Benefits and Compensation

Top 10 Mistakes in Documenting Employee Performance

Yesterday’s Advisor showed how to make appraisals work for you (and not your employee’s attorney). Today, Attorney Susan G. Fentin’s Top 10 mistakes in documenting employee performance.

Fentin, a partner at the Springfield, Massachusetts, office of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., offered her tips at BLR’s Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, held recently in Las Vegas.

Fentin’s Top 10 Appraisal Mistakes

10. Forgetting an audience—who will read the document?
9. “Cut and paste”—it’s too easy to make embarrassing mistakes, and it’s not likely to generate meaningful results.
8. Bad timing—stick to the schedule or it appears that appraisals are not important.
7. Dishonest evaluations—a “satisfactory” rating of a poor performer will come back to bite you.
6. Misuse of a Performance Improvement Program—it’s not discipline.
5. Using legalese and jargon—this won’t help in front of a jury, and may be incomprehensible to any outsiders.
4. Confusing directives—Make it abundantly clear what is required for each goal.
3. Numerical rating without commentary—this is hard to explain and justify.
2. Inconsistent application of standards—this will end up supporting a lawsuit.
1. No supporting documentation—claims made on the appraisal should be supported.

Why Else Do Performance Appraisals Fail?

  • Poor preparation by managers.
  • Dropping a “bomb”—the person being appraised was never informed about poor performance or the need to improve.
  • Mixed messages in delivery.
  • Friends vs. supervisor/subordinate—it’s a tricky tightrope.
  • Only just before termination—this looks suspicious.
  • Sugarcoated—“Your performance could be improved” (was it great and could be improved a little? Or terrible and could be improved a lot?
  • Not consistently provided.
  • All employees get the same level of reviews.
  • “Merit” raises for poor performance.
  • Sudden change in rating after long history of good performance.
  • Goals and expectations not clear or realistic.
  • Reviewer concerned about confrontation; downplays problems.
  • Performance measured in abstract terms (attitude, motivation, dependability).

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How else might poor appraisals come back to bite you? Fentin outlines a number of possibilities:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment if a good review is offered in exchange for sexual favors
  • Layoff—when number rankings without anecdotal information are used to select individuals for layoff
  • Discrimination if there is a reference to FMLA leave or ADA accommodation (or anything related to employee’s physical or mental condition) in the review

Is there a danger of defamation charge? Not usually, says Fentin, because the appraisal is a privileged communication and is not published.

The best way to make performance appraisal easier? Hire the right people in the first place.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of, a company known for its innovative approach to employee relations, says bad hires have cost his company more than $100 million!

Indeed, bad hiring decisions can be extremely costly. There are those hard costs of turnover and lost productivity, plus you run the risk of damaging company morale and company culture.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015
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1 thought on “Top 10 Mistakes in Documenting Employee Performance”

  1. Great point about the misuse of PIPs–so many managers and supervisors seem to regard it as discipline and therefore present it that way to employees.

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