You are here


Dealing with the fallout from a poor appraisal

So you received a negative performance review. Here are some ways to help you cope


PERFORMANCE-review periods are usually nerve-wracking affairs, even if you are not gunning for a promotion. After all, it's the equivalent of getting your report card and finding out how you fared in the year, and where you stand.

For most lucky people, these are usually non-events in which the boss calls you into the room, pats you on the back, says "Good job!" and then rattles on about some things you can improve on. He or she then sends you off with a hearty "Keep it up!" and off you go, in under five minutes.

And then, there's the other end of the spectrum. A friend recounted to me a new colleague's performance appraisal that did not go down well. She - let's call her Amanda - was fresh out of university and hired to take some load off my friend, who had been swamped the past few months or so.

But my friend's elation at getting some help at last dissolved in the very first week. She quickly found out that Amanda was not only inept, but had a serious attitude problem. My friend's gentle feedback grew increasingly stern, but Amanda remained as adamant as ever.

Market voices on:

Then came the fateful day, when the boss called her in for her first appraisal. By then, word of her incompetence had already reached all four corners of the workplace.

It was thus no surprise that Amanda was seen bursting out of the boss's office sobbing. Not only did she receive a scathing review, she got a warning that if she didn't buck up in a week, she would be terminated.

It was surprise to, well, nobody - except Amanda.

Withholding judgment on whether or not she deserved it, you would probably agree that the feeling would not have been pleasant, even for someone who couldn't care less for the job. For some employees, it can be deeply shocking and traumatic. They may have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into their work for an entire year, with no inkling that they were on the wrong track.

Dominic Salomoni, director of commerce at Robert Walters Singapore, said there can be a few factors behind this disconnect: "It could have arisen from a mismatch in expectations of your ability to perform, a poor job or cultural fit, an unreasonably heavy workload or a lack of opportunities to showcase your achievements."

He suggests that employees maintain their composure, listen carefully to the feedback, and try viewing the situation from the lens of a third party to see if the comments are valid. This sounds all well and good, but is definitely a lot easier said than done. If taken by surprise, it is a very human reaction to try and defend yourself, cry or even be angry. Under such circumstances, rationality often flies out the window.

And you will be surprised to know that these are not rare occurrences. HR specialists that The Business Times spoke to say that this happens more often than expected behind closed doors.

It doesn't take a genius to know that such a response is not going to benefit you in any way. In such a situation, when your emotions get the better of you, cut your losses and tell your manager (politely) that you will need to gather your thoughts and carry on this conversation another day. Your manager will most likely understand, or even be relieved at that.

Grant Torrens, business director at Hays in Singapore, said: "The best way forward is for you to draw a line under the last meeting, and focus on entering the next one with a better frame of mind… Use the time until that next meeting to reflect and be sure to enter the next meeting in a mature and adult way."

During that meeting, keep an open mind and listen to what your supervisor has to say without interruption. Then, ask why the review came to such a conclusion. Find out how you are expected to do things differently and come up with an actionable plan for you to close the gap. In all things, just remember that it is a discussion, not a confrontation.

If you have a different perspective, raise it objectively and professionally, and be prepared to provide examples. Before you cry foul, bear in mind that it is not in your organisation's best interest to identify areas of improvement if they don't exist. But if you still feel unfairly assessed, consider speaking with trusted peers or other supervisors you report to. This could give you a better picture of your work performance.

However, Amit Puri, managing consultant of Sandbox Advisors, suggests thinking twice before you take it further: "If the person is going to contest the review, then it's going to ruffle some feathers and cause a bit of a stir. So you need to think carefully about the pros and cons, and how far you are willing to go."

For those who have received poor performance appraisals more than once, it is a sign that you need to consider whether staying on is worthwhile. Mr Torrens said if the areas of improvement prove insurmountable, and you feel you cannot match your manager's expectations, either transferring or leaving for another job may be your best option.

Such drastic measures should only be taken as a last resort, and after exhausting the ways to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement for yourself and the company. A fish cannot be expected to climb a tree, and it is pointless to force a poor fit.

Those who decide to stay and fight on ought to take the initiative to schedule regular check-ins with their supervisor on the progress of their work; this signals your commitment, and avoids future heartache.

Perhaps finally, it is important to reiterate that a poor performance review is not the end of the world. Yes, it stings. Yes, your ego gets bruised. And yes, you might question your self-worth at some point.

But steel your heart and thicken your skin; just like how silver needs to get refined by the flame, we too need constructive criticism to develop and grow in our work.

Sometimes, a shock to your system might be just what you need, to save you from drowning.