Heading for the exit: The impact of negative performance reviews

The aim of performance reviews is to praise achievement and address any issues. The intention is to motivate the employee to improve upon poor performance, but research shows that performance may actually worsen as a result of a negative review.

Sixty-seven per cent of business managers surveyed as part of the Robert Half Salary Guide reported an increase in absenteeism, resignations or both following a negative performance review. That’s a damaging impact for the business, especially when you consider performance reviews are supposed to help achieve the opposite.

No one likes to be criticised. A negative performance review can be an emotional and extremely demotivating experience, particularly if a person feels unfairly treated. But not all performance reviews can be glowing bundles of praise. So how can you lessen the negative impact of a poor performance review?

Just the facts

Even the best of us can feel personally hurt by professional criticism. So it’s extremely important to avoid any unnecessary subjectivity entering into the review.

If the employee believes the review is driven by personal opinion, it will be easier for them to reject the findings or claim unfair treatment. No performance review should rely on how well an employee gets on with the boss.

A performance review should be as objective and impartial as possible. Use numbers and facts wherever possible – such as agreed-upon KPIs or attendance records – and never use unsupported anecdotal evidence to make a point.

A review based on opinion and interpretation of anecdotal reports can appear as subjective bias. And you don’t want your feedback to be undermined by the employee disputing the source. For the employee to accept the criticism, there has to be documented and indisputable substance to back it up.

Present solutions, not problems

A performance review should always be a constructive exercise. The goal is to achieve better performance for the company, not worse. And that means helping the employee to willingly address performance issues. So instead of focusing on the negative issues, identify how the business can help correct or support improvement.

Allocating a mentor can help the employee feel supported, with someone to answer questions and offer advice on a daily basis. But if you do choose a mentor, it must be someone the employee respects. If he or she dislikes the mentor or feels pressured by them, it will feel more like a punishment than help.

In appropriate cases, further training or a refresher course may help. The cost of supporting an existing employee with a short training program can be far less than the expense of hiring and training a new employee.

Above all, it is the manager’s role not only to identify performance issues but also to work with the employee to find solutions. This can help turn a negative review into a positive, supportive one. The employee may still feel cowed, but at least they’ll also feel valued and supported. And that can lead to greater motivation.

Can’t you take a hint?

I have come across negative performance reviews being used in the hope that the employee would get the message and start looking for another job. It can save on a lot of paperwork and the long, complex disciplinary process of warnings if the bad employee decides to leave of their own accord. However, this tactic can fail far more easily than it can succeed, possibly making matters worse in the process. Employees rarely resign to make life easier for their managers.

If the employee’s performance is genuinely poor enough to warrant efforts to want them out of the business, then it becomes even more important that every performance review is well documented and based on clear, undisputed numbers and evidence. Wrongful dismissal claims and complaints of personal vendettas can damage business productivity just as much, if not more, than absenteeism and poor performance.

There are no shortcuts. It pays to get it right first time.

Used correctly, even a negative performance review can be a positive tool for the business. It can be hugely rewarding and satisfying experience for any employer when a struggling employee manages, with support, to turn things around and become a positive asset to the business.

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