'You're Not Funny Enough To Get A Raise'

Dec. 21, 2004

A friend of mine just showed me the most unbelievable performance review form I've ever seen. Along with the usual human-resource-department prattle about priority setting and results and functional technical skills (blah, blah, blah) were four categories that nearly made me fall out of my chair. Try these actual "skill evaluations" during your next round of salary reviews, if you dare: Intellectual horsepower: This company rates people on how "bright" or "sharp" they seem to their managers -- a practice that raises a series of interesting questions. To wit: Is performance -- and, presumably, salary -- IQ-related? Will new compensation systems have appropriate ranges -- Moron, Mr. Average, Brainiac -- to accommodate a varying range of employee smarts? How will workers rated as "needs improvement" in intellectual horsepower react to this news? By taking a speed-reading course? By eating more fish? And doesn't this policy favor employees who work for stupid bosses, who will rate even mediocre intellects as superior to their own pea-sized brains? Humor: We all know that having a light touch is an asset in business -- just as we know that some people couldn't tell a joke to save their lives. Yet this company rates employees on how well they use humor -- whether they have funny bones or not. I shiver at the thought of what meetings look like at this firm, as one employee after another uses his or her presentation time for a stand-up routine to boost next year's raises. "Take my manager, for example -- please!" Ethics and values: I suppose it's too much to hope that this company would have evaluated the character and reputation of each employee before hiring him or her. But do you really want a boss you didn't choose -- who may have crawled out from under a rock -- evaluating your ethics and values? And just which ethics and values will we use as our standard? Aristotelian? Judeo-Christian? Islamic? Hindu? Buddhist? Existentialist? And again, what does an employee do with a "needs improvement" rating? Go to church? Donate to charity? Find work at a less ethical (but more tolerant) employer? Personal disclosure: One of the most dismaying signs of our times is our current societal fascination with confession, in which individuals with unfortunate addictions or disgusting predilections become celebrities merely by publicizing their indiscretions. It's bad enough when Jerry Springer victimizes unsophisticated fame-seekers this way; it's unconscionable when a corporation evaluates its employees on how freely they disclose personal issues, beliefs, and failings to their peers. My private life (and yours) are just that -- private. The day you or I have to pretend we're at a 12-step meeting to get favorable reviews and salary bumps is the day we ought to quit. Period. And -- humor review or not -- that's no joke. Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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