How to Write Employee Evaluations in 2022
Employee evaluations, as part of an ongoing performance management program, can be excellent employee development tools, as well as a way to acknowledge high performance.
However, many times, these evaluations fall short. They’re either too vague to have an impact or so negative that the employee feels under attack.
So, how should organizations approach employee evaluations? What should these evaluations include? And, what types of information should be discussed?
We’ve shared some best practices, as well as some pitfalls to avoid, in this blog.
What is an employee evaluation?
Employee evaluations, also called performance reviews, are periodic assessments of how an individual is performing in his or her job. This is a time to review performance against objectives, discuss areas of strengths, and areas in need of improvement. It should also be a time where manager and employee can set new goals, and tangible ways to expand the employee’s professional development.
Traditionally, these evaluations occur annually or semi-annually.
How employee evaluations have changed
In the past, employee evaluations were one of the only times managers and employees actually discussed job performance. They followed a fairly generic form and were often shrouded in as much mystery as a gender reveal.
Because there was minimal communication around performance throughout the year, employees were often unpleasantly surprised—even shocked—at their managers’ assessments. Even if that employee left with a signed copy of the evaluation and a list of action items for improvement, many times, there was no manager follow-up. As a result, employees often had to wait until the next evaluation to find out if they improved, progressed or met their new performance goals.
Although most companies are still doing some sort of annual or semi-annual appraisals, these no longer standalones, but part of formalized performance management training programs.
With this approach, there is not just performance goal setting, but ongoing manager-employee communications on the progress being made. Supplementing employee evaluations with quarterly, monthly or weekly check-ins eliminates the surprises at evaluation time, because the employee always knows where he or she stands. Typically, this approach also improves performance because the employer is proactively enabling the employee to continually improve and expand his or her skills.
Today, many companies are beginning to incorporate other employee appraisal models into the process, like employee self-evaluations. These self-assessments not only improve employee awareness, but help managers better understand their employees’ perspectives and interpretation of what is expected of them.
Other organizations have expanded the evaluation process to include peer reviews, which include input from the employee’s team and colleagues. While in some company cultures, this range of input can be effective and welcome, this approach can also be destructive if the comments aren’t carefully monitored and vetted before they are presented to the employee.
What should an employee evaluation include?
The best evaluations are based in data and tangible fact. Managers should be clear, constructive and support their statements with specific examples.
If there are successes, be sure to acknowledge those. If there are areas for improvement, identify tangible steps the employee should take to improve, including training and class recommendations.
The most effective evaluations are two-way conversations between employee and manager. Listen to employees’ input, and get their perspective on their work, and any challenges or barriers they identify.
The discussion should end with actionable goals, and a timetable for follow-ups and additional, scheduled performance discussions throughout the year. Then, keep those lines of communication open. Nothing at documented evaluations should come as a surprise to the employee—unless it’s a bonus.
What to ask during employee evaluations
In addition to reviewing performance, goals and areas for improvement, managers should consider using the employee evaluations to:
- Set professional goals for the upcoming period before the next evaluation.
- Discuss any areas of concern, including workload, timelines, or other challenges preventing employees from performing at their peak. Do they have enough responsibility? Do they feel like their current position enables them to fully utilize their skills?
- Discuss their career ambitions, and skills they need to develop to reach those goals.
- This is also a good time to identify if a good performer may be at risk of leaving. Find out how the employee feels about the company, the team, and the type of work or projects they’re handling.
- Ask what they would suggest to make their job/the work environment better or more productive—and increase their job satisfaction.
- Find out if employees feel appreciated and respected.
- Ask where they believe they add the greatest value to the company.
The real key is making this an open dialogue in a safe environment and listening to what your employee have to say and what they suggest. That’s often where the best ideas come from.
Avoiding common employee evaluation mistakes
Ask a room full of people how they feel about employee evaluations, and you’ll always have a percentage—both employees and the managers giving the evaluations—who would rather have a root canal. They’ve had a bad experience in the past, or they just don’t feel comfortable with the process.
Managers and employees alike have the opportunity to transform these evaluations into productive, valuable sessions. In this blog, we’ve offered up best practices on what to do. We’ll end with the don’ts—what NOT to do during an employee appraisal. These include:
Being unprepared: These appraisals impact the employee’s career and progress with the company. Managers need to spend time on the appraisals, both writing them, and presenting them. Rushing through, answering IMs or phone calls during the session or not scheduling adequate time sends the message that the employee isn’t worth the effort.
Blindsiding: Employees should not be surprised by anything in the appraisal or be taken aback by comments they never saw coming.
According to Human Resources online, close to two-thirds of employees they survey “felt blindsided” by a performance review, and nearly half felt their performance review made them feel as though they can’t do anything correctly.
Employee evaluations should never make people feel completely defeated, beaten down or concerned about their job. If there are severe performance issues, these should have been addressed much earlier, through a formal protocol, probationary period or whatever HR process the company employs.
Being too vague: An employee evaluation should be a non-emotional, fact-based discussion on performance, with specific issues, challenges and goals addressed. Surveys consistently show that most employees don’t feel like they’re getting enough feedback from their managers, which often results in them becoming disengaged from their work—and looking elsewhere.
Focusing only on the negative: Most employees want to do a good job and are trying to do a good job. But, it’s hard to stay motivated when their efforts aren’t applauded or recognized. Industry data shows that 69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were acknowledged and rewarded.
Taking it personally: This advice is for employer and employee alike. Employers should stay focused on business issues, not how they personally feel about the employee. They also shouldn’t take it personally if the employee critiques a process they put in place or something about their management style. At the same time, employees should not take valid performance criticism as a personal attack. Keep it unemotional and realize that any criticisms are about performance, not about the human being.
An employee appraisal can be a motivator and another tool for personnel development. Take the time do it right and both the employee and the organization benefits.