Performance Review with Compassion


December 16, 2020  |  Hassina Obaidy


It’s that time of year again, Performance Reviews. Things are a little different now, and how we handle a performance review should be different. Hearing the words “performance review” can be a trigger for employees, especially during a pandemic. We’ve had a year of ups and downs, uncertainty, anxiety, and so forth. There is an opportunity here to change up your performance review process. Maybe even canceling it altogether and having an informal review between managers and employees. Or your organization has agreed to continue with the process already set in place. Whatever the case may be, performance reviews don’t have to be scary. There are a few things to remember when conducting reviews this year that both managers and HR leaders need to be aware of.

Keep Empathy in Mind

Empathy has become a theme in workplace culture this year and a key factor under Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Indicators (learn more about the framework here). Empathy is the ability to understand our coworkers when we cannot relate to them, not the ability to connect to our coworkers. This fosters inclusion because it opens lines of communication and deepens our understanding of one another.

Performance Review infographic

Organizations can train managers toask questions and listen to employees about their challenges, especially when they appear frustrated or overworked. Instead of scolding or reprimanding for failures, frame feedback by focusing on positives while being clear about growth areas. When evaluating your employees, consider the circumstances they encountered this year. For example, the most common challenge is taking care of children while working. This obstacle was the most talked-about and hard-hitting challenge most employees had to deal with and are still experiencing. Ask yourself, how has this employee continued to grow in their role while juggling their home life? Remember, everyone’s circumstances are different.

Listen to and Focus on the Employee

Every employee takes criticism differently. Most managers already have frequent check-ins with their teams, so providing specific feedback won’t catch them off-guard. During this turbulent period, consider asking how they’d like to receive feedback. If the manager is already providing feedback weekly, consider having a light conversation about the year and how they think they performed.

  1. How did you feel about the year?
  2. Let’s talk about some of the challenges you experienced as an individual vs the team.
  3. What have you learned this year – both professionally and personally?
  4. What would you like to learn in 2021?
  5. How can I, the manager, be more supportive next year?
  6. What kinds of challenges do you anticipate in 2021?

Remember to focus on the positives and on their career development rather than only meeting the numbers. Use active listening skills to understand their perspective and experience, then establish actionable items for 2021.

Take the Leadership Hat Off

As leaders, you do your best to set a positive example for your employees. You keep your head up high at all times, motivate your teams to be the best they can be, and protect your teams from distractions. However, we are all human and we’re allowed to show our vulnerability no matter our role or hierarchy.

When managers and leaders take the leadership hat off for a bit, you’re showing vulnerability to your employees, that you might also feel burned out or frustrated with a current situation. Here, you’re able to connect with your employees on a deeper level, having a shared understanding of what’s going on. Also, you’re creating another open line of communication. When your employees see you being authentic and real, they will most likely do the same and appreciate you as a manager or HR leader.

If you’ve already established a formal performance review process, consider adding some of these tips to the conversations managers will have with their employees. Either way, we’d love to hear how your organization is handling performance reviews this year. Share your thoughts in our Linkedin community group #AlwaysLearning.


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Hassina Obaidy
Product Marketing Manager | Emtrain