Are performance reviews a form of workplace bullying?

The performance review is potentially a form of workplace bullying. It is an artefact of the "them and us" employment relationship of the last century.

 According to the ever reliable Oxford dictionary, a bully is someone "who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker". Do managers ever use their hierarchical power to intimidate employees? Sometimes. The performance review is one such opportunity for managers to exercise their power over employees.

 Before labelling me as a workplace anarchist, let me clarify my position. I am not saying that all performance reviews are bullying episodes. What I am saying is this: The performance review - more than any other workplace event - is potentially an opportunity to bully. 

 There is no question about the imbalance of power and who holds the upper hand in the performance review. Managers ultimately decide:

  • when the review will take place,
  • where it will takes place,
  • how it will be conducted,
  • what the final outcome will be, and
  • what the final ratings are.

 That is significant power, and therefore open for abuse. Managers are all powerful when it comes to the performance review. Most will not abuse this privilege, but some do.

 Employees are invited to contribute in this ritual in a superficial way. But ultimately it is the manager who has the final say on everything to do with the performance review. It is based on a flawed assumption; that is, managers know best. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

 I'm not saying modify the performance review. I am saying: get rid of it forever.  

 My research of 1,200 HR managers suggests the following problems with the standard performance review:

  • Appraisals are a costly exercise.
  • Appraisals can be destructive.
  • Appraisals are often a monologue rather than a dialogue.
  • The formality of the appraisal stifles discussion.
  • Appraisals are too infrequent.
  • Appraisals are an exercise in form-filling.
  • Appraisals are rarely followed up.
  • Most people find appraisals stressful.

In my book - The End of the Performance Review ( I provide what I believe is a credible alternative called the Five Conversations Framework. This new approach attempts to overcome these eight deficiencies.

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