Appraisals - an hour to shine?

Feb 16 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

People who dread their job appraisal may not realise that it is often the most significant hour of their working year.

Although business gurus dismiss appraisals as a waste of time, UK managers cannot imagine life without routine employee assessments, according to research in IRS Employment Review.

Peter Scholtes described appraisal as 'inherently the wrong thing to do', while Tom Peters once said it was 'the number one American management problem'.

But acording to IRS Employment Review managing editor, Mark Crail, managers disagree with the gurus. “Senior personnel managers in the organisations we contacted were firmly wedded to appraisals as the best way of assessing individual performance and identifying training needs, “ he said.

“Even though many of them had doubts about the mechanics of their appraisal system, we found only one HR manager willing to say that they would prefer life without appraisals.”

Seventy per cent of the UK's largest employers appraise staff once a year, although many appraise new staff, or those who under-perform, more frequently.

The survey also reveals that appraisals are widely used to assess development needs and to evaluate individual performance.

But there is a significant difference between the private and public sectors. While many companies link the outcome of appraisals to decisions about pay and bonuses, public sector bodies rarely do so, preferring to see the appraisal as a forum for identifying and acknowledging good performance.

The key findings of the research - conducted in November 2002 - are based on responses from 100 human resource managers in the private, public and voluntary sectors Together they employ more than 800,000 people. Other findings include:

  • Every HR manager surveyed agrees that appraisals are "an essential management tool". Only one says they are "a waste of time and money".
  • But nearly half think appraisals are often badly conducted, and two out of three say their own organisation's appraisal process works only "quite well", with one in 10 admitting that it does not work very well at all.
  • More than nine in 10 appraisals involve only the immediate manager or supervisor and the employee; this contrasts sharply with job interviews where employers, conscious of potential accusations of bias or impropriety, have at least two or three managers present.
  • The time taken (for the appraisal) varies widely, with many respondents suggesting that it rises with the seniority of the employee being appraised.
  • A written record of the appraisal ends up in the employee’s personnel file in almost half the employers surveyed (48 per cent).

So whatever your opinion of appraisals, it is clear that they matter. As Mark Crail says: “The message for employees has to be that, no matter what you think of appraisal, your company's HR department takes it very seriously indeed. So make the most of it; it could be the most important hour of your working year."