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Time to review the annual appraisal to see if it can make any necessary improvements

Published 16 March 2020

There can be few things more frustrating than getting fully prepared to do something, knowing exactly how it should work, only to discover it does not work.

It’s fair to say that many now view the much maligned and traditional performance appraisal in such a way.

The annual appraisal may not be utilised in the way it once was, and certainly not be as popular, but many employers continue to use it.

Critics argue it provides infrequent feedback, does more harm than good and is out of place in modern-day workplaces.

The BBC published an article last year titled: Why appraisals are pointless for most people (1)

Descriptions of the traditional, yearly or half yearly, system of performance assessment include: ‘They’re really toxic and people hate them’, ‘it’s a soul-crushing exercise’ and that they can be a’ self-serving exercise in politics, not a realistic examination of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses.’

A separate and previous article once listed 10 common problems with performance appraisals that included: (2)

  • Once-a-year (or even twice) critiquing (at the annual appraisal) encourages people to save up and squirrel away both praise and criticism for months instead of giving it at the appropriate time.
  • Managers are cowardly – they know that low marks are demoralising so they avoid giving them and hence a paper trail of the poor performers suggests they are performing well.
  • Appraisal confounds different functions: feedback, coaching, development, pay decisions, legal documentation.
  • Appraisal is evaluation by ambush because employees were encouraged to meet a standard they had not seen, understood or thought relevant to their job.
  • Appraisals are either too inflexible to force real differentiation between individuals on trivial criteria or else so specific that no useful comparative data is generated.

The appraisal is viewed as a systematic way to document and review the performance of an employee (3). It can measure performance against targets, objectives and KPIs and be used to improve results or identify support or additional training required to boost work performance. They may also be linked to bonuses and pay increases. This can add extra pressure and stress to the process for both managers and employees.

Many managers and supervisors in the UK and across the world are said to dislike conducting appraisals, which are felt to be time consuming and considered not to motivate staff. (4) It is a feeling reportedly shared by employees who believe they are not objective and often inaccurate.

Those who champion the annual appraisal say it is a tool for year-on-year performance comparisons that feed into business decisions. 

But limiting that feedback to once a year or maybe twice a year means it can often be considered irrelevant and meaningless.

We live in an information age where people want and can get information instantly. Providing on the spot and regular performance feedback seems to be the way in which the appraisal is going.

It was not that long ago that the Guardian newspaper ran an article with the headline

The appraisal is dead. Long live the catchup (5)

It described how a growing number of companies had decided to abolish performance reviews altogether, instead introducing more regular catchups.

The report tells how software company Adobe Systems used to hold annual reviews for staff, collecting 360-degree evaluations for each team member.

In 2012, a decision was made to switch to a “check-in” process where managers meet with staff at least once a quarter and discuss expectations, feedback, and growth and development.

Adobe was said to have seen a 30 per cent decrease in the number of employees quitting – and recovered the thousands of hours managers and employees had been spending on their reviews.

 

References:

 

(1) Why appraisals are pointless for most people: [Internet] www.bbc.com [Cited 16/3/20] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190501-why-appraisals-are-pointless-for-most-people.

(2) 10 common problems with performance appraisals: [Internet] www.managers.org.uk [Cited 16/3/20] https://www.managers.org.uk/insights/news/2016/april/10-common-problems-with-performance-appraisals-and-how-to-solve-them:

(3) Appraisals: [Internet] www.unison.org.uk [Cited 16/3/20] https://www.unison.org.uk/get-help/knowledge/terminating-suspending-job/appraisal/

(4) Dislike conducting appraisals: [Internet] www.smallbusiness.chron.com [Cited 16/3/20] https://smallbusiness.chron.com/dont-employees-like-performance-appraisals-11526.html.

(5) The appraisal is dead. Long live the catchup: [Internet] www.the guardian.com [Cited 16/3/20] https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2018/feb/02/the-appraisal-is-dead-long-live-the-catchup

 

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A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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