Thomson Reuters dumps deluge of discipline on its journalists
‘Performance Improvement Plans’ with the failure baked right in
In the Bizarro World, hello means goodbye, good means evil and everything is the opposite of what it would normally be. A recent deluge of so-called Performance Improvement Plans targeted at some Guild members would fit right into the Bizarro World, since they appear set up not to foster improvement, but to encourage failure.
These plans are disciplinary and are being delivered in a way that violates our contract.
Here’s how they’re rolled out, according to some who have gone through the process:
A Guild member who gets a low annual job appraisal – anything less than a 3, or “achieved” – will be called in for a meeting with managers. Usually, they’re told to bring a Guild representative. The manager will give the Guild member a verbal warning, not for anything specific, but for “underperformance.” This is frequently a verifiably false charge, and it would be easy to refute in the world of reality.
But in the Bizarro World of Thomson Reuters performance management, it’s a Kafka-esque exercise where evidence of stellar performance, even awards and kudos offered by the immediate managers’ boss, don’t count. Whatever the Guild member has done, it isn’t enough. Or the right kind of work. Or something.
Then the PIP is handed across the table, often giving a deadline of 30 days to show improvement – or risk further discipline. The objectives are often unrealistic. The word “termination” appears in the document. A copy of the PIP is placed in the Guild member’s personnel file.
This qualifies for Bizarro World status on several fronts. First, we have a contractually protected process of progressive discipline, which means managers must deliver discipline in progressive steps, especially when it comes to performance issues. For example, a final written warning must be preceded by at least one written warning. Termination must be for “just and sufficient cause,” which means, among other things, following the steps of progressive discipline.
Our contract states plainly that the purpose of performance management is not discipline, but “to provide employees with clarity around what is expected of them, measure their performance against those objectives and serve as a tool to coach and develop the employees.” As the Guild’s summary of the contract says:
The current “Performance Management Program,” or any other job appraisal system that replaces it, cannot be used for disciplining employees. The practical effect of this is that failure to achieve goals that were set as part of the job appraisal system cannot be the basis for discipline, but it can be the basis for not receiving a discretionary pay raise.
PIPs that follow a manager’s opinion that an employee did not meet objectives are part of the performance management program as spelled out in the contract (Appendix C). As such, they’re not supposed to be used for discipline. But even if that weren’t the case, issuing a PIP and a verbal warning – two separate steps of progressive discipline – at the same time is another violation.
There’s little question about why this is happening. We’ve been hearing since last year that the Adler Editorial management team wants to “manage out” veteran Reuters staff so they can hire more shiny new “stars.” When asked directly about this at a March 15 staff meeting in Washington, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Paul Ingrassia denied this was the case. Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler has repeatedly said the idea is not to get rid of those who perform the essential journalistic work our clients depend on, but to add more in-depth coverage.
If that is true, it hasn’t filtered down to the lower ranks of management, where unrealistic objectives, threatening meetings with Guild members and a speed-up of progressive discipline are the new rule. We noted in our April 3 Common Sense that the Guild had two grievances related to these issues. Since then, we’ve since filed nine more and there are a lot more coming. We’re watching the situation closely.
If your manager gives you a PIP and/or a verbal warning related to a performance issue, know your rights. You have a right to have a Guild representative present at any meeting with your manager regarding discipline. You have the right to interrupt the meeting for a private conversation with your Guild representative. You have a right to refuse to sign the PIP.