A flat­ter­ing per­for­mance appraisal can be your undoing

In Brief

We all try and see the best in peo­ple, right? We have been told that if you com­pli­ment and encour­age peo­ple their behav­iour will improve, cor­rect? So, shouldn’t a per­for­mance review empha­sise the pos­i­tive to get the best out of your staff? Yet, in a recent deci­sion of the Fair Work Com­mis­sion, an employ­er was penalised for not being more bru­tal­ly hon­est in per­for­mance reviews.

The Facts

In this case before the Fair Work Com­mis­sion, there had been a long his­to­ry of neg­a­tive atti­tudes and behav­iours by two employ­ees. The employ­er allowed this to be han­dled infor­mal­ly” by line man­agers over a num­ber of years. There were no for­mal” dis­ci­pli­nary process­es to deal with this neg­a­tive atti­tude. Fur­ther, over a course of a num­ber of years the employ­ees had been assessed as being sat­is­fac­to­ry” by the employ­er in repeat­ed per­for­mance reviews.

Final­ly, after many years, the team leader rec­om­mend­ed the behav­iour of the two employ­ees (i.e. their per­sis­tent neg­a­tive, hos­tile and aggres­sive behav­iour in team meet­ings) be investigated. 

Sub­se­quent to this inves­ti­ga­tion, the employ­ees were ter­mi­nat­ed. How­ev­er, both employ­ees lodged unfair dis­missal applications.

In response, the Fair Work Com­mis­sion found against the com­pa­ny and ordered the rein­state­ment of the two employ­ees, despite a long his­to­ry of a neg­a­tive atti­tude by them. 

There are a num­ber of rea­sons for the reinstatement.

How­ev­er, a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem for the employ­er was that in their annu­al per­for­mance reviews of the two staff, the line man­ag­er did not doc­u­ment the employ­ees’ per­sis­tent neg­a­tive atti­tude. Accord­ing­ly, the Com­mis­sion­er was hap­py to rely upon these per­for­mance reviews as assess­ing the employ­ees as sat­is­fac­to­ry”.

The les­son from this case is that if there are issues with the employ­ee’s con­duct, even though you want to bring out the best in them, it is crit­i­cal that you raise such poor behav­iour with the staff mem­ber dur­ing per­for­mance reviews and doc­u­ment it in writ­ten form. If you fail to com­mu­ni­cate their defi­cien­cies to a poor­ly per­form­ing or improp­er­ly behav­ing employ­ee, it may well come back to haunt you, if you sub­se­quent­ly move to ter­mi­nate their employment.

In short, hon­esty is the best pol­i­cy in per­for­mance reviews.