Your Performance Review Isn’t Fair

I was talking with a co-worker the other day about my company’s performance review system and they were venting about some of the problems with it.  I pointed out in fact the entire system was structurally unfair, so why bother getting upset about the details of it?

You see the system does mean well in some regards.  Overall we have four ranks in the system: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, developing and doesn’t meet expectations or in number form the highest rank is 4 and drops down to 1.  You can tell someone tried to make the system meaningful by limiting the number of people in the company that can be assigned a 4 rank or exceeds.  Which in theory I agree with otherwise the rank becomes sort of meaningless if half the company get the exceeds rank (trust me this does happen…everyone likes to think of themselves as better than average).

Then you are supposed to set your annual goals.  Then you rank yourself on your goals at the end of the year and your boss does the same.  Then you compare notes and discuss the areas of disagreement.  Up until now the process is somewhat fair in the fact if your goals clearly outlined the criteria of exceeds. Unfortunately I have yet to see that happen all that well or consistently in my company.  So the unfairness starts to creep in.

Then it gets worse, because your boss then takes your draft rating to a calibration session where all the managers and your director discuss the proposed ranks and adjusts them as required.  On one hand I appreciate the concept here.  You shouldn’t be able to suck up only to your boss and screw over everyone else in your work place and still get a good rating.  But all to often I can see these turning into popularity contests which sort of negates the point of calibrating the ranks.  The people that are liked best end up with a higher rank.

In effect, the title of the process, performance review, is rather correct.  This isn’t about how good you do your job, but rather how good of a actor/writer you can be to make yourself look better than everyone else (ie: your artistic performance).  This isn’t to say results don’t matter, but rather their presentation of those results are more important than most people realize.  Oddly, I’m sort of shocked that more people haven’t clued into this fact already.  Thus the most proficient players at this game will purposely let their projects go a little off the rails towards the start of the evaluation period so by the time they do the review they can point to the fact they brought everything back on track just last week.  The look like a hero and managed to also exploit the fact we have a significant bias to more recent events rather than what happened at the start of the year.

Then the final insult to this entire mess of a complex process if each department is given a set budget to offer raises out of, so the amount of money on the table between each range is rather tiny.  I learned this year the difference between the top of rank 4 and top of rank 3 was a mere 1.5% raise.  Seriously, you want me to work my ass off for an entire year to get only 1.5% more than just coasting along and doing an ok job?  Are you nuts?  Do you not understand the idea of diminishing returns?

Then on top of this entire mess I was told the following: because I do such good work already the expectations for me are higher than my co-workers.  Pardon?!? Did you just tell me I’m being held to a higher standard than everyone else because I do good job?!?!  Um, perhaps the people doing crap work should just do a better job…nay, that would sound like actual performance management.  Or god forbid actually fire the crappy performers.

So rather than bitch with my co-worker about the process I have decided instead the sweet spot in this insane system: coasting.  Since I only have another 30 or so months less the entire appeal of getting my income to compound is much less important than getting my investments to compound.  After all the tax rate on most of my investment is less than my job income anyway.

Therefore I have said goodbye to the following:

  • Extra effort to get the job done.  Why bother when I have been informed that won’t be rewarded anyway?
  • Working late or coming in early.  Nope. My contract stated 40 hours a week and I’m sticking to it.
  • Going above what was asked of me.  Again why put in the effort when my only reward is more work?  Which seems to get dropped on my plate anyway, so why add the stress?
  • Speaking of work, I now will try to actively avoid extra tasks.  No volunteering to help out with a project that isn’t assigned to me or saying yes to requests.  My default answer is now: no.

In HR lingo I’m now ‘actively disengaged’ or in plain English:  I just can’t scrap together the motivation to give a damn about what I do.  I show up, do my work and then leave and never think about it much beyond that.  Which I could perhaps feel bad about it until you Google workplace engagement and realize that majority of workers (depending on the study 60 to 70% of your workplace) either are just apathetic to work or outright hate their jobs.  On the spectrum, I’m not into hating my job at this point I just refuse to put anything resembling like extra effort into a system that only punishes people who try and be engaged.

So that is the tale of my lack of motivation at work.  How is your workplace?  Does it also choke out extra work for no actual benefit to the employee? Or worse yet give extra work to the high performers because they are more productive? Or do you just game the system for all its worth?

12 thoughts on “Your Performance Review Isn’t Fair”

  1. Back in my working days, I found the employee review process lousy from 2 perspectives: being on the receiving end of them and on the preparation end for others.

    On the receiving end, at least the formal, lengthier ones became shorter when I switched from working FT to PT. I had fewer projects which was one reason but working PT took them off the regular format. But years earlier, back in the early 1990s, I had one year where I was not promoted to supervisor when I thought I had earned it. The stuff they made up and trumped up made me angry. I did get that promotion the next year and in that review, all the things they claimed I was doing wrong “magically” disappeared when I never really had them to begin with.

    On the preparation end, I battled my superiors one year over wordsmithing and got trapped between to levels of higher management who kept changing the same phrases, making it seem like I was making twice as many mistakes! Then I got hammered for bad writing on the performance review.

    As I got closer to my eventual early retirement, my incentive to go the extra mile declined rapidly. Why kill myself to get an extra 0.5%, especially in the 2000s when the salary raises were shrinking (compared to the late 1980s when busting your hump would get you at least an extra 3%.

  2. Sounds like you’re being treated like pets or children at least. If you’re really good , MAYBE you’ll get a treat. Can’t blame you for having the attitude you do at work. So glad I am self employed and don’t have to put up with all the workplace crap that goes along with working for a large employer . Although being a small business operator with a few employees has its own headaches and share of drama also!

  3. What happens if they catch on to your lower engagement level and decide to “remove” you from your job sooner than planned?

  4. Performance reviews are typically a wash. Especially since everyone, including management, forgets their goals about a month after the review and it’s back to the same old daily grind.

    They’re even more ridiculous for part-time positions. In the past one part-time job I had did annual performance reviews. We had over 80 staff and only a couple of managers doing the reviews, so to save time they literally ended up just copying and pasting generic “you meet expectations” phrases for each person. Then there was the nightmare of trying to schedule people to come in on their days off since it was a partially seasonal job and the only time they could do the reviews was summer, but of course many staff weren’t even around cause there was no work.

    Eventually they just abolished the whole thing in favour of bringing up any performance issues on the fly rather than reviewing them on an annual basis. And if you wanted to move-up in the company, it was up to you to approach management and express that interest.

  5. Job-hopping is more rewarding than counting on positive reviews when it comes to salary/title.

    Counting on positive reviews is only valuable if the long-term benefits package is better than the salary/title you could obtain by job-hopping.

  6. The workplace was never intended to be fair or even make sense. I am always amazed how many people actually believe their workplace is supposed to be a fun, creative and liberating place. LOL! Perhaps a few are; the ones I have worked in have been filled with mindless drones on the bottom rung and psychotic idiots at the top.

    The workplace is an inherently unfair place where people act like the slaves they truly are. Don’t fool yourself, you are a slave and your master calls the shots. The truth is hard to swallow, I know. People don’t want to believe they are slaves, but they are. Things haven’t really changed that much in a couple thousand years. Sure, you now have improved entertainment to better mask your silent desperation with the advent of television, video games and movies, but you are still a slave to money/debt.

    Don’t feel bad, our modern society is so generous we let you take 2-3 weeks off each year work for a holiday. Of course you will still check your email and respond to customers/requests out of fear of being out of the loop with the office. Like a good little slave that you are. 🙂

  7. I agree with George. Job hopping is far more lucrative than trying to get raises. Jumping jobs for me got me an average 30% each time (twice) vs trying for raises each year gets me an average of 2.8% over 7 years (2008-2014).

    Obviously the job hopping isn’t sustainable – but it does show how staying at the same company keeps your salary below market rates (why else could I make a salary jump like that doing the same job?)

  8. I completely get your sentiment. I have been on the other side as the supervisor to the “disengaged” employees and it was one of the reasons I quit that job and company.

    I hated it when I was given only a set budget to give raises to my team and I had to arbitrarily decide who gets the higher raises that, in real world terms, meant almost nothing after taxes between the top bucket and the next bucket. It was nearly impossible to keep my high-performing team at that level because we would always get the more difficult projects versus the “low-hanging fruits” that the slacker teams would get because senior management didn’t dare trust them with high profile cases.

    The workers aren’t dumb and they see it and correctly surmise that they are basically being punished for being great at their jobs. Having risen through the ranks myself they fortunately still had some respect for me, plus I was able to offer them more flexibility (work from home when officially the company policy forbids it, extra time off for family/personal without ducting their official time bank, etc) but that could only go so far year after year of the same depressing view.

    Eventually we all left that company and I still keep in touch with some of those team members and most of them are doing well – still unhappy about the corporate world but at least they are getting paid more now (i.e. if you want to get paid more, change your job instead of trying to climb within the company).

    Sadly this is what happens when a company focuses too much purely on the numbers and not of the people – when the people is the primary driving force in making the company a success in the first place. Of course there are many cases where people take advantage of the trust and abuse it, but those are never long-term and you burn your bridges and future. At the end of the day, do whatever you can for yourself, your family/loved ones, spend time with them and friends, and be healthy. A job is just a job…

  9. @Bill – Ha! I know some workplaces seem all the same with some of this stuff.

    @robert – Oh, they know I’m disengaged…I told them I was. Worse case…it would happen like Daniel noted performance improvement plan or outright here is the door (which is more of an annoyance to me than a problem). Realistically, I’m in discussion on ways to improve things (change in work, options to reduce hours further and other ideas).

    @George – Oh, good point. I haven’t jumped for while and that can often work out well. The issue is in some regards I’m comfortable for the most part with my job so I’m not desperate to leave. So the endless debate in my head is do I leave before it gets too bad or give it a try with some changes first. Ah choices.

    @Jimmy – Thanks for sharing…its good to hear how others have handled things.


  10. “At the end of the day, do whatever you can for yourself, your family/loved ones, spend time with them and friends, and be healthy. A job is just a job…” – Great bit of advise and more people should listen.

    Totally agree that the evaluation system is flawed. I started to see real quick that managers tend to have a short term memory and only the most recent events seem to come up. Which leaves the 1st part of the year forgotten. Also the raises are not much to fight for anyway. I’ve also found that job hopping is the quickest way to get pay increases and staying loyal to your current group will leave you behind in pay.

    For a white collar job it is hard to set some measurable goals. Most are not just building a number of widgets and need to work quicker. I had a manager one time try to turn a white collar job into measurable goals, but it just became confusing and convoluted.

    Funny, but the white collar raise system really reminds me of buying insurance. Most times I would do better to leave the company and come back, and loyalty is really a disadvantage to you.

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