The 7 Worst Things That Happen During Performance Reviews

performance reviews
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Some companies have abandoned the traditional annual performance review — and when you read stories like the ones we’ve collected for this post, it’s easy to see why.

While a good review can serve as a formal checkpoint that solidifies your professional goals, a bad one can be a disaster for both the worker and the organization. If you’ve ever worked for a manager who waited until evaluations to impart valuable feedback, you probably know how reviews can go horribly wrong.

After a few years in the professional world, most people have a few bad evaluation stories to tell. Hopefully, yours don’t begin to compare with these:

1. You’re Good! You’re Great! You’re Fired.

Many organizations offer next to nothing in the way of manager training. At these companies, you might get a boss who gives you top marks at review time, only to turn around and claim that you’re not living up to expectations.

At Reddit, HRczar sums it up:

Manager makes it look like the employee walks on water — and then they come to HR wanting to fire the employee for stuff that happened during the review period.

Redditor captnhaddock adds:

So, I run into this issue A LOT at my company. A manager comes to me [and says], “This person is the worst, I want them out.”

I check the mid- and year-end reviews, and they’re either lacking ANY review or they have a (good/stellar) rating.

I go back to the manager, “Bob, how can this be? The reviews are indicated that they were (not bad enough to review, or good/above average).”

Then, lots of blustering and we wind up with a 90-day PIP [performance improvement plan]. Bane of my existence….”

2. The Vibe That Says, “You’re Not Getting a Raise.”

At least with a performance improvement plan, there’s some hope that you can, you know, improve your performance. Not so for the anonymous Employee Surveys user, quoted at The Fast Track:

A boss of mine (I was the chef of a catering company in San Francisco), during a performance review said, “You are not doing anything wrong per se, there is just this intangible vibe that I can’t really describe that is keeping me from feeling like you deserve a raise.”

3. The Futile Self-Review

Most review processes include a portion where employees evaluate themselves. In theory, this provides a way for you to do some soul-searching and identify problems before your boss brings them up. The problem is, many companies don’t bother communicating the purpose of the self-evaluation portion to employees. (If, indeed, they remember why they started having self-evals in the first place.)

WhitTheDish at Reddit explains:

…our self-reviews don’t really matter since management already has their review of you written and your raise (if you’re getting one) has already been determined. Besides, speaking in “high-level action statements” makes me want to go postal.

4. By the Time You Make Management, You Actually Have to Pay the Company

Is there anything less motivating than learning that each raise you get moves you closer to never getting a big raise again?

Michael Haberman at Omega HR Solutions tells this story, which happened to an acquaintance of his:

The employee has been on the job six months. His boss gives him his first review. “Job well done. Very happy. You are doing great work.” The form shows “Meets expectation” across the board despite the accolades. He gets a 2 percent increase. He is told he should be happy he is so low down on the pay grade otherwise he would not have gotten any increase. Learns that a fellow worker is given a 5 percent increase, but that is because he is even lower down on the pay grade. His reach goal for the next year is to “become the quarterback of the team.” His remark to me: “Fat chance with that kind of performance evaluation.”

5. Second Prize: Set of Steak Knives.

Stacked ranking forces managers to rate everyone against each other, giving the largest raises to the top performers. It sounds like a good way to reward performance, but in practice, it can be quite frustrating.

The “good” news is that many managers hate it just as much as you do.

For example, Redditor Hruk34 is not a fan:

Forced to put everyone on a bell curve.

Then having the head boss cut raises for anyone on the bottom half, because reasons.

6. How Would You Rate This Review Experience, on a Scale of Potato to Null?

If your boss and/or organization rates on a scale of 1 to 5, or similar, it’s important to determine which end of the scale is which. Otherwise, you might wind up as confused as this employee-manager duo:

From The Globe and Mail:

Kate Hays, sports psychologist and founder of the Performing Edge consulting practice in Toronto: Earlier in her career, Dr. Hays conducted reviews using a five-point scale to measure performance. The supervisor and the employee would both write out their numbers and then compare assessments.

“There was someone who I thought was just terrific, so I had rated that person as 1 to 2, while they rated themselves as 4 to 5,” Dr. Hays says. “I was totally baffled. I thought maybe this person has no self-esteem whatsoever. We had a very painful conversation until I finally realized that we each had different endpoints. I thought that 1 was really good and 5 really bad, but the other person had interpreted it the opposite way. Now whenever I’m doing anything with a rating scale, I always mention what the two endpoints are. That experience had a long-lasting effect on me.”

7. If You Could Just Move Your Desk to Storage B, That Would Be Great.

Some managers are reluctant to outright fire employees. They’d rather drive them crazy until they quit.

Dynamite_McGhee tells this story at Reddit:

I was written up after working there for 16 months and never receiving so much as a verbal warning. They then proceeded to move me from department to department without any kind of warning or actual set of duties for the day. It always seemed like a surprise to them that I was still showing up.

So, how can workers avoid these disastrous reviews? Preparation can help, as can working on communication with the boss all year long. But ultimately, if your manager sandbags you with feedback that you weren’t expecting, or your organization is stingy with raises, you might take this as a sign that it’s time to move on. Find out how much your skills are worth on the job market, brush up your resume and start making moves toward better things.

Stories have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

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