Co-worker evaluations

by Evil HR Lady on October 13, 2009

I work for a large company. Every year we are asked to fill out evaluation forms, supposedly anonymously, about our coworkers. Our Manager picks many of the people who fill out the forms about us; although most of the Managers let the staff pick their own people to fill in their forms. We are cautioned not to pick friends, but to pick people who will be honestly critical. The end of the form has areas for narrative writing about areas of strength and weaknesses. Since we basically know which people are filling out the forms on us, we usually can figure out exactly who wrote what about us.

I find this to cause a great amount of stress, divisiveness and unhappiness amongst the coworkers. Personally, I never write negative things on these forms for my coworkers even if I truly have do have criticism for them or can barely stand to be in the same room with them. This is because reviews can affect their raises etc. and because I want to keep the peace. I think that even the most constructive criticism, in this format, can be seen as betrayal.

Besides, is it my job to deliver criticism? Shouldn’t my Manager be in touch enough with the team to know the problems or weaknesses and strengths of the team members and deal with it? Honestly, I feel like little good ever comes of these things. I am particularly curious about what will show up on mine this year as there are some “certifiable” people who have been asked to do mine as well as a few people who are extremely critical but I’ve had almost no contact with the entire year due to the nature of our work.

Can you explain why companies do this?
You know, after I decided to tackle this question, I went upstairs and found my husband filling out just such a form for a co-worker. It’s not uncommon. 360 degree feedback can be an excellent thing. Frequently bosses don’t know everything and co-workers and clients can offer real insight.

However, I have yet to find the person who loves to receive criticism and having co-workers delivering it directly causes the stress and anxiety you talk about.

But wait, my astute readers note, it’s all anonymous because they don’t put the names of the actual person on the notes! Yeah, just like your third grade teacher couldn’t identify which kid wrote the dirty word on the chalkboard, just by looking at handwriting. You don’t have to be psychic to figure out which of the 4 people selected made the comment.

Your company means well (honest!). They are trying to get you accurate feedback so that you can improve. They recognize that managers don’t know everything (Positive and negative) that their employees do. This is all good.

However, I think that as a general employee review process, that directly impacts raises, bonuses, etc., that the feedback should be collected and given to the manager. The manager then writes the review and uses that information to help him do so, not as a substitute for doing it himself.

You’ve noted that you’re not being honest in your reviews because of the political fall out. Others aren’t either. Some, like you, are nice. Others see it as an opportunity to undermine their competitors. (And yes, many people treat co-workers as competitors.) By filling out the information and giving it to the manager, the manager has more information (good), more honest information (because it’s not going directly to the person, although the underminers are still likely to be jerks, but the boss should know and can verify if things seem off), and can write a better review.

As for you, keep being nice, but feel free to mention real problems if you can also do so with a suggested solution. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something on the form, tell the person’s boss directly about the problem. It’s his job to deal with it.

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