Why employers need to dump performance reviews


3 September 2019

Herald Sun

It has been described as all froth and no beer, worse than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick, and codswallop — the performance review, that annual workplace ritual hated by Australian workers.

The excruciating exercise, where an employee meets with their boss or bosses to be rated on their workplace performance, has been a loathed fixture of organisations for decades.

It is also increasingly attracting a reputation for the devastating impact it has on employee morale and motivation.

But there is some good news, which should push the annual stocktake of employee performance closer to extinction.

New research by Gallup echoes what workers have long been saying: performance reviews do not achieve their intent — to inspire improvement — and actually have the potential to make things worse.

The Gallup findings build upon earlier research that found a staggering 58 per cent of office workers regarded a performance review as stressful, 22 per cent of workers cried following an appraisal meeting and 37 per cent of employees looked for a new job following a review.

Even worse, from an effectiveness point of view, 90 per cent of HR managers feel the traditional performance management process does not generate accurate and therefore useful information.

Performance reviews are often divisive, awkward, contrived and chew up an enormous amount of time.

They can be soul destroying, their purpose unclear and the rating systems used unfair, wildly inaccurate, open to bias and used inconsistently by reviewers.

And the much-loathed annual exercise fails miserably because of the opposing motivations of the reviewer and the reviewee, which can cause more abrasion than steel wool on stubble.

The worker walks into a review meeting to bask in the glory of hearing about their fabulous achievements, yet the boss often sees the catch-up as a great opportunity to steamroll the unsuspecting worker with all of their perceived faults.

To add insult to injury, there is the matter of hurt feelings following a review because, unsurprisingly, employees often believe they are much better at their jobs than most of their colleagues and bosses think. So when they receive a performance review rating that does not meet their expectations, they find it a very bitter pill to swallow.

Most damaging is the fact performance reviews are renowned for creating schisms in the relationships between employees and their bosses.

That damage is usually caused because some bosses lack even a modicum of emotional intelligence and end up being inaccurate, indecisive, insensitive or outright insulting towards their employee.

Take the worker who was told during her evaluation that she was too intimidating with members of her team. When she sought clarification from her boss, she was told she was too open and honest with team members. Say what?

Then there is the case of the employee who was told in his annual appraisal he had lately appeared less engaged with customers — even though his boss knew full well that his mother had recently died.

And what about the worker who was told by her male boss during the review that if she wanted to get ahead, she ought to think more like a man?

It seems that when it comes to conducting annual performance reviews, some bosses open their mouth only to change feet.

If you remain unconvinced about how damaging performance reviews are to workplace relations and morale, try conducting one with your partner, a child or another family member.

In the aftermath of the review meeting, you’re bound to regret going through this pointless, awkward and potentially soul-destroying process.

Professor Gary Martin is a national workplace expert.

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