HR Base Camp Roundup : Personal Improvement plans (the pip) – February 21st

In this week’s edition of the HR Base Camp roundup, we discuss Performance Improvement Plans (also known as “PIP”s) and why so many employers struggle to find success with them. You’ll also learn the importance of using job descriptions to keep your employees on-task and doing the things you hired them to do, as well as how to handle an employee request to reduce or eliminate fragrances used throughout the office.

Almost all employers will end up having to deal with at least one of these issues at some point, so make sure you don’t skip any of this week’s questions!

Here are the HR Q&As from our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center:


I’m struggling with an employee that doesn’t seem to know what they should be focusing on. I always find them doing something that isn’t their responsibility while ignoring the tasks they should actually be doing. How can I make it clear what their duties are?

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: job descriptions are key. A clear, concise job description is one of the best ways to ensure that your employees know what their role is and what they’re responsible for. Ideally, you gave this employee a job description when they were first hired.

Sit down and take a look at what their job description says. Is it still accurate? Does the employee know how to do the tasks they’re supposed to do? Are there any areas that the employee may not have been trained on, or they’re unaware they should be handling? Once you’ve reviewed the job description for accuracy, sit down with the employee and review it together.

Use this review session as an opportunity to talk to the employee about the importance of staying on task and the impact it has on efficiency and the general workflow of the office. Go through the job description together and answer any questions they may have about the tasks listed. Lack of direction or not knowing their exact role can cause employees to lose focus. Oftentimes, reviewing their position and its responsibilities together can help improve their performance.

During this meeting, provide objective examples so it’s clear what you’re talking about. “On three days last week you missed these three daily tasks. However, I noticed you spending time on these other projects that aren’t directly assigned to you.”

If the issue continues after you’ve done this, you can move forward with a warning or corrective action. Make sure to document each conversation you have with the employee about this issue. This will help in the event that you need to take some form of adverse action.

CEDR members can contact the Solution Center for help customizing job descriptions. If you’re not a member, our free templates can be a good starting point.


What’s the ideal time frame for a performance improvement plan?

The method is known as a performance improvement plan (PIP), and we’re not huge fans. It sounds like a logical system – employee is doing something wrong, tell employee to improve, check back later to see if they did – but it’s often not as effective as one would hope. Unfortunately, it can be seen as “writing on the wall” for the employee, which impacts their reaction to the PIP and can do more harm than good.

Any employer or manager will tell you that if there’s an issue with an employee’s performance, it’s ideal that it’s fixed right away. For example, if an employee is constantly making the same mistake when processing a payment, you want them to stop making that mistake right away. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to give them a PIP that essentially says “you have one month to stop making this error.” This implies that they can continue to make that error as long as at the month mark, they stop. Obviously, this isn’t the outcome you want.

Another drawback to PIPs is that they can end up working against you if you ever find yourself facing a lawsuit. It’s not uncommon for attorneys to use the plan you created to “prove” that your company didn’t do what it could have to support the plan. Plus, PIP plans can potentially alter an employee’s at-will status.

So, what do we recommend instead? It’s called progressive corrective coaching. PCC might seem similar to PIP, but there’s a big difference. Instead of a strict, laid out plan, PCC focuses on correcting specific behavior immediately while maintaining communication with the employee. This method clarifies expectations for employees and is more flexible than a PIP. We encourage our members to use this and use it internally ourselves.


One of my employees requested that we not use fragrances throughout the office because they make her sick. Can I include a policy in my handbook that says that employees can’t wear fragrant perfumes or lotions?

Yes, you can. This is a common request we see in the Solution Center. The dress code policy in our handbooks actually addresses it and states that scents must be worn with restraint. Strong scents, even when they’re meant to be pleasant, can be difficult to deal with for coworkers and customers or patients.

We do want to note that because this employee told you that scents can actually make her sick, it’s a good idea for you to engage in the interactive process. The process involves getting information from the employee’s medical provider that tells you what specific accommodations, if any, should be made to enable her to do her job without getting sick.

Keep in mind that going through the interactive process doesn’t mean that you’ll have to grant whatever accommodation she asks for. Part of the process is to determine what the specific issue is, and what possible solutions are feasible.


At CEDR, we help employers protect their businesses and build stronger teams. Because stronger teams build better workplaces, and better workplaces make better lives.

Have an HR question you need to talk through with an HR expert? Reach out to the Solution Center for expert guidance, or get your questions answered in our private, professional Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.

Feb 21, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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