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What does this sound like to you?
Old 08-09-2013, 09:05 PM   #1
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What does this sound like to you?

Been with a big company for over 18 years now.

We're right in the process of going through our annual reviews.

Today, I had a regular one-on-one meeting with my manager and after talking for an hour about ongoing business issues, he said he wanted to talk a little about my upcoming review.

He wanted to know about my motivations, where I wanted to go. He said my current performance is very good but earlier in the year, my performance wasn't up to snuff.

He wanted to know if I could sustain my current level. He then pointed out that I was in a unique and "fortunate" situation because I had cashed in stock options 5 years ago. He wanted to know if I was committed to doing the extra steps it took, whether working long hours or taking initiative on certain projects, given that I had no financial reason to work.

I was completely shocked by this discussion. My review had been great last year, including the "Results" category, which is as close to "performance" as the categories they use. Part of the review process involves feedback from other departments with which we work. Last year, they said I received raves from outside departments.

But this year, they're saying these same departments were complaining about my work. He didn't go into too many specifics, other than I didn't upgrade the software on my machine, which led to a problem software build.

However, he said as long as I sustain the results I'm currently getting, there would be no problems. But he kept returning to whether I had been thinking about retiring (obviously I had, since I joined ER just over 5 years ago). I said I hadn't, which is obviously not true, nor had I done any kind of planning, which is true because outside of playing around a couple of times with retirement calculators and perhaps taking part in discussions here, I hadn't done a lot of the nuts and bolts of planning a budget and thinking through withdrawal strategies.

In fact, since I've not invested all the proceeds from my windfall 5 years ago nor have I even rebalanced (AA is just approaching 60% equities these days).

The thing is, my assets have appreciated substantially in the last 4-5 years, as is the case for most people who've been in the market. So they really don't know how much I have. The original sum, at 4% WR, wouldn't even have amounted to half my current income. So as far as they know, I have a low 7-figure lump sum.

We went back and forth and I tried to assure them that I wouldn't be working the hours I've been putting in (at least 2-3 12 hours days a week plus weekend hours) as well as work with teams to optimally use the resources of our group, if I wasn't invested in this work.

He then said my current level of acceptable performance has been in the last 4-5 months and even then there were some "glitches" here and there. For example, being 30 minutes late to an hour staff meeting once.

One thing that I remembered, after the meeting, is that I was promoted in January, which would be before the current 4-5 month period of acceptable performance. I was given a modest salary bump and a increase in grade. But that meant I no longer was compensated for all the hours I was working, which sometimes went as high as 70-80 hours per week. In return, I would be eligible for additional bonuses. There haven't been any.


My overall impression was that I was being nudged to leave. Or being warned that I could be let go if some threshold of performance was not met. I asked for specifics about metrics and also more specific info. about the negative feedback from outside depts. but he said he didn't want to rehash the past, that the important thing is to sustain the current level of performance.

But if my "motivation" is there, I would be strongly encouraged to do retirement planning as well as work on a plan to train replacements.

He didn't come across that bluntly. I think he was trying to plant the seed in my head or informally warn me. Maybe a preview of the upcoming review.


I will also say that he's been manager of the dept. for a year. In fact, he had just taken over when he and my former manager jointly delivered a very positive review, with the highest rating in the "Results" category.

But in one of the first one-on-one meetings we had, he asked me why I continue to work the long hours required of the job, given my windfall, which I didn't tell him about. Presumably he looked up my HR files.

Between that initial mention and today, he hadn't conveyed any serious concerns about my work.
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:12 PM   #2
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:16 PM   #3
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Not knowing the entire situation I can't provide much help. But, if your gut is telling you something isn't cool-and it sounds like it is-follow your gut.
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:30 PM   #4
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Unbelievable that he is getting into your personal financial status. Imho that's pretty nosy and inappropriate.

I hope you're watching your use of company internet and company phone for retirement sites and financial institutions. Maybe they are tracking people's use.
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:36 PM   #5
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Unbelievable that he is getting into your personal financial status. Imho that's pretty nosy and inappropriate. ...
Yes, I'd feel pretty weird if any manager ever approached me with that. I was awarded some fairly modest amount of stock options, at that point, what I did with them (within the rules, which I couldn't violate anyhow), was MY business.

Maybe HE wants to ER, and is trying to pump you for info?

Otherwise, it does sound odd. If any manager told me my performance was sub-par 6 months ago, but fine now, I'd ask "Why didn't we have a talk 6 months ago?"

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Old 08-09-2013, 09:52 PM   #6
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. . . He then pointed out that I was in a unique and "fortunate" situation because I had cashed in stock options 5 years ago. He wanted to know if I was committed to doing the extra steps it took, whether working long hours or taking initiative on certain projects, given that I had no financial reason to work.
I'm asking because I don't know: Is it normal for bosses to know whether you've exercised stock options? Does he also have access to the balance of your 401K?

The discussions about your finances and your motivation and hints of performance "issues--these are not a good sign. Yes, I think this review might be tough sledding.

Do you know where you stand financially? I'd think you'd want to go into this meeting knowing if you needed to keep this position, if you want to/could afford to move laterally/down if that is offered, or if you can afford to hang up your spurs. You certainly don't need to suggest these options on your own, but knowing your financial position (specifically--what you need to earn and for how much longer) would be important baseline info.

Hopefully, things go well and this is all just "noise" in the very inexact art of human-to-human communication. Good luck.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:00 PM   #7
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When he first raised it, about a year ago, it seemed like an informal conversation.

Today though, it didn't.

My sense is that if they wanted me to leave, it wouldn't be right now. There is a relative recent new hire in the group but as it's approaching the end of the fiscal year (hence the upcoming review), this wouldn't be a good time to reallocate my work to others.

Initially, I thought if I were to leave, I'd give them a month or two for the transition (on top of the month of unused vacation). We've been burned by people leaving suddenly in the past and having to scramble.

Even if I don't feel any loyalty to management, I wouldn't want the onus to fall on my co-workers, who'd be given the divvy'd up work. You wouldn't think the management would want to have to increase the burden on them either.

But then again, maybe they wouldn't care.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:14 PM   #8
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I'm asking because I don't know: Is it normal for bosses to know whether you've exercised stock options? Does he also have access to the balance of your 401K?

The discussions about your finances and your motivation and hints of performance "issues--these are not a good sign. Yes, I think this review might be tough sledding.

Do you know where you stand financially? I'd think you'd want to go into this meeting knowing if you needed to keep this position, if you want to/could afford to move laterally/down if that is offered, or if you can afford to hang up your spurs. You certainly don't need to suggest these options on your own, but knowing your financial position (specifically--what you need to earn and for how much longer) would be important baseline info.

Hopefully, things go well and this is all just "noise" in the very inexact art of human-to-human communication. Good luck.

Well, I've enjoyed the job for the most part the past few years, because when things got crazy, I would always remember that I could probably walk away, not have to worry about searching for other work.

I haven't done the planning though, especially running through FIRE with more recent data, working through budgets, plotting out withdrawal schedules, especially managing the retirement savings to maximize tax advantages.

Nor thought about when to take social security. I'm going to turn 53 soon.

The uncertainty of the economy/market and health care expenses have made me defer these exercises. Like I said, the job has been good in recent years, plenty of time off, good benefits, easy commute, etc.

Like many here, there is a certain mental block about transitioning from working all of my adult life.

But the other side of it is that I realize I'm likely to get more out of my savings now as opposed to 10, 20 or more years later, with uncertainty about life expectancy and overall health.

I just ran through a rough budget, padding most of the categories beyond what I'm spending now and it came out to $4060 a month.

So rounding up to $50k a year, which includes a lot of travel ($9600). That annual sum would be well under 2% of my retirement savings, though it's less than 1/2 of my annual salary.

Though one thing is that I estimated $500 a month for health insurance. Don't know yet if that's a realistic number.


Edit to add: Yes they know about my stock options. This particular manager wasn't around when I exercised them. However, other managers at the time reminded me that the expiration was coming and one even referred me to his financial planner back then.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:19 PM   #9
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But then again, maybe they wouldn't care.
Trust me....they don't. My sense as a previous manager is that they want you gone one way or another. I also get the sense it's not for lack of performance. I've found that performance is relative to whether you're in or out.

I'd also suggest getting down to the nuts and bolts of your FIRE situation in case it comes to that.

Good luck.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:20 PM   #10
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Good grief. I feel so lucky to be self employed when I read the crap happening in these "reviews". I would tell the reviewer to go f$&k himself if this happened to me (if I was close to FI that is!)

Can you threaten a lawsuit or other action? Buffalo them into giving you a juicy severance package?
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:21 PM   #11
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You asked, "What does this sound like to you?".

I do not know what it sounds like, but it smells fishy.

I wonder that even though you have been working hard, your thinking about retirement and investing might have surfaced in talk with your coworkers, and you inadvertently showed your hand.

I knew I was talking retirement and investing all the time with people I worked with in the last decade, but I was working part-time as an ESR, and I did not care. I just wanted to alert my friends to spend more time thinking about their personal finance matters.

PS. Compared to you, I spend way too much (3.5%WR). At 2%WR you are good to go.

As stated elsewhere, my insurance premium+HSA is $9K/yr for a couple. If I deplete my HSA by being really sick several years in a row, then with deductible it will be $16K/yr. Of course that will increase with time. My insurance just sent me a letter that this policy will be continued. I think I will stick with them for 1 year or 2 to see how Obamacare works.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:29 PM   #12
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You asked, "What does this sound like to you?".

I do not know what it sounds like, but it smells fishy.

I wonder that even though you have been working hard, your thinking about retirement and investing might have surfaced in talk with your coworkers, and you inadvertently showed your hand.

I knew I was talking retirement and investing all the time with people I worked with in the last decade, but I was working part-time as an ESR, and I did not care. I just wanted to alert my friends to spend more time thinking about their personal finance matters.

I haven't done that at all. I've browsed this site during work but I've been doing that for years.

I exercised my options in late 2008, before the crash. It was around that time that I joined ER and I've been browsing here since then. At some times, every day, at other times, not for a couple of weeks.

It may be that without being aware, I don't come across as committed to the job. Well from the standpoint that I've been thinking about FIREing for a few years, I wouldn't be.

But I worked all the hours demanded by the job, not complaining about the work load or asking for any kind of relief.
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Old 08-10-2013, 01:12 AM   #13
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Just a few observations:

1. It sounds like you were promoted from a non-exempt job where you were earning a lot of overtime to an exempt job where you don't get overtime. If so, they may have done this specifically to cut their expenses where you were concerned.

2. Sometimes a new boss has a different view of what they want in an employee and someone who got great reviews suddently gets not so great reviews. Sometimes, it isn't a performance issue but more a type of personality the boss prefers or wants his own man (so to speak).

3. The sense I had reading this was that he wants you gone and is hoping that you will quit. Further, he won't feel too guilty if he were to fire you or make you so miserable you quit since he knows you have money. Maybe that won't happen, but it could be a possibility.

4. Oh and assume they know you have browsed this forum. It may have never been checked in the past but looking for stuff your boss have recently (since he got there anyway) asked and found out.
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Old 08-10-2013, 01:33 AM   #14
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Could he be setting you up per HR policy regarding termination, getting his "metrics" spruced up, etc.? In my former organization this would have been the kiss of death.

The bright side, according the 2 or 3 colleagues I knew who went through it, is that reality after termination is a hoot if you happen to be FI when it arrives.

Either way it sound like you are well-prepared. Good luck.
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Old 08-10-2013, 03:17 AM   #15
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Just a few observations:

1. It sounds like you were promoted from a non-exempt job where you were earning a lot of overtime to an exempt job where you don't get overtime. If so, they may have done this specifically to cut their expenses where you were concerned.

2. Sometimes a new boss has a different view of what they want in an employee and someone who got great reviews suddently gets not so great reviews. Sometimes, it isn't a performance issue but more a type of personality the boss prefers or wants his own man (so to speak).

3. The sense I had reading this was that he wants you gone and is hoping that you will quit. Further, he won't feel too guilty if he were to fire you or make you so miserable you quit since he knows you have money. Maybe that won't happen, but it could be a possibility.
+1

This all sounds familiar. New boss for a year or so and this sort of thing comes out of nowhere. This is after years of glowing reviews from former supervisors (ie - "the lab would probably shut down with gauss", etc)

Also remember that young employees are much cheaper than seasoned employees such as yourself. If he doesn't appreciate what you do, then this may be all that he is looking at. From what I understand, this is not age discrimination, but rather a business decision.

Are there other groups, where you are known in a positive light, that you could transfer to if you want to stay with the company? This could make all the difference in the world.

On the other hand, this may be a good time to negotiate an exit strategy of your choosing (part-time for some period, severance etc.).

Remember people don't leave companies, they leave supervisors.

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Old 08-10-2013, 04:18 AM   #16
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This doesn't sound good. My suspicion is the manager was forced to stack-rank folks and you came out low compared to your salary. He's either working towards or thinking about pushing you out. The fact you regularly work 12 hour days, plus weekend work but he still mentions the one time you were half an hour late in the last year seems like they are making sure there is adequate documentation of poor performance in case they decide to terminate.

It's common for managers to be aware of employee stock option positions. If there are more options to award, then knowing current positions can be part of allocating future options. Possible if this is a new manager, he stumbled onto this doing allocations for this year and was surprised that an employee who took a 7-figure windfall was still around. It could certainly be part of his considerations about who in the dept would be motivated by an additional small award, since if he knows you just took a large windfall you are not as likely to be grateful for a new small bonus. Companies like employees who are dependent on the job and therefor more likely to be compliant to whatever the company requests. FI makes you unpredictable, since you no longer need this job you are less likely to put up with unreasonable demands.

Might be a very good time to run some FIRECalc and be sure you can walk away if things start to get unreasonable, which they seem to be hinting they might soon.
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Old 08-10-2013, 06:20 AM   #17
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Maybe now is the time to start actively planning ER or looking for other employment. You say you like your work so keep trying to do well and don't let the emotional blow lead you to slack off. The new boss just acknowledged that recent performance has been good. If he does want to push you out it will probably take a while for him to successfully sack you - next review plus. You can be exploring your options in the mean time. If you find something else that looks good this guy deserves the merest two weeks notice, nothing more. And on the way out you should explain that the move was motivated by his ominous and intrusive review and would not otherwise have occurred.
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Old 08-10-2013, 06:21 AM   #18
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He wanted to know about my motivations, where I wanted to go. He said my current performance is very good but earlier in the year, my performance wasn't up to snuff.

He wanted to know if I could sustain my current level. He then pointed out that I was in a unique and "fortunate" situation because I had cashed in stock options 5 years ago. He wanted to know if I was committed to doing the extra steps it took, whether working long hours or taking initiative on certain projects, given that I had no financial reason to work.

But this year, they're saying these same departments were complaining about my work. He didn't go into too many specifics, other than I didn't upgrade the software on my machine, which led to a problem software build.

However, he said as long as I sustain the results I'm currently getting, there would be no problems. But he kept returning to whether I had been thinking about retiring (obviously I had, since I joined ER just over 5 years ago). I said I hadn't, which is obviously not true, nor had I done any kind of planning, which is true because outside of playing around a couple of times with retirement calculators and perhaps taking part in discussions here, I hadn't done a lot of the nuts and bolts of planning a budget and thinking through withdrawal strategies.
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Could he be setting you up per HR policy regarding termination, getting his "metrics" spruced up, etc.? In my former organization this would have been the kiss of death.

The bright side, according the 2 or 3 colleagues I knew who went through it, is that reality after termination is a hoot if you happen to be FI when it arrives.

Either way it sound like you are well-prepared. Good luck.
+1

If this conversation happened in my workplace it would definitely be the first step, carefully documented, of the formal process to make you aware your performance was below standard and you may be terminated. The constant reference to your financial independence sounds like something a manager would say who is nervous and inexperienced and is looking to soften the message.
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Old 08-10-2013, 08:26 AM   #19
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I have to agree with most observations here that it is the beginning of the end. Last year my rating slipped from a top tier to a middle of the pack rating. My boss explained that this would really help some up and coming guys due to the fact they use a forced ranking system and only a few top performers are allowed.
I got a blank stare when I told him he might as well drop me to poor performer so I could help out even more people. This year I didn't even have a review and haven't talked to my boss since May. So far so good. I could do this job forever now that FI has been reached.
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Old 08-10-2013, 08:45 AM   #20
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Buffalo them into giving you a juicy severance package?
I wondered the same when reading through the thread. Looks to me they are getting their ducks in a row for a termination. Perhaps they would be agreeable to a severance package to bring this to an easy conclusion.

Looks like you are in good shape for ER. If you are not quite ready emotionally, can you do some consulting work in your field?
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