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How to make performance reviews less terrible – especially given the challenges of supervising remote workers

Few office workers seem to like performance reviews, those annual reviews of how employees are doing their jobs. And many seem to downright hate them – or fear them.

A 2015 survey of Fortune 1000 companies found that nearly two-thirds of employees were unhappy with performance reviews, didn’t think they were relevant to their jobs — or both. In a separate 2016 survey, a quarter of men and nearly a fifth of women said they cried after a bad review. The numbers were even higher for younger workers.

And that was during the much simpler pre-pandemic times, when almost all professional workers were in the office daily and could be assessed in the same way. Things are trickier today, as some employees are working entirely from home, others are coming into the office, and still others are splitting their time between the two. Nearly 75% of U.S. companies are adopting a hybrid model, with 55% of employees saying they want to work remotely at least three days a week.

I am a professor of industrial and organizational psychology, a field that conducts scientific studies to better understand the workplace. Here are three challenges I believe employers and their employees will face and ways to overcome them.

1. Familiarity Gap

One of the biggest challenges is how difficult it is to create a connection with your boss.

Employees who share the same physical space as their managers will have more opportunities to interact with them on a regular basis than those who work remotely. This gives office workers a leg up on their peers who work remotely most or all of the time.

For example, Matt comes to the office five days a week. Jake, who does the same job, only arrives on Wednesdays. Over time, their mutual supervisor, Jill, will naturally become more familiar with Matt than she is with Jake, as Matt is available to join her for lunch, engage in a quick chat in her office, or say “hi” passing in the entry.

The more familiar we are with others, the more we tend to like them. And research has shown that a manager’s degree of appreciation can have a significant impact on their evaluation of you.

The best way to level the playing field is to make it easier for workers to interact with their bosses when working remotely. Employers can do this by scheduling short but frequent check-ins with remote workers throughout the day or by providing virtual office hours when managers are available.

Another strategy is to create permanent chat rooms that all workers can use to communicate with supervisors in the same way. To encourage more social interaction, businesses can bring back the Zoom happy hours that have become popular during the pandemic — but ideally in a way that makes them more fulfilling.

Performance reviews can be painful.

2. Fewer sightings

I teach my students that the most accurate performance ratings are achieved when ratings are based on observable behaviors rather than subjective ratings of traits.

Indeed, while it is possible to define and normalize behaviors and train raters on how to observe and assess them, traits are inherently subjective.

Take the trait “creativity”. How do you define creativity? How would you rate it, for example on a scale from “below expectations” to “exceeds expectations?”

Now imagine converting this into a behavior, such as “generating practical ideas in new situations”. It is something that could be reasonably and objectively rated on a scale of never to frequently.

The problem is that observing behaviors is difficult, if not impossible, when employees are working remotely. One way to address this problem is for employers to adopt a results-based system, in which employees are evaluated on productivity metrics such as customer satisfaction, sales volume, or number of units produced – criteria designed to match the position.

Shifting the focus from behavioral performance reviews to results for all employees ensures that managers don’t have to worry about not being able to observe their direct reports at work. And employees have the flexibility to decide how they will complete their assigned tasks while being held accountable only for the end result. Thus, all workers are held to the same standards.

Another option that can help assess workers consistently is to apply tracking technology – although this can be controversial and problematic, for example eroding employee privacy and creating more stress. Typically, these systems track how remote workers spend their time on their computers and phones.

But it is essential to implement these systems correctly, for example by being extremely transparent about what is tracked and what data is collected. When done well, tracking can be a useful way to more fairly evaluate certain types of employees, such as customer service representatives or administrative assistants.

3. One exam to rule them all

Alas, results-based performance reviews may not work for all jobs.

For example, evaluating a teacher solely on the basis of student test scores can be problematic, as scores are also influenced by environmental factors such as poverty or lack of family support. Similarly, an employee responsible for long-term strategic planning cannot be immediately evaluated on results since it is impossible to know whether the plan will succeed until it is implemented.

The key here is to use one type of appraisal system for all employees. Assessing employees to different standards can create fairness and even legal issues if it can lead to different outcomes for groups explicitly protected from discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. ‘job. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

Since the appraisal determines who gets a raise or promotion and who might be fired, this is a particularly sensitive document. For example, imagine that a group of employees using one type of assessment gets more promotions than another group that follows a different system – and which also includes a higher proportion of racial minorities. The organization may then face a legal action for discrimination in which it may be required to prove that the two assessments are equivalent.

Ultimately, an employer should use a type of appraisal that can effectively measure any employee’s performance. If outcome judgment isn’t working, an organization could try a behavior-based system, but revise it so it doesn’t favor office-based employees. Another system is the skills review, the most popular type, which assesses employees on skills such as attention to detail, speed and quality of work.

Performance reviews will always be a drag for many workers – as essential as they are to an organization’s success. By their nature, they can be excruciating and not everyone can get a raise or a promotion. But at least the reviews should be fair and not disadvantage anyone, such as those who work primarily from home.

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