Monday, July 6, 2009

Tougher Times May Mean Tougher Performance Evaluations

If you thought you hated performance evaluations before now, you ain't seen nothin' yet.I recently did a story for Gannett/USAToday on where job reviews may be headed:

Performance evaluations have often been derided by managers and employees alike as being unfair, dysfunctional and morale-busting. But in this tough economy, it could just be they become more popular than ever as employers position themselves to not only get rid of “dead wood” in their employment ranks, but as a way to justify the trimming of employee numbers.

“I think we’re going to see a real blooming in corrective actions on the part of employers,” says John Robinson, an employment lawyer with Fowler White Boggs in Tampa, Fla. “Employers are in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ mood.”

That means that if you’ve been showing up late for work for 10 years and no one has said anything, you may be in for a rude awakening in your next performance evaluation. Your behavior may be cited as unacceptable and you will be placed on probation and told to improve your performance or even possibly face being fired, Robinson says.

At the same time, Robinson says workplaces may see more managers write up employees for various infractions, ranging from unmet project deadlines to not getting along with co-workers. This is to avoid the dreaded “naked file,” which is an employee’s personnel file void of any reports citing unacceptable behavior – something needed if a company wants to let an employee go and not face future legal actions for an unfair dismissal.

“If you don’t write it down, it just becomes the employer’s word against the employee’s,” Robinson says. “But performance evaluations and reviews can be used as ammo against people.”

What should employees do if they receive an unfavorable report or performance evaluation? Robinson advises:

• Write back
. If there has been a misunderstanding, then write your side of the issue and have it submitted to your manager and put in your personnel file.
• Move forward.
“Don’t get into a ‘he said, she said’ kind of thing,” Robinson says. “Outline your action plan and show how you’re going to rise above it and move on. Outline how you see your future at the company and what you’ll contribute.”
• Be specific. Make sure that you point out your skills, training and any certifications as a positive counterpoint to any negative comments made by your manager concerning your performance in a review.

Robinson also warns workers to be cautious if the boss wants to do a review “out of cycle” – before the usual evaluation time. “It’s usually not good news when that happens,” he says.

Robert Hruzek, a project manager for a large global engineering firm in Houston, says that he remembers early in his career when he made mistakes that came back to haunt him during a performance evaluation. Looking back on the experience, he says he was “embarrassed and ashamed” when he received the negative comments from his boss.

“Work started at 7 a.m., but I thought it started at 8 a.m., so I would come meandering in about that time,” Hruzek says. “I was not very well prepared.”

After being offered a token pay raise based on what he now calls his “ridiculous amount” of tardiness, Hruzek decided to stick it out and try and improve his performance. “On reflection, I could see that the boss was right about me. I could have given up and gotten another job. Instead, I decided to stick it out and start showing up on time.”

Still, Hruzek says that times are much tougher now and he agrees with Robinson that employees who have bad habits such as tardiness or absenteeism might not be given another chance.

Notes Robinson: “In this environment, companies are looking for the key players that can give them a winning team. The others may be more expendable.”

What are some lessons you've learned from performance evaluations?


Robert Hruzek said...

It was a rude awakening, to be sure, Anita. But it also provided the impetus I needed to knuckle down. It was important for me, a fresh new member of the working world, to realize it's Real Life out here, y'know?

Glad I got a second chance back then. The market may not be so forgiving these days.

Anita said...

Thanks so much for your help with this story. It's not always easy admitting when we've made a mistake, but your honesty will only help others, I'm sure.

David Benjamin said...

Great post!

I hope professionals realize that when times get tough activity, production, and attitude get magnified. The best advice I could give is treat each day, month, and year as though times are tough. Never rest on your laurels or past accomplishments. You're only as successful as your next sale.

Anita said...

Very well put. You always want to push any criticism of your performance to the back of a boss's mind and replace it with your achievements. Especially when very qualified job applicants are knocking at the door, ready and willing to take your job at a moment's notice.

Jennifer said...

Honest feedback is sometimes challenging to hear, but it is impossible to grow and "fix" what is broken without it. How that feedback is delivered makes all the difference in the world!

Anita said...

You're right. I think most employees appreciate getting immediate, constructive feedback from bosses that helps them not only do work that boosts the company's bottom line, but one that also helps them grow their skills. One of the problems with some of these performance evaluations is that they're not a true indicator of day-to-day abilities, and leave the employee feeling under attack.

Joe Lavelle said...

Thanks for the awesome post Anita!
If only employers were committed to providing honest feedback in all times they would probably be more capable of navigating tough economic times.
At any rate, I would advise employees to seek/demand honest feedback every year so they can learn, grow and modify any faults each year.

Anita said...

Thanks for your input -- all valuable suggestions. As you said, it's much easier to make changes as you go along based on regular input, rather than to be "sandbagged" for something after years!

Business Coach Sydney said...

Employee performance evaluation system is an important tool to keep the right people in your business. But more often, employees look at the system with disdain. This is where employee performance evaluation form can help you to rebuild the trust of your employees to the system.

DUI Attorney Miami said...

This is true and you had better perform on the job