Workforce Management

How to Make Performance Reviews as Odious as Possible

HR insights and tips with Jeff Havens

Hello, and welcome to another installment of HR Intevention! We’re in January now, which means you’re probably just past the trauma of conducting your year-end performance reviews. Congratulations!

This dreaded instrument of torture was actually invented during the Middle Ages as a way of extracting information out of captured enemy spies. And while that’s not anywhere close to the truth, it is true that performance reviews have a tendency to drain the life out of everyone who comes in contact with them – the employees receiving them, and the managers who have to administer and then analyze them.

Which I’m sure is the kind of joyless, angry working environment you want. But how exactly can you make your performance reviews as frustrating and odious as possible?

Well, as long as you keep a few simple guidelines in mind, you should have no problem.

Only Do Performance Reviews Once a Year!

Trying to summarize everything you’ve done this year into a single two-page document (or 30-minute conversation, or 14-question questionnaire) is ineffective, to say the least.

It’s also stressful, since using an ineffective tool to determine what kind of promotions, bonuses, and other perks you might receive is supremely annoying.

The once-yearly approach also suggests that performance analysis isn’t really a big priority for your company, which will then allow you to….

Avoid Dedicating Any Significant Time to Performance Reviews!

If you’re only doing these once a year, then you’re probably not setting aside a lot of time to go over things slowly, have some in-depth conversations, and get any in-depth data.

More likely you’re squeezing this in – filling out your review, reading it, summarizing it for your bosses, whatever – while you’re in the middle of all your other responsibilities.

This is a fantastic way to make performance reviews feel like a chore instead of an opportunity to grow.

Make a Very Big Deal Out of Performance Reviews!

If you’re only doing these infrequently and nobody’s devoting any serious time to them, you should definitely overemphasize their importance.

Year-end calibrations that determine your next year’s bonus are an excellent way to turn a single interaction into a months-long agony session while everyone wonders what grade they’re going to get.

Did you ever take a class in college where your entire grade was based on a single exam? If so, then you’ll know how much more stressful that is than classes where you can afford to be less than perfect a couple times without ruining everything. Same principle applies here.

I hope these few simple strategies help you create a working environment that has everyone wondering if they should be searching for a better job.

Alternatively, you could make performance feedback a regular part of your leaders’ responsibilities, expect everyone to engage in these conversations on a frequent basis, avoid making a big deal about any of it, and watch the growth happen organically and without riot.

But that sounds like a lot more work, doesn’t it? You might be wondering if the benefits outweigh the extra effort…

Check out this article to learn why continuous performance management gets better results than annual reviews.

manager reviewing employee performance

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-306-1781, email, or visit

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert