Employee Evaluations

Ruth Haag
Aug 27, 2013


When I teach people about becoming a supervisor, I always tell them that they should not do formal evaluations of their staff.  I am often met with surprise and concern.  Some people believe that evaluations are so necessary that they believe they are required by law.

However, formal evaluations are a great demotivator to staff members.  Sure, before the evaluation a staff member will often tell you, “I look forward to an evaluation, it will help me grow.”  But they are only saying that because they cannot fathom a situation where someone would find a problem with their work.   When someone points out your failings, your first reaction is to be defensive.  This creates a difficult situation that has little chance of coming out well.  The supervisor is sitting in judgment of the employee and the employee is on the defensive.  This is hardly a situation that will end with improved performance.

Using prepared evaluation forms doesn’t help because these forms are just some other person’s idea of what is important, and may not parallel the job that is being evaluated.  A few years ago I saw a City of Sandusky, Ohio, evaluation form and started to laugh.  It looked like my kindergarten report card, without the stick figures.  I checked the bottom of the City form, and sure enough, it was copyrighted the year I was in kindergarten.  It had a space to evaluate how neat the employee kept their desk.  At least it didn’t seek to evaluate the neatness of their handwriting.  Hopefully, the City has updated their form since then.

Decreased productivity through evaluations
I mentioned above that evaluations are demotivators; this is because most employees’ productivity goes down for about two weeks after an evaluation.  They become upset with what their supervisor tells them, and it takes a while before they want to work hard again.  The most extreme that I have experienced was with a person who was high up in a Fortune 500 corporation, who simply didn’t work for six months after their evaluation.

An alternative to formal evaluation
So, If I don’t like evaluations, but a client company insists that they be done, what do I suggest?

It is easy; most people know what their faults are.  It is much easier to admit your own failings than to have someone point them out to you.  The supervisor simply has to meet with the employee in a quiet location where they will not be disturbed, and ask the employee, “So how is your work going, any areas that you need to improve?”  99 percent of the employees will tell the supervisor exactly what the supervisor has already seen as a problem, and then the meeting will turn into a true mentoring session, where the supervisor can help by suggesting solutions to the employee’s problems.

Continuous Evaluations
Really, talking with an employee once a year is not enough to guarantee a good job product.  This would be akin to seeing a toddler hit another toddler and the parent deciding that they will take the issue up with them next year.  A supervisor should be around all of the time, and always ready to help if there are problems.  The supervisor should tell employees when they have done things well, and when they have done things poorly, within the same week that the good or bad event took place.  Continuous little adjustments in performance are what is needed.  If something has to be documented, these continuous adjustments can be written down and put in the employee file.

Evaluating employees who are not working well enough
Supervisors who discover that an employee is not working as hard or as well as is desired won’t be able to solve it with an evaluation.  These supervisors need to first make sure that they have done everything a good supervisor needs to do.  They should ask themselves the following two questions:

1. What did they tell the employee were the requirements of their job?

An auditor for unemployment told me a funny story once.  She said she was in a hearing with an employee who had been fired for not coming to work on time.  The employee said no one had ever told him that he had to be on time.  She asked the supervisor what he had said to the employee the first time he was late.  The supervisor said he had said to the employee, “Late night last night?”  Somehow the supervisor decided that this conveyed to the employee that they would be fired if they came to work late again.

2. Is someone else giving the employee different instructions?

This problem happens when the employee is supervised by a board or council.  Everyone on the board has to agree on the job requirements or the employee will be unable to successfully work.

Once it is clear what the requirements are and what is not getting done, the supervisor should sit down with the employee and discuss what they are looking for.  They should then give the employee a time schedule to change their work performance.

Clear job requirements and continuous adjustments; it’s often not that hard.  Next week:  What to do if an employee simply does not want to work.  

For the commentators:
Have you ever had a positive evaluation experience?


Stop It

"Have you ever had a positive evaluation experience?"

Yeah, once when my boss was drunk. I even got a $1.50 an hour raise.

Let's face it. Most places don't even HAVE a review process.


Sure have. Working for a local auto plant, we have yearly job evaluations where issues on health, safety and job requirements are discussed --not for pay increases.

90% of the employees point out they need additional training
(management's idea of training in a 90 day seniority code is one week) in certain job aspects or suggest ways to improve their job capabilities by providing better operation instructions or equipment to perform the job.

Ms. Haag:::

Based on you experience and knowledge, do you have an opinion on how the City should be or should have been handling the City Manager Job Review Process? Such as no review needed, a review by a third party, etc.


Every employer I ever worked for has annual reviews and they serve a multitude of purposes. Individual performance, continuity, formal document to deal with under-performers, etc. Done properly, annual reviews are an opportunity for good employees to shine, and poor employees get a wake-up call.

Avoiding performance measurements is like the little league baseball team where they don't keep score and everyone is a winner. The result is teaching "anything goes" and accountability is dismissed


Without the review, just see what kind of legal quagmire you will be involved in when you try to fire an underperformer. Unfortunately, in this day of sue happy people, you need stacks of documentation, so appraisals will not go away anytime soon.


If you can't take criticism (and I mean the constructive kind, such as that generated in a review), then you're likely not a particularly valuable employee anyway. "Demotivated" my butt! Those who are "demotivated" by a review are almost certainly just as "demotivated" by criticism at any time of the year and in any kind of venue.

Reviews are frequently set up not just to gauge progress but to eliminate at least SOME subjectivity from the process. That's not a bad thing, either.

No reviews. Hah. It's funny you should mention school report cards since education has slumped ever since we STOPPED giving "reviews" to students! Yeah, let's do the same thing in business! What a great idea THAT'S not!

The Big Dog's back

The employers need non retaliatory reviews also. Problem is if you say anything against the boss, you might as well just quit.


I have always found employees can provide criticism when it's done with forethought and respect.


I've had evaluations for 25 years, and I haven't had a single one that wasn't a positive experience. When a short-coming is mentioned, its usually not a total surprise to me. The evaluations involve reviewing my measurable goals and setting goals for next year. Ruth, you need to put your big pants on accept criticism. We are all human, and we all have the propensity for laziness if we aren't held accountable.