broadsideblog

Performance Reviews? Gen Y Craves Them — Not The Rest Of Us

In behavior, business, Money, US on July 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm
Library report card--5th grade

Image by rochelle, et. al. via Flickr

Who actually likes performance reviews?

Gen Y, turns out:

Ms. Reder agrees that employees are usually thirsty for feedback. She has observed that those new to the work force want it most.

“One thing that’s very consistent when we look at generation Y is that they are constantly looking for feedback,” she says. “They want training and development, and performance reviews facilitate that. Employers need to understand this is a need, not a want.”

I’m definitely not Gen Y and have had a formal performance review only twice in my life, both In my $11/hour retail job.

Yup, that’s it. Never at the major daily newspapers where I worked, or the national magazines. Feedback? As if. Mostly snide criticism, sometimes shouted, and, on a few rare occasions, an attaboy from a boss.

In my retail job — the one where I folded T-shirts and swept the floor and earned no commission — their review evaluated 20 categories of behavior and skill, ranking us from a 1 (you suck) to a 5 (you rock.) The highest I got was a 4, once. I knew what I was really good at, and there was no category for it on the form.

I did discover in one of these meetings, and it was valuable feedback, that my managers, most of whom were decades younger than I, found me intimidating and therefore difficult to manage. I told my boss to tell them to boss me as much as they felt necessary. And they did. (Not much, luckily.)

Another manager, at a short-lived start-up, pointed out that I am extremely decisive, a good thing and a useful skill. But that, very true, I don’t suffer fools gladly and won’t tolerate whiners. Not great for someone who, then, was managing younger workers.

But PRs are one-way: “Here’s what we think of you”, typically with little to no interest in hearing that — perhaps — the way you’re behaving at work, certainly when less than optimal, may also reflect the workstyles and budgets of your employer. I got dinged on one retail review for not paying close enough attention to potential shoplifters; this after the number of associates on the floor was so severely cut back we could barely get our jobs done as it was.

I think many of us try our best, but if your manager, as one of mine did, simply refuses to speak to you, it’s not going to create a terrific work environment.

Some think performance reviews need to be killed, now. From The Wall Street Journal:

This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.

And yet few people do anything to kill it. Well, it’s time they did.

Don’t get me wrong: Reviewing performance is good; it should happen every day. But employees need evaluations they can believe, not the fraudulent ones they receive. They need evaluations that are dictated by need, not a date on the calendar. They need evaluations that make them strive to improve, not pretend they are perfect.

Sadly, most managers are oblivious to the havoc they wreak with performance reviews. To some extent, they don’t know any better: This is how performance reviews have been done, and this is how they will be done. Period.

Here’s a simple experiment you can try. Ask yourself: How often have you heard a manager say, “Here is what I believe,” followed by, “Now tell me, what do you think?” and actually mean it? Rarely, I bet.


The performance review is the primary tool for reinforcing this sorry state. Performance reviews instill feelings of being dominated.

Do you give them? Get them? Do you think they’re worth doing?

Have you ever learned something helpful (even positive) from one?

  1. I neither give nor get them, but I actually like them and the 360-degree version (where you review your boss and peers as well as being reviewed) to be a very good idea that almost always bites everybody on the butt anyway. I like to think there are ways to do them well, even if I have yet to see them done well.

    I used to work for a guy who liked to say “you don’t to see your grade to know you flunked.” I do think that a steady drip of feedback, questions and advice probably do much more good than an annual review.

  2. I think 360 reviews are much better — they remind people not to just suck up to your boss, but to treat your peers decently and your underlings with respect. I have no doubt you get a fairer/more accurate reading from more people at different levels as they interact with you differently and often more frequently than a manager or department head.

    Working freelance alone at home can turn one feral, as there is typically very little feedback on your work or your workstyle — the check clears and you get more work from a client, or you don’t.

  3. I only got them when I worked at Argo Tea, a local tea cafe chain.

    I never liked them. I was also told I was intimidating, not accommodating enough.

  4. Fru, I’ve been told that since I was your age. I wonder how often men get told this…I think self-confidence, in women, gets (mis)labeled as intimidating. It’s a rude response.

    I also find it interesting — if you feel intimidated, why is that my problem? Maybe it’s your lack of self-confidence…

  5. I suppose I’m a bit Gen-Y-ish in that I’ve often wanted feedback about performance, and wanted it sooner than it was given, and in specific detail. I also reserved the right to disagree with a performance review, which did not always sit well.

    On several occasions when I expected a pretty serious postmortem on a project, it didn’t happen. No one word of analysis. Yet I also experienced the negative review of picayune details as a form of intimidation.

    Reviews will never go away.

  6. Performance reviews were once part of corporate training programs in which incentives were given to the trainers to bring up the next level of management. In those days, companies were actually fully staffed so that the managers could devote time to real training. Fully staffed. What a concept.

    Today, performance reviews are pretty much a joke because most employees are left to sink or swim. When you’re doing the work of two or more employees already, who the heck has time to make sure your subordinates are on the right professional track? Either the work is getting done or it isn’t.

  7. I have gotten evaluations since I joined the Navy back in 1996. Frankly, I don’t see the point. If I’m doing something well, just tell me then. If I’m screwing up, tell me. I don’t need a piece of paper once a year. I mean, what’s the use? Bragging rights? To who?

    At a certain point I had to start writing my own, and as a civilian now, I still write my own. This seems even more pointless and more of a waste of time. I know I’m good at my job. If a supervisor can’t take the time to write up an “atta girl” for me, then why should I bother? It’s not like I can take them and use them to apply for a new job. The only thing that comes out of them is a payraise, which I am certainly not complaining about. I just think there’s a better way to really demonstrate merit.

  8. Law firms, at least in my experience, are pretty poor about giving meaningful feedback. Performance reviews are either a means to set up stealth lay-offs or a meaningless exercise where partners who’ve never worked with the associates in question try to talk about project performance. In essence, it’s a farce.

    That said, because it’s impossible for young attorneys to really see the impact of most of their work, they are useful. In my field, it’s possible to not know about an error for two or three years, and forcing someone more senior to review and discuss work is the only real means for encouraging any growth in the interim.

    Of course, I recognize that I’m in a specialized area, and productivity and progress aren’t likely to be measured the same way in other fields.

  9. Scott, I’m with you…I always wanted feedback, when helpful (as it often was) but many people donot give it or don’t understand the difference between appraisal (strengths and weaknesses) and simply criticizing what they don’t like.

    imho, that “sink or swim” MO was literally the motto at the Daily News (yes, the nation’s 6th largest newspaper); told me by everyone from senior managers to HR. Pretty sophisticated…

    suzanna, I agree. I collect my attaboys and value them for the confidence they give me, but after that…One major point of difference, certainly within cheap/broke journalism: a review does NOT mean any sort of raise. Hah. We wish.

    ford, thanks…It’s interesting how differently this plays out in other industries. In journalism, for better or worse, you know right away, usually, if you got it wrong.

  10. [...] Gen Y craves performance reviews (Boomers and X'ers? Not so much. A True/Slant columnist considers this generation gap in the [...]

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