Blog Post

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.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Blog Post

A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line. However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board. Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process. The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference? Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization. And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.) Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down) This "bottom-up" approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around: Career history Career preferences Mobility preferences Professional and special skills Education achieved Competency ratings Performance scores Goal achievement Training and certifications Etc. In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions. For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands. The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a "Readiness Gap" – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level? And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps. Faster development, faster mobility. Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels. I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that "water finds its level" – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally. Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process. They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings. The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level. A Two-Way Street Employee-driven career management is just one tool. The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable. But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital. For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Blog Post

The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

Building and maintaining a successful company hinges on having the right people to execute projects and drive results. People, we hear time and again, are your company's most valuable asset. But their success — and HR's ability to recruit, engage and retain them — depends on HR pros who are strategic decision-makers, armed with the proper tools to let them excel at their jobs. Modern HR professionals manage much more than payroll and benefits. But their technology tools, in many cases, haven't evolved past basic productivity software like email or Microsoft Word. HR simply can't be strategic with old-school tools that reduce people to statistics and give little insight into what the numbers mean. Emails and spreadsheets were not designed to deliver meaningful insights into people's performance, suggest when employees should be promoted or highlight skills gaps in a company. For that, HR needs a broader, more strategic set of talent management tools, which lets professionals manage every aspect of the workforce, from training and performance reviews to collaboration and succession planning. Yet, research shows that less than 25% of companies use a unified, holistic approach to their talent management. The Real Costs of "Doing Nothing" As a Talent Management Strategy The critical relationship between business strategy and HR strategy too often gets overlooked by senior leadership. While it may seem like the company is saving money by managing recruiting, training, performance and succession via manual and paper-based processes, in reality it’s costing your business more than you know. For example: Without a talent management strategy, a company with 2,000 employees is losing almost $2 million every year in preventable turnover alone. Businesses that don’t invest in learning suffer from decreased employee performance and engagement to such a degree that they can expect to realize less than half the median revenue per employee. That’s a direct impact on the business. In employee performance management, organizations without a focused strategy waste up to 34 days each year managing underperformers and realize lower net income. To learn more about the business impact of talent management and how to start building out your strategy, check out the eBook Why Your Nonexistent Talent Management Strategy is Costing You Money (And How to Fix It) and register for the March 19th webinar, Building the Business Case for Talent Management.

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

Blog Post

The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022