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What is a Performance Appraisal?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Jan 27, 2024

A performance appraisal is a proceeding in which an employee's performance is reviewed, usually by one or more supervisors. Also known as a performance review or employee review, in companies where performance appraisals are conducted, they usually take place on a regular basis, with annual reviews being very common. This practice is controversial in some areas, as some people believe that it is not an effective way to gauge employee performance, and it can certainly be very stressful for all parties involved.

The mechanics of a performance appraisal vary, depending on the company. Commonly, one or more supervisors prepares a formal written report which is used in the evaluation. The employee may also provide a written self evaluation. Then, the employee sits down with one or more supervisors to talk about specific issues brought up in the written reports. After the sit down meeting, a final report may be prepared and kept on file. A rubric may be used to keep evaluations fair and equitable throughout the company, with a checklist of topics and issues to cover in all appraisals.

Justifications of performance appraisals usually revolve around the idea that employees need a formalized way to determine how well they are doing their jobs. Praise or criticism on the job is helpful, but a written report and an evaluation which adheres to a clear set of criteria can be much more helpful. A performance appraisal also provides a setting for interventions, and allows employees to submit feedback in a safe environment. For example, an employee criticized for doing a poor job on something may suggest that better training be provided, because the employee did not know how to perform the task. Likewise, employees can criticize immediate supervisors who may not be working to help their employees succeed.

Critics of the performance appraisal argue that, for the employee being evaluated, it can turn into a high stress situation. Employees and supervisors alike often express dread of appraisals, and employees commonly become highly defensive during the evaluation, which is not beneficial. Furthermore, the evaluation tends to focus on recent incidents, because they are fresh in the memory of the evaluators, and it may not provide a balanced review of performance.

Having documentation can be valuable from the perspective of a company which is considering the termination of an employee. Many nations have laws which protect people from wrongful termination. By documenting identified problems with employees and developing action plans to deal with such problems during a performance appraisal, a company can demonstrate that an employee was aware that he or she was at risk of termination, and that the employee knew what could be done to prevent termination.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Oct 25, 2014

I hate performance appraisals. I agree with the article, it's too stressful and it's also time consuming. Every year, during performance appraisal time, everyone in the office basically freaks out. If I'm doing something wrong at any point, I'd rather have my boss talk to me about it so that I can fix it. I don't like that we basically wait for performance appraisal for all the reviewing to occur. And I definitely don't like to think that my job may be on the line year after year.

By SteamLouis — On Oct 25, 2014

@candyquilt-- I too have heard that it is difficult to get fired from a government job. Government jobs are difficult to get and there has to be a very good reason to fire a government employee. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen and it doesn't mean that the evaluations don't matter.

I know that government agencies have quite a few evaluations periodically and supervisors do take them seriously. There are several stages involved and the goal is to objectively look at an employee's performance. The achievements and short-comings of the employee is outlined and the supervisor will talk with the employee on how the shortcoming can be eliminated or improved.

I personally think that performance appraisal is a serious matter and it's necessary. How else will people learn to work better?

By candyquilt — On Oct 24, 2014

Is it true that performance appraisals in government agencies are not really paid attention to or don't have consequences? Most people I've talked to say that once one lands a government job, they will be there till retirement. If that's the case, what's the point of performance appraisals?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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