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Employee Performance Reviews (How to prepare for one and what to do if you get a bad one)

For an employee whose future income is dependent upon the results of an employee performance review, getting one done can be a rather nerve wracking experience. Most employees find themselves both dreading the annual performance review, and looking forward to having it over with and seeing a pay rise at the end of it.

Receiving a performance review often feels somewhat like getting an end of year school report, and creates the same sort of trepidation. Even an employee who feels that they have performed well over the year and does deserve a good review will experience a sense of nervousness, wondering whether his or her boss actually feels the same way.

There can also be a sense of resentment at the need to have a performance review. Most people feel that they should be able to leave such reports behind when they finish school, and nobody likes to have any inadequacies or problems pointed out to them. Many employees feel resentful of judgement by a manager or employer, especially when that manager is actually younger than they are. There’s nothing worse than feeling as if your future is in the hands of someone who was still in diapers when you graduated from high school!

However, there are ways employees can make the performance review process easier on themselves. For starters, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the review process for the organization. If an employee has been with the organization for any length of time, they will know the ropes quite well, but it can be daunting for newer employees.

The goal of an employee performance review should ideally be to reinforce employee expectations and good performance, improve where something is lacking, and help facilitate communication between employee and employer or manager. The truth, though, is that many employee performance reviews become a source of anger and resentment. If an employee feels they did a good job over the year, and receives a mediocre review, they can become upset and even angry. It’s an unfortunate reality that people tend to remember the bad things that happened throughout the year easier than they remember the good. If an employee made a single mistake several months earlier, they may find this mistake highlighted in the performance review, while everything else they did well wasn’t mentioned. It’s bad enough making a single mistake at the time, it’s even worse when that mistake comes back to haunt a person several months down the track, especially if they learned a lesson from that mistake and haven’t repeated it.  

Because this occurs, many employees are quite afraid that their manager or employer will remember the bad things they did rather than the good. It can seem very difficult to overcome an earlier mistake. To prepare for a performance review, an employee should assess their own work over the year, both good and bad. Where a mistake was made, they need to acknowledge it, and then document how they learned from the mistake.

Many performance reviews have both a written and an oral component. Quite often mangers are expected to do written performance reviews of employees, employees are expected to do written reports of their own performance, and then the two will have a meeting where these reviews are discussed. An employee who is well prepared to discuss both the good and bad, will be in a better position than one who isn’t.  

An employee who receives what they feel is an unfair review may be tempted to get angry and upset, and even confront their manager about what they consider to be an unfair report of their performance. However, the best idea is to take some deep breaths and wait at least 24 hours before saying anything. Many things can be said in the heat of the moment that people wish they hadn’t said! It’s important to be able to look at a review objectively and understand where the reviewer was coming from when they made it. If there are some valid points, these need to be acknowledged.

If there is a formal meeting to discuss the performance review, then any issues raised by the review should ideally be discussed then. It’s best to deal with the review as professionally as possible, rather than letting emotions get in the way. If an employee can discuss what they feel is correct about the review, and what they feel is unfair in a mature fashion, the manager who made the review will be more likely to respond in kind, and the outcome will be better. Many mangers acknowledge that their own jobs are so busy that it’s hard to know everything employees get up to. Quite often their attention is drawn to mistakes and bad performance by employees, while general excellent day to day performance simply isn’t noticed.

Tackled the right way, a performance review can end up being a positive experience. It can allow mangers and employers to learn more about their employees, and it can also open up discussions between them about expectations and their understandings of various job roles. Sometimes an employee can believe they’re doing the right thing, only to find out in a performance review that they aren’t. As long as the review is handled maturely and professionally, it really can be a means whereby employees become better at their jobs and employers become more understanding of their employees.

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