Performance reviews are useless — but you’re having one, anyway

Nine in 10 managers disparage the way their companies conduct employee performance reviews, and more than three-fourths of human resource managers say the stilted annual judgment sessions do not accurately reflect employees’ achievements and shortfalls.

And yet, zombie-like, annual reviews refuse to die. The mistrust of reviews is “well-founded,” Rose Mueller-Hanson, HR practice leader at CEB, a management consulting firm, told the Society of Human Resource Managers. “Recent neuroscience research shows that this dynamic can put employees on the defensive and actually result in worse performance — even for high performers.”

No wonder only 14% of employees surveyed by Gallup said reviews motivate them to do better work; 22% said a review had made them cry.

Many companies also insist employees evaluate themselves, as part of the review. (For the record, research has found that most people rate themselves lower than their managers do, and that’s not a bad strategy — it avoids looking like you have too high an opinion of yourself.) But thankfully, this self-evaluation can turn into a useful exercise, aiding you in updating your resume, and perhaps finding an employer that doesn’t insist on annual reviews.

The skills and accomplishments you are compelled to offer as justification for keeping your job, and possibly getting a raise, are likely to be the same skills and accomplishments you would use to refresh your resume.

While you are at it, consider the advice of my colleague Arianne Cohen about seven things you should include on your resume:

Oh, and nine you definitely should leave off:

Another colleague, Wade Millward, recommends that you should always — always — be looking for a new job, even if you are delighted where you are:

In today’s economy, you are only one bad new boss, disruptive industry competitor, global pandemic or negative performance review away from being kicked to the curb. It makes sense to keep tabs on the job market.

People who change employers typically enjoy higher wage growth, year-over-year, compared to workers who stay, according to the payroll company Automatic Data Processing. In the first half of 2020, ADP said the wages of people who switched jobs rose 5.6% versus 4.1% for those who stayed put.

Back to that self-review/resume freshening. During the year, you should keep a diary of your successes (and setbacks) as well as exchanges with co-workers that showcase your eagerness to collaborate and openness to others’ ideas. Note how each item directly supported initiatives important to your boss.

It’s worth remembering that a performance review might, sometimes, conceal an ambush. A new manager might not share their predecessor’s appreciation of your skills or might want to clear out your department and bring in a crew from a previous job. Managers have been known to flip their opinions of employees who endanger departmental productivity by having a baby, reaching a certain age or developing a chronic illness. Good workers can suddenly become bad, at least on paper, and reviews become a paper trail to ward off a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Your instinct could be to lash out or fall silent. Neither will help. A professional response would be best. Acknowledge your weaknesses and shortcomings, express your desire to improve, propose a plan to get better, and seek your reviewer’s advice.

One last thing. If your company’s performance review package requires you to write evaluations of yourself or your boss (rather than pick numbers from one to 10), don’t plagiarize. Cribbing from performance review websites is unethical and easy to spot. Some bromides, such as “I say more by saying less,” appear on multiple sites. Many also are rife with Borat-like syntactical clunkers: “Adept at taking instructions and ensuring to follow them to the book.”

Technology is no help. One website,, offers a “feedback generator” that promises to create an individualized self-assessment, peer-to-peer review or LinkedIn recommendation for anyone who signs up and fills in a few fields. The people behind Simbline declined to talk about the service, but the site says that “No matter how good your reviews are, with Simbline you could almost certainly do better.”

Or not. Sample phrases used to attract customers were chockablock with grammatical errors and misspellings. For example: “John has both integerty (cq) and honesty in all he does.”

Except, of course, in communicating with his boss.