Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Performance evaluation

Tina was working diligently when the meeting reminder popped up on her screen. It read “Annual Performance Evaluation – 9:15 am”. Tina took in a deep breath and let it out. Standing up, she hesitated for a second. She was nervous. She didn’t want to go. Her manager Barbara was a tough woman. Her performance evaluations were notorious. Finally, Tina mustered up the courage to begin the long walk from her cubicle to Barbara’s office door.

The manager’s office door was closed. She peered through the office window, the blinds being open. Dan was sitting across from Barbara, pale faced. His eyes were fixed at the center of Barbara’s desk. Occasionally he nodded, a tuft of dark brown hair peppered with gray bouncing nervously up and down, like a chicken pecking its feed.

Tina waited patiently for Dan’s performance review to finish. Nervously she tucked her dishwater hair behind her ear and stared at her shoes. After roughly five minutes of waiting, she started to become anxious. Tina just wanted this to be over and done with. She was a good worker and she knew it. She only called in sick once last year, and it was because she was genuinely sick with the flu. She worked overtime every time she was asked, without fuss, and was considerate about requesting days off. She made sure that her time off requests weren’t for the end of the month; the busiest time at the office. And she was also efficient. Her files were completed quickly and efficiently – much more accurately than some coworkers.

Lost in thoughts, Tina tried to anticipate what Barbara would say to her. She tried to breathe deeply and focus on particular events of the past. Different moments came into focus. Moments of hard work, diligence, and resourcefulness. She remembered the time that she had found a way to run a report that showed the time that the file arrived in the office, the time it left the office, and imported it into a spreadsheet to spit out the total time it was in the office. It helped save-

Suddenly the door opened. Dan walked out. He nodded at Tina as he walked past, his shoulder slumped and his eyes weary. Slowly, fearfully, she walked into Barbara’s office. As she entered she pulled the door closed behind her. “Please have a seat,” Barbara said in an even, pleasant tone. Tina sat. Behind the desk the glow of the monitor reflected off Barbara’s large glasses. Her steel gray hair was short and puffy like a ball of cotton. Her skin was wrinkled around the eyes from squinting and wrinkle lines cut deep chasms around her mouth. She wore no makeup, but the thick scent of perfume was pungent, wafting over the desk and up Tina’s nostrils.

Barbara made several quick clicks of the mouse, brought up a few items on her monitor, and swiveled the monitor so that Tina could see. After a brief pause in which Barbara shuffled some papers around, she declared “Alright, let’s begin.”

“As you can see here on the monitor, this is a file that you worked on, on the 21st of May. There are mistakes on several files.” Barbara made a few clicks. An image of a file came onto the screen. There it was; a grainy scanned in image of a Truth in Lending statement with several sections circled. “You didn’t note that this TIL was underdisclosed. As you can see,” Barbara paused as she leaned over the desk so her finger could point to the circled area on the screen, “this TIL had a extra appraisal fee for recertification of value that was itemized separately. According to your handbook, you need to count that as a broker fee, not a third party fee.”

Barbara stared at Tina with a penetrating gaze. Her blue grey eyes pierced Tina’s face until Tina looked up into those eyes. Locked into her gaze, Barbara began to lay into Tina. She started to lecture her on the need to “always consult the handbook”, the importance of keeping “good notes”, and to “use her common sense” on these files at all times. Barbara pulled up a few more examples from random dates throughout the year; files that were assigned to Tina and had mistakes that Barbara had circled for examination.

“Ok, now that we’ve reviewed your work, there are some other aspects of your performance,” Barbara continued. “I see here that you didn’t work any Saturdays this past year. You know, we expect our employees to be reliable. If you don’t come in and help out on a Saturday every once in a while, then we can’t really rely on you now can we?”

Finally, Tina had the courage to jump in. “But I worked overtime,” her protestations began. “I..”

“Listen,” Barbara cut her off sternly. “We need people we can count on to help us out when our volume is overflowing. If you can’t come in on a weekend every once in a while and pitch in, then you’re not really a team player.”

“I worked overtime when needed,” Tina protested meekly.

“I don’t wanna beat a dead horse here,” Barbara stated firmly. “But like I said, we gotta be team players here. We need people to pitch in for us on the team, and people that we can - that we can rely on.”

Barbara swiveled her monitor back around. More clicks, and then she started typing into her keyboard. “I see you took a sick day, you clocked in a few minutes late several times, and you took more than a week’s vacation at a time. See, I need my staff to be reliable. When you’re gone for more than a week it put a burden on your co-workers. And this calling in sick…” Barbara paused and her gaze drifted off for a second. “It creates more work for your teammates unfairly”.

By now Tina was sweating profusely. She could feel her underarms were damp and that her shirt was sticking to her armpits. Her heart was beating so hard in her chest that she felt like it was going to leap up into her throat, and she swallowed hard like when she got sick and had to vomit. There was that funny metallic taste in the back of her throat that came before puking.

“Because you aren’t a very reliable team member,” Barbara concluded, “I am giving your overall score of a B minus.” She slid an envelope across her desk. “This has your new salary information, beginning with your pay adjustments that start next quarter. These are, as you know, confidential, so I expect that you won’t share this with anybody. Ok? You can go now.”

With that, Tina grabbed the envelope and left the office. Waiting outside the office in the spot where Tina once stood was Lita, her red hair tied up in a bun, glasses hanging at the end of her nose and eyes transfixed on the ground, patiently awaiting her fate. Tina walked past her without making eye contact and slowly went to her cubicle as if in a daze.

She sat down and opened the envelope. Her eyes scanned quickly, reflexively, towards the middle of the page. Annual pay adjustments it read. Wage increase = 0.75%. Tina read it again carefully, this time bringing the page closer to her face. The number did not change. A three quarters of a percent raise. Tina began to breathe quickly. The numbness of the excoriation began to melt away, giving into anger and sadness. As she read that number over and over again, and the word Barbara used repeated in her head over and over again, she felt her eye well up. Reliable, Barbara had said over and over. She was not reliable. Not reliable! For not coming in on Saturdays, even though no one asked her to. Not reliable because she had taken more than 5 consecutive business days off. Even though that was well within her rights to use her vacation time in large chunks. Unreliable! Tears began streaming down her face.

Not wanting anyone to witness her humiliation, Tina quickly got up and headed for the bathroom. Because the office lavatory was a high traffic area, Tina went downstairs and used the bathroom in the lobby area. Down the flight of stairs she thought about walking out the front door and leaving. A nothing pay raise, after all she sacrificed for the company. A nothing pay raise, after sacrificing for them, and to be called unreliable to boot! It was too much.

Tina went into the bathroom and went into the first empty stall. She sat down and started to weep bitterly. The tears streamed down her face and she could only see a blurry mush. She held her hand over her mouth to muffle the sobs.

After a few minutes, it was over. Taking some tissue, she blew her nose and wiped her eyes clear. Then, after sighing a few times, she got up and exited the stall. In front of the mirror, she looked at her face under the harsh florescent lights.
Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot. She rinsed them with cold water a few times and dried them. The cold water helped a bit, they were less puffy, but still a little bloodshot. Tina sighed a final time and walked out, hurrying back up to her desk.