Responding to Evaluations at AP

Evaluations should be a constructive tool. In many — if not most– work locations throughout The Associated Press the good faith of managers has confirmed what many employees already knew: they are doing a good job. Meanwhile, the evaluation comments, intended to bolster performance, are clear and attainable in their goals.

Evaluations have been a useful tool when deciding promotions, transfers and merit pay.

However, an ugly turn occurred over the last year, especially in the Business News vertical. The process has turned into a disciplinary weapon often used to rewrite history. Year-old incidents that did not cause a peep from management are being retroactively cast as poor performance, inappropriate behavior or even insubordination.

Managers have told staffers their evaluations were downgraded by their superiors who want them to be more critical. Managers are being skimpy with providing “above expectations” and “outstanding” rankings and far more generous with “below expectations” and “not acceptable.”

A few staffers were told AP expected excellent work from them so all they did was “meet expectations.”

Employees are concerned AP is quickly trying to undermine job security because it has introduced evaluations at arbitration hearings as proof of performance.

1. Should I respond to my evaluation?

Yes, if you receive an evaluation with “below expectations” or “not acceptable,” ratings, and if a reasonable explanation exists. A lack of a response could be viewed as acceptance of the charges. Your manager may have spent many hours putting your evaluation together. Treat it seriously!

You should protest in writing a “meets expectation” rating when you believe an “above expectations” or “outstanding” rating is due.

AP has and will likely continue to introduce evaluations at disciplinary hearings as proof of employee performance. Evaluations don’t have to make you happy, but they should be constructive criticism. Some employees have not been evaluated for years and have not been talked to orally or in writing about performance issues that show up suddenly in an evaluation. The evaluation should not be allowed to recast all of your prior work as deficient. If it mentions a rule you are unfamiliar with, ask for a copy of the rule so you can become familiar with it and have a chance to succeed. Management’s goals should be obtainable. The evaluation should not include language that would violate your union contract. It should not threaten you with discipline.

2. I received my evaluation. What do I do?

After you receive the evaluation, the company requests a meeting to discuss it with you. Sometimes the meeting happens quickly. The union urges employees to ask management for sufficient time to respond to the evaluation so the meeting is more fruitful. You know management’s views prior to the meeting. It should know yours.

3. Am I entitled to a union representative at that meeting?

Typically, you are not entitled to union representation at a post-evaluation conference because it’s not intended to be disciplinary. However, you can ask your manager for an assurance that discipline will not result from the matters to be discussed if you have concerns prior to the meeting. Or you can ask for union representation if the meeting becomes disciplinary, or turns into an investigation of facts which may be grounds for discipline. Management is not required to inform you of your right to a union representative and experience shows it won’t.

However, if the evaluation states sub-par work or other issues may be grounds for discipline or if it contains references to behavioral incidents that were not raised earlier it could be an investigatory meeting disguised as an evaluation conference. Contact the union at 212-869-9290 or at Guild@newsmediaguild.org for advice. You may be able to insist that a union representative be allowed to attend. The National Labor Relations Board could decide if a denial of union representation was proper.

A large majority of these meetings have not resulted in problems.

4. Anything you say can be used against you.

Several managers often are in the room taking notes. The meetings are designed to encourage you to talk and for your managers to tell you what they think of your work and, possibly, how to improve it. You may feel willing to accept criticisms of your work because the room feels collegial. You need to make sure you don’t accept criticism that is unwarranted. There is nothing that prevents your comments from being used in reprimands or to support future discipline.

5. Beware when supervisors encourage you to be self-critical.

Proceed with caution if your supervisor asks you to discuss your biggest disappointments and obstacles to doing your job and areas that need work in your appraisal. Even if your boss wants the appraisal to be a “collaborative effort,” once your comments are on the record, future use of them may be out of your immediate supervisor’s control. There’s no guarantee your boss won’t be compelled to use these comments against you if his or her superiors decide to write disciplinary letters. Assessment is the supervisors’ job. Talk about your achievements when all you are hearing is negative comments.

6. Appraisals may affect your employment security.

Most employees want to know how they’re doing and the appraisal process should be a great way to find this out. The process can be easily undermined by managers who decide to give fewer good ratings and to be more critical. If employees perform “above average” and “outstanding” work it should be acknowledged and not arbitrarily downgraded. Telling employees their work only meets expectations because they are expected to be great defeats the purpose of the evaluation.

When management eliminates jobs by reducing the workforce, it follows the staff reduction procedures of our contract. The question of who goes and who stays within a given department and job title is determined by seniority, skills and ability. It could point to your evaluation as proof of sub-par work or an inability to perform available work.