Performance Evaluations: Strategies for Handling Employee Reactions

Administering performance evaluations is often the least favorite part of a manager’s job, not least due to the responses of their employees to the reviews. This chart offers a look at some common scenarios in performance evaluations, and offers solutions for managers to use to handle employee reactions, and even prevent negative reactions from occurring.


Comment/Action Employee Reaction Solution
“Hey Ed, could you stop in my office for a moment?” “That’s it? That’s my review?” Too brief and no specific feedback on work they’ve done in the last year. Be specific about their performance.
Meeting on the fly (See above) “Thanks for all of the prep time. I guess he’s just too busy to give me feedback on how I’m doing.” Prepare!
“You’re doing great.” “I’m doing great. Really?” Be truthful—if the boss is off-base in her perceptions of an employee’s performance, it’s frustrating for the employee.
Being Too Positive Or Negative “Who knows if I can do anything right! Consider the effect on the employee you want, and adjust your communication.
The manager has been troubled by an aspect of his performance, but never mentions it to them until he fires him. “What do you mean I’m fired?” Be proactive and provide feedback and coaching throughout the annual performance cycle. No surprises.
Focus on the most recent event as the basis for analyzing the entire past year’s performance.

“I just need to ramp up before my evaluation because that’s all she looks at”


“All she focused on was the mistake I made last month.”

Review the entire year’s performance.
Too much talking and not enough listening: you spend 45 minutes criticized the employee’s work. “When is it my turn to talk?”

It’s important, to get the employee’s response as to why she may have underperformed.

Make the review interactive.

Being critical without being constructive “Anything else you want to blame me for? Provide constructive advice on how the employee can improve.
The “Like Me” Bias “I’m totally different from her. No wonder she hates me.” “Like Me” bias is an issue for the manager who focuses on style or process and not on the performance outcomes.
No discussion about employee’s career ambitions. “He’s not too interested in my staying here long-term.” Ask them, “What do you want to do” and listen. Offer suggestions.
“You’ve got a bad attitude.” “What do you mean?” Using labels rather than behaviors and examples provides no guidance for the employee’s improvement. Cite specific examples.
“You didn’t try and you don’t care.” “This is a personal attack!” Intent is mostly irrelevant and it’s difficult to prove. Concentrate on the employee’s output, not his intent
“I’m seeing a lack of commitment” “But I’m getting the job done!” If the work product meets expectations as to objective measures, don’t knock an employee who works late at night at home and doesn’t come in early. *People have personal matters, and this can get into discrimination if you aren’t careful.
“You’re never on time and you’re always careless.” “I guess I’m always bad and never good.” Avoid absolutes. No one is “always” something or “never” anything.
Over-evaluation: an employee with substandard performance is marked as “meeting expectations,” and an average employee gets an “exceeding expectations.” Provides false sense of security to one employee and devalues excellent performance by the other. Start the evaluation of each criterion with “meets expectations” and then go up or down.
No goal-setting or realistic goals “Ya. Whatever. This are just words on the page that you need to do for HR.” Set SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Concentrate on the employee’s workplace performance/behavior.

Inconsistency in reviews:

A. From one year to the next;

B. Between comments and scores on an employee’s evaluation; or

C. Seemingly unfair or inconsistent application of standards to different employees



“This is a joke and isn’t fair.”

A. Mark down the qualitative comments first and then determine what give the quantitative score.

B. If there is a significant change downward in performance, give interim notice, such as a midyear review.

C. Review each subordinate, one at a time. Evaluate all employees on quality of work first, and then quantity of work second.

Lack of follow-up “OK. I guess we’ll re-visit that in a year…” Check in with a quarterly review of the goals to see if the employee is on track. Offer mid-term feedback on progress on the goals.
Don’t respond or challenge the employee while he’s upset or angry. This could get the employee heated up and angry again Give the employee adequate time to get past the initial reaction and cool off.
“I can see why you’re upset. This could get the employee heated up and angry again Give the employee adequate time to get past the initial reaction and cool off.
Take a break. When apparent employee can’t regain professional composure. Also consider concluding the meeting and reschedule.
If you think the employee may become violent:   Leave the room immediately and contact an in-house security guard and 911.

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