Performance improvement plans ― or PIPs, for short ― are popular in the tech world and a handful of other industries. For the unfamiliar, a PIP is a formal document given to an employee who may be slacking. PIPs include goals that need to be met by a certain deadline, or else the person’s employment could be jeopardized.
Severe, but effective? TikToker Nadeen Hui certainly thinks so.
The 30-year-old recently posted a video about how she used a PIP in her personal life, putting her boyfriend of three months on “probation” when they were experiencing “a lot of issues” back in 2020.
“I felt like we weren’t compatible, even though we had a lot of love for each other,” she says in the clip, which has racked up nearly 196,000 views since mid-February.
“I know it’s kind of harsh to some of you, but he’s an engineer, and sometimes it’s really hard to communicate with him without using something that he can already relate to. Plus, he kind of liked it,” Hui continues.
“We had a shared note with daily and weekly tasks he needed to do, and a set of things that he needed to work on. And it worked out really well.”
In fact, the two still use their PIP techniques now. Hui adds the tasks to the couple’s kanban board ― basically a visual flowchart for managing projects and to-dos ― and her boyfriend completes them. (If she verbally tells him instead, he usually just forgets, she said in the video.)
The couple also has weekly check-ins to get a temperature read on how things are going for both of them.
Some social media users criticized Hui for bringing the trappings of the workplace into her relationship, creating an employee-manager dynamic where there shouldn’t be one. Others applauded Hui for finding something that worked for her and her partner.
“The nuts and bolts of what they did sounds ... super reasonable to me,” one Twitter user wrote. ”[I] would love to be in a relationship with such straightforward communication.”
In an interview with HuffPost, Hui responded to her detractors (“99.99% of the critics are men,” she said) and shared a little more about her relationship.
“We were friends first and moved in very quickly together because it was COVID lockdown,” she said. “Because of that, we started seeing each other’s good, bad and ugly very quickly.”
Hui ― who works as an executive personal assistant for a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco ― is a Type A personality in cleaning up the house. Her boyfriend has more of an “I’ll get to it eventually” chore ethos.
“It really came down to the fact that we had different levels of cleanliness that was acceptable at home,” she said. “I needed a well-organized space to work and feel comfortable, whereas in the beginning, he’d be the type of guy to kick his clothes under the bed and leave it there.”
Things never got to the point of a fight, though, according to Hui. And the PIP wasn’t issued as an ultimatum, but as a last-ditch effort after trying everything else.
“It wasn’t an angry argument. It was literally just like, I don’t think this is working out because our lifestyle habits just don’t work well together,” she said, recalling that her boyfriend made some conditions for the PIP as well.
“He asked me to be patient instead of getting frustrated and wanting to walk away from it all. He asked me to show recognition and be more encouraging when he was doing things right. And he asked me to be straightforward with how I was feeling and my frustrations so I wasn’t bottling it up.”
Looking back, Hui’s glad that she and her partner quickly nipped the issue in the bud. They’d only been together for three months at that point, so her thinking was: Why waste each other’s time?
“It just gets harder as you’re together longer because you’re reinforcing what’s acceptable,” said the TikToker, who also released a follow-up video after the first one went viral.
As for why she didn’t get PIP’d herself, Hui said her boyfriend didn’t really have a problem with how she was living. Plus, she takes direct feedback pretty well, so he never had to repeat himself if she was underperforming on anything.
Some on social media questioned if it was fair that the mental load of figuring out how to change the relationship dynamic was put on Hui’s shoulders. She said that might have been true in the beginning, when her boyfriend needed more help.
“Now, I feel like he does so much for me, and I would move mountains for him,” she said.
“A lot of it comes down to personal responsibility in who we choose as our life partners, and also recognizing early on whether lifestyles and beliefs are compatible,” she added.
When committing to someone, “you’re also committing to changing with them and always finding ways that work for you both, no matter what stage in life you’re both in,” she said.
Discussing whether a relationship has legs at the three-month mark is smart, relationship experts say.
Marriage and family therapist Spencer Northey gets why people find it off-putting to insert corporate jargon like “PIP” into a romantic partnership. But ultimately, she thinks “the more language options we have [for relating to our relationships], the more people can connect with the deeper ideas in terms that best suit them.”
She also thinks Hui and her boyfriend’s “Are we compatible?” talk was perfectly scheduled.
“Three months is a great time to explore concerns that might come up in the future, considering hypothetical situations,” the Washington, D.C.-based therapist told HuffPost.
“By this time, hopefully people have spent enough time to let their guard down, get to know each other on a deeper level and observe each other’s habits,” Northey said.
“Now we have a shared to-do list, so we see what’s on each other's plates.”
Chores may not be the sexiest thing to discuss in the infatuation phase of a new relationship, but talking about them early could pay off, said Laura Danger, a Chicago-based coach who facilitates workshops for couples seeking a more equitable division of domestic labor.
“Maybe one person values a clean and comfortable sanctuary at home while the other would rather put minimal effort into their living space and spend more time out with friends,” she said. “Both are fine. But if they don’t communicate it, they create a breeding ground for resentment.”
Establishing norms and making invisible labor visible can be an “incredible way to set yourselves up for success,” Danger said.
For Hui, the proof is in the pudding: Her boyfriend not only didn’t mind getting PIP’d, but it worked. He’s more proactive than ever at home, and cleaning is a collaborative effort.
“Now we have a shared to-do list, so we see what’s on each other’s plates and add to it if there’s something we need the other person to do. But they’re more like reminders,” she said. “We don’t even use the original note anymore!”