Performance reviews should be as objective and fair as possible. Yet sometimes, employees will be dissatisfied with part or all of their reviews, and organization leadership has to sift through the process to determine the validity of a complaint. If an employee complains about a review, there are several steps you can take to get to the bottom of the situation and correct it.

Reasons for Employee Complaints After the Review Process

While every company hopes their review process is productive, the fact is that many end in managers, supervisors, and employees feeling defensive. Even though all parties may go into a meeting with open minds, it is easy to let your emotions take control and walk out of a performance review meeting feeling upset, dissatisfied, or angry about the results. Employees may think:

  • The review giver failed to look at the full picture,
  • The review giver is unqualified to conduct a performance review,
  • The review giver has personal misgivings that bled through into the review process,
  • He or she was rated on activities management let slide or blatantly ignored at the time,
  • The review is completely out of line with the informal feedback an employee has been given, or
  • The review is unreasonably harsh or lenient, providing no motivation for changed behavior in the future.

Employees want to know where they stand, and the performance review process should provide meaningful feedback for management and the employee base. If done properly, each party may identify places where changes need to take place. When emotions, poor review standards, and other problems with the process get in the way of these productive interactions, nobody wins.

Getting to the Bottom of an Unsatisfactory Employee Review

As with any other human relationship, communication is the most important part of the employee review process. If a manager or reviewer does not express himself or herself in a clear, reasonable manner, employees may walk away from the meeting feeling confused, angry, sad, or without feeling anything at all.

Before the performance review process begins, companies should consider creating a feedback cycle for employees. If a reviewed employee feels dissatisfied with the process, he or she should have a safe form of recourse to express this sentiment. Whenever a company hears that an employee is not satisfied with the way a performance review has gone, it needs to take immediate action.

Consider these ways to address employee dissatisfaction:

  • Identify the point of contention: Until you know why an employee is speaking out against a manager or review giver, you cannot take meaningful action. Speak with the manager and the employee about the meeting. If your company records evaluation meetings, then review the contents of the discussion to gain a better perspective.
  • Accept rebuttals from employees: Allowing employees to voice their concerns and reject a performance review shows that you, the employer, respect each individual and you’re interested in providing fair evaluations. Give the employee the ability to formally write or declare a rebuttal regarding the review process to understand the point of contention more effectively. This has the added benefit of serving as a legal record of the disagreement.
  • Remember, emotion goes with the territory: As much as a company might want to take the emotion out of the performance review completely, some employees and managers may have a harder time with that concept than others do. Instead of ignoring the emotion, encourage both parties to recognize the process as a constructive meeting and not a call to the principal’s office. Conduct routine HR trainings to help managers better understand how to present their review results in a positive, but real way.

When you do speak to a dissatisfied employee or a reviewer regarding the process, avoid using defensive words or body language. The goal of these interactions is to get to the bottom of the complaint and correct it. This may mean providing an alternative review, modifying the existing review, or offering further explanation to help an employee understand the outcome of the review.

Prevent Employee Performance Review Dissatisfaction

In some cases, employee dissatisfaction has nothing to do with the way a review was conducted but rather the internalization of an employee. However, companies can prevent legitimate complaints with a formalized approach to the whole review process:

  • Never introduce new information into the review: A performance review should be an overview of the past and a brainstorming pep talk for the future. It should never contain surprise information about poor performance that will take an employee off guard, and it shouldn’t be used as a way to terminate any employees.
  • Use measurable data: Instead of using the generalized interpretation of a manager as a baseline for reviews, use a comprehensive performance review template and concrete examples from an employee review log to pinpoint a need for improvement, a job well done, and ideas for helping an employee reach his or her potential.
  • Minimize bias: Recognize and eliminate bias as much as possible. Encourage managers to hand off the review meeting to another department manager or an HR representative if he or she feels partiality may compromise the efficacy of the meeting. The same may work if an employee has recognized preconceived notions about a supervisor or manager. Someone who can offer objective information may work best if bias is a concern.
  • Present shortcomings in a positive light: You do not have to sugarcoat review findings, but you will not change employee behaviors for the better with a scolding. Identify the shortcoming verbally, explain why it does not fit with company goals, and offer some helpful and actionable ideas an employee can take away from the meeting. Focus on the behaviors that need changing and not the person.

Hearing about employee dissatisfaction after a review can make moving forward difficult, but companies can avoid many contention points with a strong performance review template and a commitment to honest discussion for improvement. Use these tips to minimize the complaints in your office while maximizing productivity after a performance review period.