Dos and Don’ts of employee performance reviews

Effective performance appraisals can boost employee capability, morale, and engagement. However, when done poorly, you risk distressing employees and exposing your business to legal risks.

In years gone by, the performance appraisal has been seen by some as a bureaucratic paperwork exercise to please the HR department. When really, it is a valuable tool for improving employee skills, expertise, and therefore, output, in addition to providing a formal platform for valuable feedback and recognition.

Reasons for underperformance

If an employee appears to be underperforming, it’s important not to prematurely conclude they’re a lazy worker for the chopping block. According to Fair Work, some possible reasons for an employee’s poor performance could be:

  • they don’t know what’s expected of them, or goals, standards, and workplace policies aren’t clear
  • there are interpersonal differences within the team
  • there is a gap between their skills and the requirements of the role
  • they aren’t aware they’re underperforming because they never receive feedback to improve
  • they lack personal motivation or are suffering from low morale from a poor work environment
  • they’re experiencing personal issues, such as family stress or mental health problems
  • there are cultural misunderstandings
  • they’re experiencing workplace bullying.

The value in frequent, constructive performance feedback is that managers can more quickly identify the underlying reasons for an employee’s poor performance and help them improve.

7 Simple Dos and Don’ts for effective performance appraisals

  1. Don’t avoid giving negative feedback or hold onto it for the once-a-year appraisal process. You must provide feedback promptly, consistently, and constructively. Involve the employee and empower them to guide their career and development.
  2. Don’t show up unprepared.
    You must prepare by collecting information consistently. Seek feedback from team and project leaders for a well-rounded view.
  3. Don’t show up late. Don’t touch or use your phone during the meeting.
    You must show up and be fully present to show you respect your employee and the appraisal process.
  4. Don’t use personal beliefs, “views” or vague and subjective labels in your feedback (e.g. “doesn’t try” needs to be backed up with evidence of apathetic behaviour in the workplace). You must stick to the facts and track performance against mutually defined pre-set key performance indicators. Allow space for the employee to evaluate their own performance and discuss any gaps.
  1. Don’t only focus on the negatives. You must keep the conversation relaxed and constructive. A more considered approach is to back up negative feedback with suggestions and/or a plan to help them improve (e.g. Offer paid training and development opportunities to boost capabilities where lacking). Invite the employee to investigate how they would like to improve as well.
  1. Don’t have off-the-cuff conversations and forget to make notes.
    You must keep a record of performance conversations and solutions to refer to in subsequent reviews to accurately monitor performance and ensure the employee’s development needs are being met.
  2. Don’t over-evaluate the under performers or prioritise these conversations at the expense of other employees, because you might appear to devalue the high performers.
    You must provide consistent and constructive feedback to all employees. Even your best workers can improve (and would appreciate your support to do so).

Be consistent and fair in your performance conversations

The longer that poor performance continues, the more difficult it will be to resolve. That’s why consistency is critical for conversations to succeed. But they also need to be accurate and fair to maximise the benefit and avoid exposing you to legal risks. Stick to the facts and assess everyone’s performance against the same standards.

If you’re an employee who’s suffered a psychological injury or mental distress from bullying or harassment in the workplace, get in touch with our experts to arrange a free case review.


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