficult, so forget about the stuff that is out of your control.

if they cut you loose, the advice from others (be thoughtful and professional, basically) applies.
posted by Chris4d at 9:00 PM on November 11, 2009

Have you previously been able to handle the review? If the stress is all from the different conditions this year, then just try to handle it as you have in the past.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:47 PM on November 11, 2009

Do what JohnnyGunn said. If you're not being laid off, no problem -- your review will be fine, and you'll go back to a clean desk. Go in positive, on the assumption everything will be okay.

If you are laid off, stay calm and professional. Do not negotiate on the spot. Let them speak, take some notes, and tell them you'd like to talk further once you've processed the news. You might set their expectations a little by asking what services the firm normally provides -- e.g., outplacement, severance. Do not sign anything in that meeting -- just say matter-of-factly that you'd need advice first. But don't bother actually getting a lawyer, because gently implying you have one will achieve more-or-less the same effect.

Do a little research online to find out what you're entitled to. For example, I assume you will be entitled to have any unused vacation paid out. Normally a firm will give you a letter of reference.

If you are laid off, the meeting will be short -- maybe 5-10 minutes. That might feel weird, but it's normal. Ideally, your firm will be the kind that lets you go back to your office and gather up your stuff without an escort: if they want you escorted, feel free to ask if instead you can leave immediately and come back in the evening or weekend for your things. Most firms will accommodate that.

(And if you're numb and don't love the environment, it may be time to start thinking about something else, regardless of how this review goes.)
posted by Susan PG at 12:43 AM on November 12, 2009

I know exactly how you feel, because I went through a layoff earlier this year after living in dread of it for several months. I'm not sure why they'd wait for a performance review if they need to let you go already, but maybe it's their way. In any case, on my last day, which was the day after I was laid off, I brought in some Starbucks coffee and cakes to say goodbye to the coworkers. Everyone liked the gesture and it allowed me to leave on a positive note. This turned out to be a good thing as I got my next job through a lead and reference from my former manager.

Good luck!
posted by Dragonness at 4:53 AM on November 12, 2009

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