I’ve worked on staff evaluations before, but this year, as I pressed forward on a batch of them, it occurred to me how royally f’d up the system is. With the economy still ‘uncertain,’ many companies are stingier than ever when it comes to raises and praise. Apparently the two go hand-in-hand. The suits think that if you shower an employee with commendations, they will expect a raise to match. But since it always seems like it’s the year of the tightwad, it appears most organizations are holding back in all categories.
The annual review is designed to keep employees happy – but not too happy. In other words, staff evaluations are approached as a mechanism to maintain the status quo. As a younger worker, I lived and died by the annual review. Now I see what a useless gauge it really is. Every company handles evaluations and merit raises differently, but in my experience, here are a few reasons why staff evals FAIL.
1) Evaluations are like a child’s report card. From the silly grading system (Excellent, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement) to the ‘teacher’s’ comments at the end – there’s even a comments box for you to fill out just like mommy and daddy once did for you. You’re not going to get too many ‘excellents.’ Why should the company give you a glowing eval? They are afraid that anything too flattering will have you resting on your laurels and embracing mediocrity – at least for the first part of the year. From the start, you are set up to fail.
2) The review is secretly a one-sided conversation. Many organizations will have management write your review without including you in the process. You’ll walk into a room and the evaluation is already complete, your raise percentage already determined. You can air your grievances and get the ball rolling on NEXT YEAR’s review, but there’s a good chance the current review is already in the books.
3) People HATE writing reviews. Strong managers and supervisors have more important things to do than play third-grade teacher with your career. But staff evals come with the turf. Unless the person writing the review is a company owner at a small business, odds are your boss will have to get your review signed off on by his/her boss. So in essence, your boss has a review AND gets reviewed on your review. Got it? So even if your boss wanted to give you a perfect review or a dreadful one, he/she likely can’t since there’s a system of checks and balances in place.
4) End-of-year write-ups live forever. After your supervisor fills out the form and you sign it, a copy is delivered to Human Resources. Here, the paperwork is placed into a file with your name on it. When it is time to promote you or release you or reprimand you, this annual review will be consulted. Most companies work hard to be consistent, and they will have to make sure that the action they have planned for you matches the official eval. This is one reason why it’s important to fight to get a rating or a comment changed if you strongly disagree with it or find it unjust.
5) A shared pool of money is split amongst a group. For example, your company’s CFO will determine that there was a $50,000 surplus that can be used across the entire organization for salary increases. Your boss is issued $6k of that to split between the ENTIRE department. Since he’s going to want to make sure everyone gets some sort of increase, the deck is already stacked against you for getting more than a few percent.
6) People talk. The days when discussing salary was taboo have passed. Employees now take to the Web and chatter about how much they earn to anyone who will listen. How would you feel if the person sitting next to you, doing the same job as you, received a much bigger increase than you? You would likely raise hell or shut down, behaviors that behoove no one.
Overall, it is important not to get angry at your boss or the institution. The reality is, once you take a few deep breaths, even a 1% increase is nothing to sneeze at. It is real money. Here’s how to identify if you are choosing to be miserable…
Step 1: Do you take out a calculator and determine the dollar amount attached to the % increase?
Step 2: Do you divide the total dollar amount by the number of checks you receive a year?
Step 3: (for those who really like pain) Do you divide the increase amount from each check in half to account for taxes?
Step 4: Do you assign the final check increase to something tangible…and trivial? For example, “with my raise I can buy an extra cup of coffee each week. Whoopadeedooda!”
Are you guilty of this negative exercise? Small increases can be used for plenty of good. Consider upping the amount you contribute to your 401K. Start a vacation fund. Or better yet, use the new money for charitable purposes.
We all dream of double-digit percentage raises, but the harsh reality is they are the exception – the slim exception – to the rule. Be grateful for anything additional you walk away with – even if it’s simply knowing that you said what was on your mind during your annual review and represented yourself in the best way possible – and that’s by looking out for yourself.
Coming soon: How to Write a Self-Evaluation