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Why it’s more important than ever to think before signing a PIP

Anyone who’s worked as a federal employee for any length of time knows how important it is to receive a good performance evaluation. Your evaluation drives your pay increases and your chances of landing a promotion or an exciting new role.

Soon, your performance evaluation may matter even more. If the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) gets its way, you’ll have to wait longer to get a pay raise, and you won’t be able to climb to the top pay grades in your position without a “fully successful” review.

Should you sign an unfair review?

You should have a good idea about what you can expect from your review before you receive it. Federal agencies work hard to make sure employees understand their critical and non-critical duties. When possible, they aim for clear, measurable definitions of success. As a result, you should generally know whether you’re meeting or exceeding your targets. And if your review seems unduly harsh, you may have reason to pause.

As others have noted, you want to earn a positive rating. Your “fully successful” review can help you climb the ladder. And, if the OPM gets what it wants, the “fully successful” rating will become a requirement for the top in-grade pay raises. Meanwhile, a review of “unacceptable” can trigger disciplinary actions. Your agency could draft a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and hold you accountable to it.

Here, it’s worth noting that the PIP may not always be about “improvement.” Your agency may be using it to document your “failure” and pave the way for your departure.

That’s why you may want to get a second opinion before you sign a performance review that seems harsh. Especially if you have had years of good reviews and suddenly receive a bad review after calling out wasteful processes or bad behavior, you may want to:

  • Ask your supervisor for clarification
  • Talk to your union rep
  • Consider appealing your evaluation

In the meantime, you can also push back against an unfair PIP. By pushing back, you can make sure the PIP is held to the highest standards of review. And when you make sure the PIP meets all the appraisal criteria under the federal Reform Act, you minimize the risk to your career and family.

No guarantee the changes are coming

At this point, the OPM’s proposed changes remain proposals. But you should get ready for them. They fall in-line with many of the other changes made in the past several years and months.

For now, your best bet may be to educate yourself. The more you know about your rights, the better you can exercise them.

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