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Layoff Watch ’20: PwCer Claims Performance Ratings Are Purposely Being Bumped Down to Make Separation Decisions Easier During the Pandemic (UPDATE)

[Updated on July 17 with additional comments.]

Two people who currently work at PwC in management roles have chimed in on this topic: one who is siding with the firm and the other who is siding with those folks who have recently lost their jobs.

The first is a partner who emphatically says what these now-former PwCers are claiming isn’t true.

Our tier 4 and tier 5 targets have been the same as they are every year. We are continuing to execute our standard performance management cycle, and that does mean that some people were counseled out of the firm, but these are not layoffs and no performance ratings have been “bumped down” in order to justify laying anyone off.

Snapshots are only a part of the story, and getting good snapshot ratings does not make someone immune from a low tier assignment if there are other factors to consider (e.g., teaming or professional behaviors, development trajectory, etc). Tier assignments are done on a percentage basis, so if everyone in a group has strong snapshots then by definition folks with strong snapshots will find themselves in the bottom two tiers. While this reflects (in my opinion) poor practices around giving feedback, the fact remains that we always have the same percentage in the bottom two tiers every year.

No one was laid off this year and no one’s performance rating was bumped down to enable headcount reduction.

Okie dokie. Here’s the counterpoint, from a PwC director who says everything these recently ousted PwCers have told us is true.

We have always been given a distribution to manage ratings at year end – this distribution is always published internally. Each year it’s some percentage range of 1’s, a range for 2’s, etc. The range is generally large enough that it gives you a 1 to 2 person buffer on each. For example, we may be expected to have 2-4% of our people rated 4s, where 2% may be just 1 person and 4% rounds to 3 people; we’ve always hit the low end of the range on 4s and 5s. This year, we were given the published ranges, but HR and local leadership came in and took us over the top end of the range for 4s and 5s at each level. The places where the desired ranges are published all year were quietly taken down. I questioned the math during the year end CRT meeting (since you know, we’re all accountants and should be ok at math), but was quickly told to quiet down and move on. Heard about other directors who put the questions in an email to local leadership and were punished for putting something like that in writing.

Bottom line – many that would have been 3s were pushed to 4s so we could overload that bucket, and many that would have been 4s were pushed to 5s this year.

This director also claims that in some markets, many of those receiving 4s and 5s “were overwhelmingly minority staff.”

One tax group of about 75 is exiting 5 people and 4 of them are minorities. I could tell you about a lot of unethical things that happen at PwC, but this is an easy one to explain and really makes me sick.

We’ll continue to update this post as more responses are sent to us.

[Updated on July 10 with additional comments.]

During the numerous webcasts PwC has held with employees in the past two to three months, PwC leadership has supposedly repeatedly stressed that there would be no layoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and if you go on the usual chatter sites, most PwCers believe that. But the skeptics (usually from Deloitte) say these PwCers are drinking way too much of the orange and yellow Kool-Aid, saying PwC will definitely lay off people in the coming months because of the Rona and disguise it as “performance based.”

One person at Papa Whiskey Charlie told us on June 25 this is definitely happening, as this person was told they would be exiting the firm involuntarily due to performance. But (s)he alleges that PwC is using trickery with performance ratings to make it seem like staff cuts are due to performance when in reality they are due to the virus:

Just got laid off from PwC US. Due to the pandemic, forcing some of us with a rating of 3 get bumped to a 4 in order to get terminated “based on performance”.

They are basically using ratings as an excuse to lay people off. Basically saying if the 3-rated bucket doesn’t fit everyone, some will be forced to move to the 4 bucket and 5 bucket and laid off for performance reasons. They will try to use prior year ratings as another reason as to why they will bump you down. It was even brought up that they see the PR regarding PwC on Going Concern’s site that still says PwC US isn’t laying people off but they are … just like in the recession. The notion of allowing us to keep our jobs is only to brainwash those that don’t get the boot but the booted ones are told that it is just simply performance based.

It’s mainly like what RSM US or Deloitte is doing with layoffs and making it “performance based”

This might be an isolated situation with a lone wolf or it could be a sign of things to come. Who knows! Any other PwCers concerned about this?

[UPDATE] A couple weeks have gone by since this post was originally published, and it definitely seems this is not a lone-wolf situation. We got contacted on July 1 by another soon-to-be ex-PwCer who claimed the same thing as what the person above experienced 100% happened to them too:

Was let go for “underperformance” earlier this week, even though the last several of my snapshots for the 2020 performance year had a vast majority of “at levels” or above for the 5 components of the PwC framework. Was placed in Tier 5, even with these snapshots. My official last day is a month from the day earlier this week I got the news that I was going to be let go for underperformance.

I get paid as normal till my last official day with the firm and get paid for any vacation days I haven’t used/accrued. In addition, I get a two-week severance package with an extra $1000 included in it for the coronavirus pandemic.

I got no warning during my meetings with my career coach and relationship leader earlier in the year that I would be let go near the end of June – no warnings or official improvement plan. The separation notice due to my underperformance was a complete shock to me. Medical, dental and vision coverage for me ends at the last day of the month in which my “official last day” of employment occurs, unless I elect COBRA coverage.

A senior associate who contacted us on July 9 was let go on July 6 for “poor performance,” and at least one other senior from this person’s office was also shown the door.

This person told us:

I was told that my performance had not improved (news to me that my performance needed improvement), that I had been given a performance tier ranking of 5 (on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst) and that I was terminated immediately.

I mentioned that all my snapshots (read: individual performance reviews) showed improvement over the last year and that barely any were negative. The business unit leader told me she was sorry I felt that way.

The other senior associate who was let go didn’t even have his CRT [career round table] call before they cut off access to his computer and wiped his work cell.

The whole situation is insanely frustrating.

This person said the severance package was pay until Aug. 1, health insurance through Aug. 31, and a $1,000 COVID payment.

But wait, I thought “underperforming” PwCers were put on a performance improvement plan? Not according to this senior associate:

Also worth noting is that company policy was to put underperformers on a PIP. They haven’t done that here. When I inquired as to whether they would help me transfer to a practice office or find another job, they said absolutely not. So they’re really screwing us.

Here’s a similar response we got from a PwCer who recently was let go:

My case might even be worse because I even had 2s and 3s as well as 4s but got ranked as 5s at the end somehow.

If you have your own story about how PwC recently screwed you over, please let us know by using the contact information below.