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3 Reasons Why Employees Fear Performance Reviews

Anita Bowness

Principal Product Manager: Cornerstone

It's Halloween. One of the spookiest nights of the year. But do your employees look terrified for a different reason? With the final quarter of the year already in full swing, it's definitely possible they're starting to think about the upcoming annual performance review season.

Here are the most common reasons why employees fear the performance review and what HR, people managers and employees can do about it.

1. Fear of the unknown

For most employees, their fear of the performance review stems from being unsure of its purpose. Oh, and does your process include a self-appraisal? Then it's quite likely your employees will have questions about how the self-appraisal is used, and how it fits into the whole process (and what is the whole process?).

They wonder about:

Self-evaluation expectations: "Is my manager expecting me to rate myself high or low?"

Evaluation criteria: "Am I being evaluated solely on my job description responsibilities or are there other things I need to consider?"

Evaluation accuracy: "How does this aspect of the performance review truly relate to my job, and how do I know if I am meeting expectations, exceeding expectations or even needing improvement?"

Tip for HR: Reduce fears of the unknown through education and communication

If your employees play an active role in the appraisal process, they should know exactly what that process is. What are the steps involved? Who are the different players? Communicate this information clearly and often.

Tell them how managers and the HR team will use their self-appraisal. Train your managers to make a point of referencing self-appraisal feedback during the performance review discussion. If managers overlook this step, employees may feel like the self-appraisal is a fruitless process.

2. Fear of failure

The old adage "no news is good news" isn't necessarily true when it comes to an individual's performance. Yet, many managers (and employees) fear delivering feedback, especially when it isn't positive.

It's not surprising then that employees will often only hear of a performance issue during the annual performance review – when a manager is "forced" into having these discussions.

If that sounds like you or your management team, think of the impact that lack of regular feedback can have on your employees' self-image:

Imagine going about your entire year thinking things are going swimmingly

You complete your self-appraisal and rate yourself "Exceeding Expectations" on goals and competencies

You then find out that your manager did the complete opposite!

Tip for managers: Nobody likes surprises – so give feedback regularly

No matter the time of year, feedback is a gift! When feedback is included as part of regular, ongoing performance discussions throughout the year, the employee, the manager and the organization are all better off.

The employee understands expectations, and what can be done to improve performance

The manager is better able to align and motivate his or her people to high performance

The organization is better poised to achieve goals and business outcomes

Look at it this way: When employees receive ongoing feedback about their performance, it shifts the focus from what isn't working (failure) to what does and will work (success). Managers need to prepare to give feedback that promotes development.

When feedback is given openly and regularly between managers and their employees, it removes the fear factor because the lines of communication have been open. Employees already have some insight and understanding about where they stand in their performance and through that feedback, they should have already taken steps to develop in areas that needed more attention by pursuing prescribed or self-driven learning and development activities.

That said, if you're in the position where you need to discuss tough topics or difficult feedback for the first time during the annual review, there are clear steps you can take to deliver negative feedback in way that prevents the performance conversation from getting sidetracked.

Remember: a performance set-back or area of improvement shouldn't immediately be considered a "failure" – it's often an excellent and previously untapped opportunity for growth!

3. Fear of feedback

For many employees, appraisal time feels like being in the hot seat – where you and your performance are the topic of discussion. Feedback, good or bad, can be as uncomfortable to receive as it is to give. It's why completing a self-appraisal is so important. It can prepare you to receive feedback by providing the opportunity to self-reflect on your performance.

Tip for employees: Be honest in your self-assessment

Know when it's appropriate to be humble (not now!) and when it's appropriate to highlight your successes (now!). Be sure to provide documented examples of your successes and how they have positively impacted the organization. A great way to have this list of examples ready to go in time for your performance assessment is to document them as they happen, and then share or reflect on your "highlight reel" with your manager during your regular, ongoing 1:1 meetings .

While now is not the time to be humble, it is important to be candid in your self-assessment. Reflect on areas of development and provide suggestions for how to address any skill gaps. It doesn't have to be complicated – you can write a great self-appraisal in just six steps.

Know this: Completing a self-appraisal pays off. It gives you the time to self-reflect. It provides your manager with larger context into how you view your performance. And, when incorporated with feedback from others, it ensures your assessment is richer and better-rounded.

Watch this short video from employee engagement expert Jason Lauritsen about how to work with your manager to create some of your own agency and ownership of the feedback process. (HR leaders and managers, we should also see you taking notes!)

A Simple Way to Make Performance Feedback & Coaching More Meaningful for Employees

Video of A Simple Way to Make Performance Feedback & Coaching More Meaningful for Employees

It's time to take the fear out of performance reviews!

The annual performance review provides an opportunity for managers and employees to reflect on what employees have learned in the past year, and how all of those experiences will help them to grow and contribute positively to the organization in the future.

So no matter your role in the performance review process, don't be scared. Be ready.

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