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How to deal with a difficult boss who biased my annual performance review?

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how to respond to a bad performance reviewI just got my yearly performance review at work, and the things didn't go very well. Some of it was positive, but a lot of it took me by surprise, and now I'm worried. I disagree with my boss, and I know that my review is biased. This is because I put in discussions some bad decisions which seem against the laws, and the past years tax returns are not accurate. This caused tensions between us. Another cause of tensions is that I have 2 Master degrees while my boss has only a Bachelor's. Also, I am in a protected class of workers. What should I do?


(Owner) |

Among other things in a review, I would specifically put a summary of your tax finding in your response.
I was working at a Big-4 accounting firm in the year 2000. A large client had ramped up for Y2K, purchasing $10s of millions on hardware. That client thought it would be a good idea to purchase all that equipment from a supplier in a state without a sales tax in order to save money. I raised the issue and the response was "the CFO made Manager at (our firm). He knows what he's doing."

My position was that if they didn't intend to pay the use tax, they should accrue for that tax plus estimated interest and penalties.
Review time came and the sum total of that client experience was that the client was not happy with me, etc. My response in my review was sanguine.

They ushered me right out the door a few weeks after that review was complete. I regret very much writing that conciliatory response to that instead of putting the ammunition in my review. It seems you've already established yourself as threatening by demonstrating ethics and competence. If they don't want those qualities, market them to someone who does.

(CFO) |

Willie Nelson had Big 4 tax advisers too when the IRS determined the tax shelter they put him, and others into, was an abusive tax shelter. How'd that work out? :-)

(Controller) |

Ideally a review should never include anything that should be a surprise to the employee. It is very poor management of employees if the only time they know you are displeased with their performance is at the time of a review. Open and honest communication with your employees is very important. However, there is little you, as the employee, can do about a poor manager.

Knowing that your company has produced and filed inaccurate tax returns is a major concern and puts you in a very bad position. Personally, I would have quit at the time the decision was made by management to commit fraud. If there is truly fraud in your company I would strongly recommend you leave the company; otherwise, you might find yourself involved in criminal investigations.

All of this said, I would caution you that you come across as having a chip on your shoulder. As is frequently discussed on this website certifications and degrees don't make someone good at something; rather, experience and the ability to draw on one's education is what makes someone good. Your post seems to imply that because you have more degrees your boss is not as good as you are and the fact that you're in a protected class should provide you more favorable treatment (rather than guaranteeing equal treatment as the protection is intended).

If you have ever been in this same position before, with you feeling your boss does not like you because you are better educated and treats you unfairly because of the education and/or your status in a protected class, than I would suggest there is more issues with you and your attitude than with your boss. However, if this is a first for you than likely it is an issue with your boss.

At any rate, I would leave the company if there is fraud.

(Director of Internal Audit) |

I have been in your exact same position. I looked for another job and found a better one and didn't look back. Now I meet with each member of my team monthly to discuss how they are doing. This helps me remember for their annual evaluations and I promise them no surprises.

Arne Lasance
Title: Co-owner
(Co-owner, |

You should read this blog by Liz Ryan:

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |


I follow Liz Ryan's posts as well. More companies can benefit from her philosophy of a human workplace.

P.S. In this particular article I am fond of this reference "We are entrepreneurs now, no matter who pays us. We work for ourselves. A full-time salaried job is just an entrepreneurial job with only one client."


(Finance Director / Controller) |

Dear Anon,

I do agree with the poster who noted to be careful not to come across as someone with a chip on your soldier.

The way you present your discussions on the historical tax filings, etc. and "bad decisions" that were "against the law" does not position you as a solution-oriented person who can be counted on to make the situation better as opposed to highlighting issues.

Everyone makes errors and it is possible (likely) you were hired because the company lacked expertise in these areas (sounds like you are a tax guru). The areas needing improvement are probably not a surprise to your team, but the manner in which you highlight them might be.

Two Masters does not a master make.

(CPA) |

I was once in a similar situation. I asked to discuss the review with my boss and his boss. The first part of the meeting was spent confirming everyone's agreement on facts and the timing of events, and letting my boss thoroughly rant about how bad my performance was, not just honest differences of opinion, not just a mistake or two, not just below average, but awful! After about 30 minutes of listening smiling and nodding, I dropped the bomb. If my work was so awful, then why did my boss give me so much responsibility even after knowing my work was so bad??? There was a long speechless pause. Or has he been lying about my performance for the last half hour??? Then I shut up. He had no good response, then dug himself a bit deeper, and within two months he was gone.

You may want to get permission to record the meeting. You may want a good employee side employment law firm on retainer if there are big issues at stake or if you are in a protected class and there is a pattern of illegal discrimination.

You may also want to watch a movie called "A Few Good Men", and closely watch Tom Cruise's cross examination of Jack Nicholson which both suggested this approach to me and was extremely helpful in preparing for the meeting.

Alternatively consider ignoring the bad review. Annual reviews don't mean too much in the big picture of things, they are not public record, no one likes writing them, they are often skipped, and they are rarely if ever re-read. Moreover tax is full of grey areas, differences of opinion and mistakes. Money magazine once did a study where 50 tax preparers got 50 different answers.

PS: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, just my two cents on what I might do in your shoes. Please do not take action without specific advice from a good lawyer who understands your situation in detail.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

It can be difficult to relate to our managers at times, but I have found that the easiest way to close the gap from my end is to ask myself, "Why am I here? What was I hired to do?"

Personality matters aside, wherever there is a gap in this understanding is generally where disagreements on performance are more likely than not to arise.

I recall one particular instance in my career when I first went from auditing/consultative work to operational finance/accounting. I worked extremely hard and gave it my all, but to simplify I was hired to make my boss's life easier which was not happening while I was climbing my learning curve. Who should I fault for that?

I could have critiqued his management/teaching style but it was far more productive for me to dedicate myself to being better. Fortunately, things worked out and I can say I benefited greatly from the experience.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I would document my concerns and make sure that Human Resources has a copy. But ultimately, you need to decide if it is time to move on. This is not a unique situation and really is part of business just like in life.

(Controller) |

Be honest with your boss. Get HR involved without making it seem like you are attacking your boss but are dedicated to improvement. Be humble. Even if your boss is wrong, keeping an even mind about it will be much better for you in the long run and help to maintain your professionalism.

Explain that you were surprised by this review and you would like to understand how you can improve. Ask for a specific, documented plan to guide you along with face-to-face interim reviews to discuss how you are performing, each submitted to HR. If your performance was bad enough, this plan should have been provided to you anyhow, so I am surprised it wasn't.

This documentation will be so valuable to you. It could prove that your boss is a poor manager or it could enlighten you to things that perhaps do need improvement. At the very least you will have documentation of your work ethic to carry with you if you leave the company and your boss will be forced to back up his/her claims about your performance.

And never, ever, bring up your education compared to your boss' - it is completely irrelevant. If it were relevant, you'd be his/her boss. My boss doesn't have a Bachelor's and I have a Master's. Doesn't matter one bit. She is my superior at this company.

I am not sure what the protected class of workers comment has to do with anything. Every employee has the potential to be in a protected class and should not impact how they perform or how they are evaluated.

(SVP) |

Please contact your HR Department as soon as possible. Since you state that you expressed concerns to your manager that you believe illegal or unethical activities may have occurred, and you received negative treatment, and since you can make a causal connection between the two, you have a prima facie case of retaliation. The EEOC considers this to be a very serious violation of the law and your rights as an employee. The Department of Labor does not want employees to be fearful of losing their jobs or of any other sort of retaliation in exchange for good faith reporting of unethical or illegal activities. They want employees to feel completely comfortable to report this type of activity to their employers without retribution. If what you state is true, you are absolutely protected.

(CFO) |

Yes, I would check your attitude about having two masters and being in a protected class. Be humble and make your boss look good or move on. Getting HR involved is being defensive. Is the tax matter a mistake or an illegal/unethical? Are you being technically right but relationship wrong (as long as it is not an illegal/unethical matter)? Relationships always win (read - Dale Carnegie's, "How to Win Friends and
Influence People"). Ignoring the technical tax issue for the moment, if you cannot or do not want to fix the relationship with your boss, then move on.

(CPA) |

I agree that HR is not the answer to your situation. HRs job is to support management, NOT to be fair and ethical, and in my experience they know darn well how their bread gets buttered. Please see my comments above about getting specific advice from a good employee side attorney.

(Sr. Financial Analyst) |

If you like the company and feel it is worth staying then I suggest you approach your manager in non-threatening way to discuss the performance review. Going forward you can setup quarterly check in to ensure "surprises" do not pop up in annual reviews again. It is really hard to get feedback and not get defensive, but that is skill we all need to learn as managers and as individual contributors. If you are not willing to work on the relationship with your boss then the right thing to do is find a job and leave.

Exactly where did you mention concerns about possible illegal/unethical activities and wrong tax returns? Make sure you bring up in proper forum. Most companies have whistleblower hotlines for anonymity perhaps utilize that route. And are you 100% sure something was indeed wrong? It is key to understand all the facts before concluding something is wrong.

I also agree with the others that you need to be humble about your degrees. I hope you don't go around touting that at the office, that will surely create some tension. Having numerous degrees or certifications does not make you better than anyone else, everyone brings something to the table so to speak.

Good luck in your decision!

(CPA) |

Your other comments seem reasonable, but I have been on both sides of whistle blower hotlines and they are generally useless for anything less than a highly material misstatement at a publicly traded company.

Hang Nguyen
Title: Plant Controller
Company: Sparton Corporation
(Plant Controller, Sparton Corporation) |

In work, we do not have right to choose Boss or colleague. I fully understand your case as I used to be in that situation. Working for a wicked boss will eliminate your productivity.
For Asian countries, employees are so scare to speak up, they often choose to leave and find another job.
Some bosses also talk behind the back leaving employee and threaten them with their business network.
Some companies have hotlines, but how can we feel safe using a whistle blower hotline?


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