I woke abruptly at 5:30 AM. My wife was shouting from the kitchen. A field mouse had become trapped in our double sink, struggling to get out like some sort of miniature mastodon in a prehistoric hot spring basin. As “master of the house” (in name only), I was expected to leave the warm comfort of the bed and usher the mouse off to its next incarnation.
I wasn’t surprised. This was the second one we’d caught in as many weeks, though the other had left a endless trail of mini-poops in the basement before we’d captured him. I had no idea where this new one had been living. I am still afraid to look in the lower cabinets.
Rodent safely dispatched, I crawled crankily back into bed. There, waiting for me, was Malcolm, our 16-year-old striped tabby. He and his sister Abby – now 19 years old – were useless as mousers, one of their supposed “responsibilities.” They’d let me down yet again, and I was overwhelmed with disappointment.
Was it time to put them on a PIP?
For those who don’t know, a PIP, or Performance Improvement Plan, is a popular way to get rid of an employee when you don’t want to be sued. The supervisor documents that the employee isn’t meeting his or her job requirements, sets a very high bar, leans back and monitors the employee until enough time has passed to safely let him or her go. A PIP is a not-so-gentle hint that your time will soon be up.
PIPs are a response to poor performance, but they’re also used for personality conflicts or in a culture that prizes tough love over nurturing. To my mind, it’s a cowardly and disingenuous tactic practiced by managers too afraid to fire someone. PIPs offer false hope, and on the rare case that the plan is cancelled, the employee never stays long after the painful experience.
Of course, I knew a feline PIP was never an option.
First, they’re cats, which means I am their de facto employee, and you can’t PIP your boss. Second, mousing is a sport for the young. At their advanced ages, our cats are quite adept at survival skills that include napping in the sun, caterwauling for attention, and licking their bowls shiny clean. They are performing admirably.
And finally, as I drifted back to la la land, with Abby settled on top of me and Malcolm under the sheets purring against my chest, I fully understood why I could never axe these two. They had me right where they wanted me.
NOTE: I owe a debt of gratitude to Troy Williams for his influence on this post. Many years ago, he gleefully explained the true meaning of a PIP to me, painfully ripping away my innocence like it was a particularly sticky band aid. Up to that point, I had actually believed a PIP was for the good of the employee. Oh, naive Larry. I miss you so.