Job reviews cause stress

Performance reviews. Two little words that can start palms sweating, knees shaking and cause normally twinkling eyes to sink deep into their sockets – especially for managers.

Although many employees, supervisors and experts agree that job evaluations can be extremely helpful, they say that the benefits can easily be sunk in a sea of paper, bad habits and common misconceptions.

People often dread the formal review process because, like job interviews, it is rare, often done by rote, and seemingly fraught with hidden agendas, said Nick Corcodilos, a Lebanon, N.J.-based recruiter and author of Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing The Interview to Win The Job.

“What’s interesting to me is that managers tend to avoid performance reviews more than employees do. I find that employees start getting hot under the collar if they aren’t reviewed on time, and typically the reason the manger is behind is because HR has given the manger all sorts of forms to fill out so it becomes a big paperwork project. In fact, I’ve seen people quit jobs because their manger didn’t get around to doing a performance review,” said Corcodilos, who also hosts a Web site about staffing issues (

Giving and receiving

After sitting through performance reviews from both sides of the desk, Pete Kloppenburg, a former front-line manager at a Mississauga, Ont. software company said that when evaluation time rolls around, it is better to receive than to give.

“Review season was really a stressful time. They were time-consuming things, plus the company never did it the same way twice. There was always this push to have objective performance reviews and every year people complained that it was too subjective,” he said.

Kloppenburg, who is now a partner with Toronto-based documentation company Tribal Communications, suggested that performing evaluations can be extra tricky for bosses who have risen through the technical ranks and may lack management training. Also, with both executives and HR watching the results, matters can get political as individuals and departments compete for a fixed amount of raise or bonus money.

“You work with these people on a day-to-day basis, you get close to them, and you want them – and your team as a whole – to do well, so your impulse is to almost always err on the side of giving better reviews than are deserved. For example, when you answer a category like ‘meets expectations’ – well, if you’ve got a guy who isn’t a great worker and your expectations of him are low you can say ‘this person meets expectations’ with a clear conscience,” Kloppenburg said.

Money isn’t everything

Although money is at stake, many mangers mistakenly think the review is only about getting a big fat raise, said Sharon Lambert, an Ottawa-based HR consultant for IT firms.

“There is a feeling that IT people are only motivated by dollars, but the type of work people are doing, their environment and their relationship with their direct supervisors are actually more key to keeping them happy,” Lambert said

Wes Nelson, a Waterloo, Ont. software engineer for 14 years, agreed that a raise is not a good long-term motivator.

“Money can make me happy for a while, but after a while I assume that I deserve it so it doesn’t make me happy for very long. What really keeps me going is to be acknowledged for the things I know that I did well or, even better, to have things I wasn’t aware that I was doing well pointed out to me,” Nelson said.

“The only really negative experience I’ve had is when there hasn’t been a clearly spelled-out review process,” Nelson said. “At one company I worked for, the review process was irregular, so they tended to use it as a problem-solving mechanism. So when they announced that they would do a review in four weeks’ time you knew that someone was going to get it stuck to them.”

Keep a skeleton

For Lambert regular, announced reviews are a must. However, she also said that going a step further and treating them as an on-going process rather than a once-a-year blip will give a manager’s comments both consistency and objectivity.

“One of the best things you can do is keep a file on every worker, and add to it throughout the year, noting both praiseworthy things and possible areas for improvement. Then you’ve got the skeleton for your review, and a roadmap for each worker’s professional development. Clearer expectations like this will aid both the manager and the employee,” she said.

A big fan of opening the workplace channels of communication, Corcodilos said that employees should try taking an active role in their own evaluations. By arranging an informal meeting with a supervisor weeks before the review to discuss future goals, and outline problems solved in the last year, he said it’s possible for employee to subtly but effectively highlight their value to the company.

“Why not look at your review as an opportunity to go in and essentially re-interview for your own job and convince your boss that you are worth more money? Because you’re talking about money and being judged, it can be a bit difficult to find the tone, but I think the best way to overcome that is to have a little review with your boss every couple of months,” Corcodilos said.

“You shouldn’t have to sit down and slog through this stuff on a six-page script. When you formalize it, HR gets the papers to file in their drawer, but you get a lot less out of it. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘Can we spend 20 minutes talking about my work? I want to make sure I’m doing what you need and that I’m on track’ – and that’s a review.”