They slammed me and then gave me a raise.
August 4, 2008 7:18 PM   Subscribe

PerformanceReviewFilter: I got a less than sterling review at work, but I still got a 10% raise. What gives?

I just had my 6 month review and it was painful. Granted, this is the first review I've ever had, but it hurt.

I work as an attorney at a small firm. My bosses brought me in there and basically pointed out everything I've been doing wrong so far. They both asked me questions and I simply froze up on some of them. I felt really embarrassed and they had very little that was good to say. Still, I got a pay increase of 10%.

Then, this morning, my new supervisor said that one of the bosses feels that I'm not coming along as quickly as he'd hoped I would. She said that my job was not in jeopardy, but I'm freaking out.

Should I start preparing my resume, or does this sound like honest criticism and an interest in seeing me improve?

If you need more details or want to e-mail, please e-mail worriedatwork at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First... it isn't unusual for there to be little or no correlation between the review and the raise (unless the review is at either end of the sucks to exceptional continuum).

If you did not get some fairly specific direction or expectation, I would ask for it, in writing if possible.

Any thoughts you have or action you take, of course, should take into account any employment agreement you have (if any).

If you're invested in the position, ask for the specific feedback you need to meet the expectations of those that employ you.

/note, I do not work for a law firm, I am not a lawyer, these comments are coming from the perspective of a non-profit agency.
posted by HuronBob at 7:27 PM on August 4, 2008

My first raise was 27%, and I got a $1k bonus on top of that. The reasoning was easy: I was really, really horribly underpaid. So congrats! You're now closer to the market value for your position.

As to the rest of it, well, constructive criticism is invaluable. Write down the particular feedback points you received, and talk with your supervisor to prioritize them. Work on them. Improve your performance. Next year, you might not get a bigger raise in terms of percentage, but you'll still get a substantial one.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:30 PM on August 4, 2008

Anywhere I have worked you get put on probation and no raise if your fire-able.

Talk with your supervisor over lunch/informally and say, "Hey, what did you mean by xyz... What might I do to better meet their goals?"

Its kind of dickish for a supervisor to say that though -- usually they are more tactful than blaming it on a higher up.
posted by SirStan at 7:32 PM on August 4, 2008

I think the 10% raise is a really good sign, actually.

At my law office, we damned sure wouldn't be giving someone a raise that we didn't think had promise as an employee. Maybe things are run differently at your firm --- even the deadweight gets raises --- but I find that hard to imagine. Small law firms usually aren't keen on spending money where it is not needed, and an employee who's on the way out the door isn't someone we'd give a raise to.

It is possible to have an employee whose work needs a lot of improvement, but who is considered a valuable and promising part of the team. Law practice is hard; a new lawyer, assessed honestly, is going to get a lot of criticism. It sounds to me like your firm doesn't do softball performance reviews, but they consider you overall to be a worthy and valued member of the team.
posted by jayder at 7:34 PM on August 4, 2008

On the other end of the spectrum in three years of employment under the same boss I never got a single official review and was only given the institution's standard annual raise (pretty low precentage).

From my viewpoint I would take this as a meeting that showed they have faith in you to develop into the employee they want and are willing to compensate you as such (as long as you continue to perform). But also keep in mind that they are watching you. A 10% raise after 6 months ain't no laughing matter. The powers that be are observing you, and see a potential for you to bring money in. If you don't live up to that expectation, be prepared for consequences. Also, ask for them to lay out goals you should meet so there is no confusion later.
posted by Science! at 7:45 PM on August 4, 2008

Addendum: I am not involved in the legal field at all.
posted by Science! at 7:47 PM on August 4, 2008

My completely uneducated guess is that they see you as someone who has a lot of potential but is not performing up to their abilities. They probably gave you a good raise so they could be very blunt about the things you need to improve without completely pissing you off.

I think you're in trouble if you don't improve on the things they want you to improve upon, but you have it pretty easy - they've been explicit about the things they want to see you improve upon.
posted by PFL at 7:51 PM on August 4, 2008

They know you can do better and hope to give you an incentive.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:18 PM on August 4, 2008

My first four years out of college, despite the company raking in dough and opening new plants, and my getting great reviews, my "raises" didn't even keep up with inflation (and inflation wasn't bad at the time). A couple years rounding out my resume, and I'm *still*not making what I made fresh out of college, when you account for inflation.

Me? I wouldn't bitch. I'd damn sure work on my resume, anyway.
posted by notsnot at 8:25 PM on August 4, 2008

I'm not in the legal field either, BUT --

They probably see you as having a LOT of promise, hence the raise, but that you need a good square kick in the balls if you are ever going to amount to anything. Maturity isn't gained through being good and kicking ass and having people pat you on the back, it's gained through hard work and a lot of FAIL before you see the wisdom of listening to older people and learning from them. Maybe they were trying to keep your law-school-graduate ego in check and decided you needed a little pruning?

Speaking of pruning... Gardeners have a similar practice to what I think they're doing with you. When a fruiting plant is grown as big as they want it to get, they chop off the extraneous growth above where it's going to fruit and then chop off the top of the new growth so that all the plant's effort (in this case, sugar) goes towards the ripening fruit.

Now, if you don't ripen, they probably will come back and roundly kick you in the balls again. I'd only start to worry when they stop riding your ass about stuff.
posted by SpecialK at 8:25 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

10% is a pretty amazing raise in this economy unless you were really underpaid before.

I've used techniques like the one you discussed to work with employees who had a lot of promise, but for some reason were not always doing the right thing, or were immature in some areas, but pretty good in others.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:26 PM on August 4, 2008

I'm reminded of the story Randy Pausch told in his Last Lecture: Pay attention when people are hard on you and give you constructive feedback. Thats a good thing - it means they care, and are invested in you. Start worrying when you're doing a bad job and nobody tells you.
posted by jpdoane at 8:31 PM on August 4, 2008

you should always be working on your resume and always be making contacts and forming relationships. that is how people advance.

your bosses have given you a pretty clear idea of where you are lacking and what they want you to improve upon, so do it. right now is a most crucial time in your career at this particular place - they will judge you based on how hard you work to address their issues. put your social life on hold for the next six months and get cracking. if you work hard on these issues they'll notice and be all the more impressed, if you don't live up to their expectations, they'll fire you. that boss suggesting you're not coming along quickly enough? consider that a second warning. I wouldn't expect a third.

this is the time to be first and last in the office and to go beyond what is expected. this is a time to outswiss the swiss and outwork the workaholic. (that's all the clicheed phrases I can think of right now but I hope you get it.)

whether you have a future at this particular company is up to what you do in the next few months. don't be concerned about "how can I ever overcome this" though - overcoming will get you more respect than you otherwise might have been able to earn. it shows you don't crack under pressure.

posted by krautland at 11:23 PM on August 4, 2008

Some interesting points but I like the reference to Randy Pausch best. I think the combination of constructive criticism and a pay rise probably indicates you're valued by your employers, although whether you're valued for the right reasons is something you'll have to judge - throughout your career.

A couple of other things I think you should consider include strengths-based development and balance. It's easy to criticize any of your perceived "failings" but I think it's more important to work on these only when they stop you working to your strengths. It's the latter that will be of real value to your employer, though it's surprising how many bosses don't realize that.

Finally, I'm not sure I can agree with making the job your life. Certainly give it all you've got when you're at work, but anything more than that is the fast-track to burn out and unhappiness. Surely there's more to a healthy, balanced life than that and isn't this another lesson to be learned from from the untimely deaths of people like Randy Pausch and Richard Carlson?

I use Peter Drucker's work a lot in my teaching and here are two (of many) of his quotes which make the point far better than I could:

"It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity."

"Know your strengths. Apply them to areas in your organization where you can make a contribution. Make sure your values and the values of the organization are compatible."
posted by the-happy-manager at 2:06 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Law firms tend to be pretty harsh on their associates, and they expect a lot. So, work hard, and try to give them what they want. If you get another review like that, and *you're* really sure that you've done better, then your bosses are "tone-deaf", and you'll probably be happier working someplace else.

As for the raise? I second the idea that your firm has a standard set of raises, and the only way they don't give them out is if they fire someone. I've been at other companies where that was the case.
posted by Citrus at 7:13 AM on August 5, 2008

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