Why even great employees get average evaluations

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have been in a new role for four months and have gone above and beyond my written job description. I complete all my weekly tasks on schedule, take on new projects, and often stay late or work on weekends to get the job done. When I first started, I was trained on a new function (let’s call it Project Bob). My boss then asked me to work on a special project (let’s call it Project Jane), which took up a lot of time. We both agreed two months in that I should focus 100 percent of my time to work on Jane.

When the time came for my performance evaluation, my boss gave me a 2 regarding my work on Bob. For everything else she gave me a 3 — and gave me one 4 on a piece related to Jane. Thus, my score averaged out to a 3. I have a comfortable relationship with her, so I explained why I disagreed with her assessment about Bob. I then asked her to reconsider the 2. She did not agree or disagree.

Overall, I am very disappointed with my score. My boss claims that a 3 is a good score, particularly for someone who is new. I am wondering if I should dispute this further — particularly the 2 — or should I just let it go?

To read the answer click here: Why even great employees get average evaluations

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23 thoughts on “Why even great employees get average evaluations

  1. So your answer is be glad you got what you got? This is one of my pet peeves. Why have ratings or definitions if in the end they don’t matter a whole lot. I see lots of people who meet the definition for a particular rating but for the same reasons you cite end up getting a lower rating. It’s really demoralizing for an employee to meet every single criteria for a specific rating to be given an excuse. I think that’s a recipe for employees to stop working so hard. I mean some have specifically planned out their year according to the rating they want to achieve. Wouldnt ranking employees in order by their budgeted area be more accurate? Because essentially that’s what happens.

    1. The answer is that it’s not going to change, so it’s better to accept it.

      Whining at this point will do you more harm than good.

    2. B/c there really isn’t anything the OP can do. This is why I hate “number” ratings–fortunately for me my current organization is small, so my evaluation is really just a list of what I’ve done well and areas to improve–that is so much more helpful than being told I’m a 3!

      My BF works for a very large company. They are only allowed to give the highest rating to a X% of people at a level throughout the company. So not only are employees competing against people in their same job field, they are also competing against people who do completely different things–finance people competing against communications specialist, for example. In addition, you cannot get the highest rating two years in a row, so even if you continue to do great, if you got the highest rating one year, you are SOL for the next year.

      1. Holy cow that’s dumb. Why do people do that?

        I understand that you don’t want to just slap labels on people that end up sticking, but what possible reason would have it impossible to be rated above average 2 years in a row?

  2. Unfortunately EHRL is correct. There is little to no good to come from pressing the issue. However I do disagree where a department can have stellar crew and deserve the excellent performance reviews. Employees who continually get average rankings despite obvious efforts eventually quit. My bad experience was after working 36 hours straight for a software go-live. My director, who is not a pharmacist, recently took over. He stated “I do not know what you do so I am marking you as a 3 (average) across the board”. Performance was linked to your raise. Guess where I don’t work any more.

    1. Indeed — why would any employee who works hard and performs exceptionally well stay with an employer who consistently downgrades their work to fit a quota/budget (current economic crises aside), or in Tim’s case, ignorance? Ultimately, an employer who does so will lose or demotivate all but the few high-performing employees who get the good rankings. Ultimately, the forced ranking system must become a self-fulfilling prophecy as employees either leave or downgrade their output to meet the ranking they get stuck with. Maybe it makes sense to the bean counters over the life of the budget cycle, but it sounds bad for business in the long run, as talented workers leave for better jobs — or even the competition — and are replaced by those who will stay to work at the level they’ve been assigned.

      Fighting this insane system may be pointless, but one can always bide their time and seek out an employer who doesn’t use such a system.

  3. Numerical ratings and final total descriptors like, “average” in performance evaluations are demotivating. Linking numerical or qualitative descriptors to salary increases fails miserably for mathematical reasons that need graphics to adequately explain.

    One large company where I worked rated each employee on a number of factors as “Exceeds requirements”, “Meets requirements”, and “Needs to improve”. There was no overall rating at the bottom of the performance review. Nobody attempted to construct a net rating put out of the performance reviews. Formal Performance reviews and salary increases had no connection and were separated by several months. This approach was the best I have experienced among seven employers. Moans and groans from employees were quite few.

      1. Employee ratings numbers are potential weaknesses for lawyers to exploit. If there are no numbers, there is less for lawyers to attack or use against the company during litigation.

        To me, the greatest value-adds for annual performance evaluations are [1] at least once per year, forces marginal or poor managers to formally think about and plan for their subordinates’ training and development, and [2] tells employees what strengths they have that they can further strengthen and what weaknesses they can work on improving.

        Annual performance evaluations tend to not work well as part of the disciplinary process, an activity that can lead to visiting lawyers. Companies where I’ve worked have all had good disciplinary procedures that company lawyers likely reviewed and approved.

  4. Thanks, EHRL, this makes me feel better. I’ve always received glowing performance reviews, yet my rating is always ‘average’. Its frustrating because the average rating makes me feel like I didn’t do good enough.

    I had a feeling the rating was largely political and your post has strengthened those feelings. I have my next review soon and I think I’ll come out of it with a better outlook this time.

  5. I remember the first and only bad performance appraisal I ever got. My boss and I met, and he verbally gave me a glowing review. Then he pulled out the appraisal forms and cut me to shreds. I was so taken aback that I signed the form (which stated only that I did see it). I was too stunned to do anything, and when I left work, I was in tears. One of my friends saw me, asked what was wrong, then told me that everyone in our division knew Tom did that to all of his team. Sure enough, the next day there was shouting coming from the conference room from every single member of my team.

  6. Part of the “lie” of a rating of average is that companies strive to hire better than average employees. The rating of average applies to the population of employees at a company, not comparing to all of the people in the job market place. Better than average candidates in the job market place might only be rated average after they are hired into a company that successfully hires top people.

    1. But even if employees are better than employees at other companies, they aren’t all the same.

      But you do run a risk if these people know they can leave and be treated like a super star at another company.

  7. When is this outdated practice going to cease to exist. I’ve only ever had 1 awful performance review (it was when I first started working, my manager didn’t like me etc.).

    Both employees and managers hate them, they cause undue stress on both parties and if they are linked to remuneration, can be unfairly skewed in favour of those who are more popular.

    It can’t be easy to rate someone’s performance (especially if you’ve had a bad performance review from your manager!) but then again that’s what managers are paid to do.

    In my 12 years of working life (through 5 different companies!) I’ve only had 1 manager who seemed interested in what I wanted to do. The rest were from managers who were just “going through the motions”.

    Maybe companies should hire better managers?

  8. Don’t think all managers hate giving reviews. I recently got my first bad review in all my many years of working (this was my first review at this employer) and I think my boss enjoyed it. It was 100% based on poor communication on their part and my personality, twisted around to put me at fault.

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