Anyone who has been reviewed on the job knows that it’s like going to the principal’s office in middle school: There’s a good chance they will find out that you have been stealing pens from the stock cabinet, making personal phone calls on company time, and last week you spent five hours trying to create that perfect itinerary for your summer vacation.
Performance reviews, progress reports, and “check ins” are as old as the word “career,” but many employees are asking their employers to hold on… it’s stressing them out! For example, in a recent edition of the New York Times, Dr. Bob Watcher argues that, “Two of our most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far. We’re hitting the targets, but missing the point.” The drive to performance measurement, he says, started “innocently enough” as “evidence mounted that both fields were producing mediocre outcomes at unsustainable costs.” One of those costs is employee anxiety.
Don’t start to pound your fist on the desk too soon because you are in favor of these reviews and think I am not. Actually, I am in favor of periodic performance reviews, but let’s keep a few things in mind.
- Is your review tool reasonable or is it too far-fetching? Too many times, we as supervisors are not willing to see past our own office and into what really happens in the field, in the cubicles and on the phones. In other words, is it manageable, does it have real and honest expectations or does it only reflect an expectation that even you cannot achieve?
- Does the performance review compare someone’s gold star status to an employee that is “just doing it right”? Really- let’s remove comparisons from all employee reviews. No one likes to be compared to their in-laws, neighbor’s yard, or to that one special employee over-achiever who always gave the extra mile. Who can measure up?
- Does the audit have space for a journal entry? Sometimes a situation needs to be written out like a chronicled journey rather than a “checked boxed” in a category that just doesn’t fit.
- Is there a place for the employee to safely evaluate what is being written on the performance audit form? Nothing is more agonizing than to feel stuck; to not be able to respond to statements – and worse – for them to remain in your employee file.
But what about those of us who are employees being critiqued? The potential for unintended consequences is real:
- Burnout by adding unnecessary administrative burdens to an already burdensome system
- Undermining professionalism
- Exacerbating self-care concerns, especially anxiety and depression
- Creating the professional equivalent of teaching to the test, as employers divert their attention to the aspects of conduct being measured at the expense of those not being measured
I would like to see reviews be more directed towards the things that really matter in the company. I want to see an emphasis on value rather than volume, strengths rather than similarities and a fair but not always equal mentality.
Yes, performance measurements are an important part of organizational health and individualized progress, but the goal really isn’t for supervisors to impose more measures on employees just because they can. Rather, it is to use policies and procedures to encourage innovation in how values are delivered, and then carefully apply measures to assess how well those innovations are contributing to the overall plan or purpose.
Let’s remove the anxiety of performance reviews the same way we graduated from middle school; with relief that the annoying, clipboard-holding supervisor won’t be following you to your next school.