Work and life advice needed

A couple weeks ago my boss called me into a meeting with an HR rep to discuss some performance issues, which was a complete surprise to me as he’d given no notice of his unhappiness with my work. After a few extremely stressful days of not knowing if I was going to have a job, we managed to work everything out. I am fixing my problems and my boss is very happy with what he’s seen the past two weeks, but the experience left me shaken and enormously distrusting.
I work in a private bank, where there’s not the usual turnover rate seen in commercial banks…one of the things stressed in my initial job interview was how many people have been with the company for years and years, how common it was in this branch, etc. I’ve been here for over a year already, and I’d planned to continue for a while.
I’ve just started going back to school for my bachelor’s degree in economics/business and I had started the process for tuition reimbursement through work. They’d pay for my degree and in return I’d stay with them for 3 years after my last class. I was fine with that, my boss and the company were fine with that…but the meeting threw all that away, as I know have absolutely no faith that I’ll be able to stay all through school and 3 years following.

I have no money saved up; as I’m trying to pay off my credit card debt…I was counting on that tuition reimbursement. I’ve looked into getting a loan for school, but I’d have to get a co-signer (which I don’t have) and the payments would be too high for me to do in addition to my credit card payments.
I’ve considered changing careers, but banking is all I know right now, and I can’t see myself getting a job with comparable pay ($30,000/year) in this area with this job market.
I’m flirting with the idea of emailing my HR rep and asking her to keep her eyes open to opportunities for me in other areas of the bank…I don’t intend to be a teller forever. I could relocate, although I’d prefer not to, because I don’t see many options in this area (we only have 3 branches nearby). I briefly considered going back to school full-time and just dealing with my debt however I could, while working as a server or host at some restaurant…but I’d never be able to afford my rent and continue to pay off debt.

I’m at a loss, really. My future with this company doesn’t seem secure anymore, not that it ever truly was. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my degree once I finally get it. It’s getting harder and harder to get through the day in a good mood (which I need to be in to keep my job). I’ve got family problems to deal with and relationship problems as well. This has been a crappy month and I need to turn to outsiders with a fresh viewpoint rather than continue wondering in my own head.
So, what say you?

Generally you don’t have to start paying your school loans until after you graduate.

You should have a better sense that we do about how tenuous your job situation is. Do you feel your boss thinks your performance is improving or do you think he is just setting the groundwork to get rid of you? If it’s the latter, you should probably focus on either getting another job or going to school full time if your finances allow.

If you think you can get away with it, you may want to ask your boss to give you more frequent feedback. Being blindsided by a meeting with HR is not good for anyone.

You might want to look into the tuition reimbursement thing more carefully. They usually only require payback if you leave voluntarily. It’s to prevent people getting a free degree, then taking that valuable knowledge somewhere else. Or did you mean that in the meeting they said they wouldn’t approve it for you? Of course, your company may have its own rules about payback.

Be circumspect in “asking HR to help you find another position.” Generally, that’s not what HR is there for. Typically their mindset is about helping find the best person for the positions the bank needs to fill.

If you’re able to bring your performance up to standard, and it sounds like you have been, I think you might be overreacting to the negative feedback. These days hardly any jobs are truly secure, but unless they said more than you’ve posted, it sounds like they just needed to make their point and aren’t necessarily on the verge of showing you the door. If school is out of the question financially for right now, I’d focus on managing the personal issues so they don’t bleed into your work. There are also some less costly things you can do to improve your marketability, like Toastmasters to improve communication skills, community college classes, or professional networking organizations.

This would make me feel okay about the meeting. It sounds like they’d rather spend their time working with you and helping you improve than looking for and training a replacement. That’s nothing to sneeze at these days. Neither is $30K for a teller position.

It’s never easy to accept criticism. They probably didn’t like giving it any more than you liked hearing it. Stay positive, especially if you like the job and want to stay.

It sounds like you are able to address their concerns about your performance, but I don’t blame you for feeling insecure if the first you heard about the problem was a meeting with HR. I guess if it were me, I’d do my best to improve, but also ask for feedback from my boss in a couple of weeks to make sure I was now meeting expectations. Do so in a positive, diplomatic way, making it clear that you’ve taken the criticism constructively and want to do a good job in this position. Yeah, you might not feel that way, but sometimes life is about how you project yourself. Feel what you feel, but behave in the way that best serves your long-term interests.

I absolutely would not ask HR to keep an eye out for other positions for you. It will look like you try to run from problems rather than fixing them, and will be more likely to count against you than help.

Anyway, I think getting some feedback will help with the insecure feelings. I also wouldn’t make any hasty decisions since it’s been a bad month in general. Life always has some icky stretches, but if you get reactive to those, you can end up missing some opportunities that come from hanging in there. It’s only if icky becomes the status quo that I start thinking about making serious moves to do something else.

Working with the public can be difficult - especially keeping that smiley face on when you have an idiot making the same joke 5 other idiots made that day standing in front of you. I worked for a very wealthy bank downtown for 6 years and had jobs in 3 different departments while I was there. Frankly I got desperately bored once I knew everything there was to know about each.

Unless the performance meeting was punctuated by a review sheet where your “need for improvement” was documented and signed, it doesn’t sound like something you need to worry about too much. Grinning and bearing it sounds like your best option right now, probably a lot easier than trying to track down a new job.

Get to know the managers of other departments. The bank I worked for had a mentor program that got me out of the teller position rather quickly, and even though I haven’t worked in the industry since 2000, I still have a bank vice-president I can call if I need to. You’d be surprised at who might be willing to take you under their wing if you ask.

I don’t want to hijack Lionne’s thread, but what if they do make you sign a review sheet or other form of performance documentation?

I think it would depend on the employer and their policy. When I was working for the federal government, after each annual performance review I was given a copy of the review and had to sign a copy for my personnel file. This was to show that I had received a copy of the review, and was not considered proof that I agreed with the contents.

It really depends on the situation. Some companies do that with any type of discipline, even the occasional tardy. So just being asked to sign a discipline sheet is not a huge red flag in and of itself. It could also just be the case for a certain type of performance issue that’s business sensitive. For example, a mistake that would show up in an audit might get more formal discipline than rudeness to a customer, even if both performance problems were about equally severe.

When might it be a red flag? If a company does it when that’s not their usual procedure, that could be a sign that they’re building a case to terminate. It could also be a sign that they feel the employee is unstable in some way and don’t feel comfortable giving informal feedback. That’s not a good sign, either. [although it might mean they think you know where the bodies are buried.]

The employer generally can’t make the employee sign the paper, and it doesn’t mean a whole lot whether the employee actually signs or not. However, unless you are disputing the facts of the situation it probably will just make you seem difficult if you refuse to sign. If you are disputing the facts, the recommended procedure is to write a letter stating your side of things for the file.

I’m not with the “don’t worry” crowd. If they pull you into HR and you really (as you state) had absolutely no idea why, then say “now I’m working on my performance issues”. If after a year you have not mastered the teller job or the expectations involved you really should be asking yourself if this is where you need to be.

After a year you really should know if you’re doing the job right or not. That you were clueless about the quality of your work should make you ask some tough questions about whether you have the innate skill to keep going at this or will you always have to work twice as hard as everyone else just to keep up.

This is not intended to be a judgement of your intelligence or work ethic. Counting money and processing bank transactions all day, and being accurate down to the penny is a skill I respect, and I don’t pretend I would be able to do it hour after hour, and day after day. I’m reasonably bright, but the job of night accountant at a largish hotel when I was out of college absolutely crushed me.

I agree with this. I found out the hard way that HR is not there to be your therapist, or to hold your hand, despite being commonly perceived as ‘soft’. They are apt to tell you is you’re stuck with what you have, and you’d better shape up or look elsewhere.

It sounds like the performance issues you mentioned were mostly not difficult to correct, so you you should be OK. On the other hand if the weaknesses are personality issues, like “not building strategic relationships” or “not taking charge in meetings”, then it’s much more difficult, if not virtually impossible.

I haven’t deserted the thread…just taken some time from thinking about it (over and over).
My performance issues were entirely customer service related. My boss didn’t think I bent over backwards enough for the clients…they’re used to us holding their hands through everything and he believes I’m too willing to say ‘no’ rather than work a way through it.
I came from a different banking background, which he acknowledges, but he’d hoped to see me learn from the examples he puts forth with regard to treating the clients well.
I think I’ve shown him since the meeting that I can step up…he’s noticed the change, as well as another co-worker, and remarked on it. So I don’t think my issues will be that big of a problem in the future…I’m a fast learner once I know I need to repair something.

ultrafilter: we’ve set up a bi monthly meeting to discuss any issues, and he promises to bring anything else up right away and not hold back. He put this in writing when we did my review last week.

Harriet the Spry: the tuition contract states if my employment is terminated for any reason, I’ll have to repay. They can’t approve it this semester because I’m on an improvement plan due to the issues brought up. My probation will end before the spring semester starts, so I could apply for it then and most likely be approved.

**AuntiePam ** & LavenderFalcon: I’ve worked hard to listen and understand what they’re asking of me, and to adjust my approach. I don’t mind criticism, I don’t mind knowing what I need to work on. I just never expected them to hold it all back and blast me at once. That’s why I reacted so strongly, and why I’m so suspicious now.

SeaDragon: That’s exactly what was put on my performance review last week “Needs Improvement”. My review had been put off due to “scheduling conflicts” for a couple weeks…now I realize it was more likely “while they compiled the list of issues”.
There’s no tutor type program here, although there are some opportunities to meet other departments in other branches. Because we’re kind of spread out, HR seems to be my best route to a different position. She’s done this with a co-worker who was having difficulty working with her boss…found her a job in another branch doing something completely different. It impressed me that she kept co-worker in mind and notified her when something she might like came up. That’s why I think she might be willing to help me too.

astro: I’m actually very good with the transactions and balancing my drawer and all that stuff. That’s why I’m head teller; that stuff is easy for me. But a big part of this job is kowtowing to clients, and I’m realizing I may not be the best fit in that regard.

Spectre: Part of me agrees with you, and part of me is encouraged by my HR lady’s willingness to help out my co-worker. However, as far as I’m aware, there were no performance issues with her. That’s where we differ.
It’s the start of another week. School starts for me on Wednesday - I’ve decided to go ahead and take one class. I can find the money for it, and I really don’t want to hold off on school.
I’m still up in the air about talking with HR…should I take the chance or not?

Lionne, while it’s true that HR is primarily interested in getting the right person for the job and is an agent for the bank, you should also realize that HR’s interested in developing and retaining existing talent, too - each loss of personnel means another spot to fill. And it seems clear that they’re definitely interested in keeping you, otherwise they’d not have taken the time to discuss how to improve with you.

And from what you’ve said about your own expertise and how HR has helped a different talented employee find her niche (and not leave the company), I think that contacting them isn’t a bad idea, so long as you can do it diplomatically. They’ll be able to point you in a direction, if nothing else. After all, they do want to keep you - don’t forget that.