3 Reasons Why Employees Fear Performance Reviews

Guest Contributorby Shawna McKnight | Posted | Performance Management

3 Reasons Why Employees Fear Performance Reviews

It’s December. Halloween has come and gone. But do your employees still look terrified to death? It’s quite possible they are given it’s the start of the annual performance review season for many organizations.

Here are the most common reasons why employees fear the performance review and what HR, people managers and employees can do about it.

1. Fear of the unknown

For most employees their fear of the performance review stems from being unsure of its purpose. Oh, and does your process include a self-appraisal? Then it’s quite likely your employees will have questions about how the self-appraisal is used, and how it fits into the whole process (and what is the whole process?!). 

They question what is expected (is my manager expecting me to rate myself high or low?), the criteria that they are evaluated on, and whether they are evaluating themselves accurately (how does this relate to my job and how do I know if I am meeting, exceeding or needing improvement?). 

Tip for HR: Reduce fears of the unknown through education and communication

If your employees play an active role in the appraisal process they should know what that process is.  What are the steps involved? Who are the different players? Communicate this information clearly and often.

Tell them how the self-appraisal will be used. Further, train your managers to make a point of referencing self-appraisal feedback during the performance review discussion. If managers overlook this step, employees may feel like the self-appraisal is a fruitless process. 

2. Fear of failure

The old adage “no news is good news” isn’t necessarily true when it comes to an individual’s performance. Yet, many managers fear delivering feedback, especially when it’s not favorable.

It’s not surprising then that employees will often only hear of a performance issue during the annual performance review – when a manager is “forced” into having these discussions. 

Think of the impact lack of regular feedback can have on your employees’ self-image:

  • Imagine going about your entire year thinking things are going swimmingly
  • You complete your self-appraisal and rate yourself “Exceeding Expectations” on goals and competencies
  • You then find out that your manager did the complete opposite! 

Tip for managers: Nobody likes surprises – so give feedback regularly

When feedback is included as part of regular, ongoing performance discussions throughout the year,  the employee, the manager and the organization are all better off. 

  • The employee has clarity on what is expected and what can be done to improve performance
  • The manager is better able to align and motivate his or her people to high performance
  • The organization is better poised to achieve goals and business outcomes

There are lots of resources available on how to give effective feedback – including right here on this blog:

Look at it this way: when employees receive ongoing feedback about their performance, it shifts the focus from what isn’t working (failure) to what does and will work (success).

That said, if you’re in the position where you need to bring up feedback for the first time during the annual review, this article can help.

3. Fear of feedback 

For many employees, appraisal time feels like being in the hot seat — where you and your performance are the topic of discussion. Feedback, good or bad, can be as uncomfortable to receive as it is to give.  It’s why completing a self-appraisal is important. It can prepare you to receive feedback by providing the opportunity to self-reflect on your performance. 

Tip for employees: Be honest in yourself- assessment

Know when it’s appropriate to be humble (not now!) and when it’s appropriate to highlight your successes (now!).  Be sure to provide examples of your successes and how they have positively impacted the organization.

While now is not the time to be humble, it is important to be candid in your self-assessment. Reflect on areas of development and provide suggestions for how to address any skill gaps. (This how-to article for writing your self-appraisal can help.)

Know this: completing a self-appraisal pays off. As I mentioned, it give you the time to self-reflect. It provides your manager larger context into how you view your performance. And, when incorporated with feedback from others, it ensures your assessment is richer and more rounded.  

Take the fear out of performance reviews!

The annual performance review provides an opportunity for managers and employees to reflect on what employees have learned in the past year, and how all of those experiences will help them to grow and contribute positively to the organization in the future.

So no matter your role in the performance review process, don’t be scared. Be ready.

Performance Review Survival Kit

Useful resources to help you be prepared this appraisal season


Download Now
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Performance Review Survival Kit

Useful resources to help you be prepared this appraisal season


Download Now


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