March 20, 2015

employee evaluations We often get asked by our members about employee evaluations. Do you have to do them? Should you? If you do, what is the best way?

Let’s start with an answer that our clients like to hear. You can also download a free performance evaluation at the bottom of this article.

Employers Do Not Need to Do Employee Evaluations

Seriously, folks. If you hate doing these, don’t do them. Better yet, don’t promise to do them either. By the way that inadvertent promise is the first mistake we’ll find in your borrowed or self made employee handbook! First, realize that feedback is a good thing with employees, whether it’s setting goals for improvement or showing appreciation for a job well done. It’s all part of creating an environment of open communication, and keeping employees focused on your track, instead of their own agendas. However, we also know evaluations are time consuming, can create an expectation for a raise, and can even come back and bite you if you’re not careful. But, if you do them, here is a ton of practical guidance on the best practices and things to avoid.

Employee Evaluations Can Do More Harm During a Employee Lawsuit

Let’s look at an example of why employee evaluations can do more harm than good.

Jane, the employee you hired six months ago, needs to be terminated or let go for some reason. The only written record in her file is a recent past evaluation that points out some areas of needed improvement, but gives an overall score that indicates her performance is acceptable, or even stellar.

Jane becomes disgruntled about losing her job, and hires an attorney. Although you had no discriminatory motive to fire her, it’s now your burden to prove she was fired for some reason other than her gender/age/race/ethnicity. Your records, including this evaluation, can either help or hurt you.

Let’s say, in your own words and in writing, you gave Jane a favorable “98%” for overall performance, or an A, but the remaining 2% of her performance is just awful. Or after this review, something changes in Jane’s performance, and her 98% actually drops to a 40%… but you don’t document this. All that exists in her personnel file is a nagging document that actually says she is an overall good employee. Put simply, her attorney will grin ear-to-ear and call this “Exhibit A” in her case against you.

This is why assigning an overall grade is not good practice. You might think you’re being nice or that they will like you more by not mentioning the negatives, especially if it wasn’t that big of a deal up to now, but something like a tendency to gossip or being late occasionally can quickly lead to a problem big enough that you will need to let that employee go. And your protection lies in having clearly documented that issue.

What is the Best Practice for Employee Evaluations?

If you do decide to do employee evaluations, our best recommendation is to create a policy and follow it. Make sure it is worded properly in your employee handbook. (Better yet, let us create it for you so you know it’s right!!)

Again, make sure that you don’t give an overall average grade or make overly general comments. An employee can be doing fantastically at answering the phones and need a little improvement in cooperation with the team, all in the same evaluation. Just grade each component separately and specifically. Don’t be afraid to add notes and more specific comments to the file. For example, say “Great at following required scripts with callers, but needs to work on sounding cheerful with every caller.” Or, “Often willing to help out other team members, but reluctant to stay late or work through breaks when needed.”

Employee Self-Evaluations can be a Great Tool

Give them the form and ask them to take 30 paid minutes to fill it out and then give it back to you. It can open the doors for discussion, especially if your employee is open to hearing ways they may improve. We recommend that you also do your own evaluation of the employee so that there is a record of any difference in opinion. You may be able to use the difference in a constructive way to point out blind spots or to address where you see the need for improvement.

For example: A conversation about “completing work on time” leads to discussion of unauthorized overtime. “I see that you scored yourself satisfactory in the area of “completes work in a timely manner. I have to disagree with you. I did note you are having trouble getting your work area cleaned up at the end of the day. This is causing you to get into overtime almost every week. What can we do to support you in not letting that happen anymore?” Make notes about this issue and the employee’s response.

Employee Evaluations are Not a Replacement for Corrective Action Notices

It is okay and even desired for you or a manager to be able to bring a level of positive thinking and comments to each evaluation. However, remember that if you have an employee who needs to immediately improve or correct a behavior, the evaluation is not the best place to effectuate that kind of documentation and change. You shouldn’t wait for evaluation time to document performance problems. Using Progressive Corrective Coaching on an ongoing basis to address negative performance with every employee makes it easier to except constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve. It also will make evaluations go a lot easier when the time comes because you can focus on where they have improved, or still need improvement, or where they are doing well, but you know that the negative issues have already been covered directly and clearly.

If you want more info on Corrective Action notices, download the Toolkit by filling out the form on this page. Like this guidance, it will not bite!

If you don’t want to do employee evaluations:

  • Make sure your handbook doesn’t say you will do them regularly;
  • Never do them with some employees, or one employee, and not others;
  • Don’t use them in place of disciplinary action (use Progressive Corrective Coaching instead);
  • If you want to use evaluations;
  • Make sure your handbook gives you flexibility, discretion, and clarifies whether a raise will be considered in conjunction with them;
  • Do them with every employee in a consistent way;
  • Don’t use a format which adds up all the categories and creates an overall score of the employee’s performance in general; and
  • Don’t use them in place of disciplinary action (use Progressive Corrective Coaching instead).

This is general guidance and not legal advice. If you feel you need expert guidance you may contact CEDR or in the instance of legal advice, contact your attorney. Click here to download a Employee Performance Evaluation Form

Questions or concerns about what you just read? Want CEDR to help you put a well-written and legal policy in place for employee evaluations? Call us anytime at 866-414-6056 or email us at info@cedrsolutions.com. Our experts will help you set up your evaluation procedures (or take them out) and make sure you are covered.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.