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Column: Employee evaluations not effective

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Yes, that special time of the year is about to start. Thanksgiving? Christmas? Hanukkah? No, I'm talking about that glorious holiday from productive work called “employee evaluation time.”

Don't you just love annual employee evaluations? No? Then you must be either an employee of a rubber company or a manager. Probably, you're not a human resources person. Then again, they get judged, too, so maybe you are.

The other day I heard about a recent study evaluating the evaluations of workplace performance. It seems they are hated equally by both sides of the “team,” managers and employees. Indeed, the Society for Human Resource Management, which bills itself as the world's largest organization of HR professionals, reports that 60 to 90 percent of employees and managers give thumbs down on the annual report card.

I especially like the take on employee evaluations given by Samuel Culbert, a UCLA professor who researches dysfunctional management practices. The widely quoted prof refers to the annual reviews as fraudulent, bogus and dishonest, demonstrating and supporting bad management.

I'm all for honest communication between staff members and managers, and always wanted it to be a two-way street. One of my previous managing editor's jobs was to tell me, when I had some hair-brained scheme, that I was off my rocker. Typically he was right.

But our relationship and that of the best of our staff members was a daily review. Essentially, reporters, copy editors and managers are evaluated on every piece of work they do, and, in practice, self-evaluate.

Still, there was the annual review. Among the things I disliked about it were: a) it brings out the BS from both employees out to impress and managers intent on being “reasonable” or “tough.” b) a grading system is so arbitrary—what's the difference between “C” and “B” work—and open-ended ones are even more vague; c) a person would think “Straight A's” would lead to higher raises and promotions. Not if there are no money or openings for that, which breeds discontent.

I dealt with creative, educated people in jobs loaded with diversity. I imagine it's much harder to keep a person at a manufacturing work station, doing the same job eight hours a day, interested and productive. Especially if the financial rewards are constrained.

From my experience, annual reviews breed tension and defensiveness. In a perfect world, people know what's expected and where they stand, day in, day out, and wouldn't need an annual review. It's not a perfect world. The annual employee evaluation isn't going away and, in my estimation, not getting any better, either.

Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at