‘Especially now the performance appraisal has added value’
January is the month of performance appraisals. But this year everything is different. People have mainly worked from home due to the corona crisis; how do you assess whether they have functioned well? On two occasions, parents have been at home with the children due to a lockdown. What becomes of work when you have to teach it? And what about personal circumstances, such as a sick parent in intensive care? Then all of a sudden achieving goals seems far away. How do you conduct a performance interview in corona time?
It is difficult to hold a performance appraisal in these times, acknowledges trainer and advisor in leadership development Jacco van den Berg (56). “But even if people work from home, their performance can of course be assessed. This can be done by collecting hard data such as budgets, deadlines or written hours. It is also possible for a manager to obtain feedback from colleagues, customers and other stakeholders. Stimulate employees to evaluate their own performance, let them decide for themselves what they will do more, less or differently.”
If you are unable to function due to a change in your working environment, it is not appropriate to be held accountable for this now, says Van den Berg. “The Netherlands is in any case a country of team performances and these are now more difficult to achieve. Don’t make a sharp judgement. Do the conversations. What went well, what could be better? But take them out of the judging sphere. Put a thick line under 2020 and orientate yourself to the future. What are the points of attention for 2021?”
The second lockdown makes working from home difficult, Van den Berg experiences. “I now also work from home. While we are on the phone, my daughter and her friend have to be quiet. As a manager, have an eye and ear for the home situation. How is someone in the game? Were there care responsibilities? What was the impact on performance? Talk about it and have such a conversation every month.”
What a manager should especially not do is postpone the performance interview, warns Jan Jacob de Groot (60). He trains managers in conducting performance appraisals. “It is an excellent opportunity to pay attention to your people. How are they?”
One blossoms, shows unknown sides of himself and shows leadership, De Groot knows. Another withdraws, or blocks. Confronting this employee with this can lead to demotivation, certainly from a distance. The employee may not feel understood. On the other hand, saying nothing can confirm the behavior and reinforce the isolation.
De Groot: “A manager’s attention is even more important than usual for such a colleague. Discuss expectations together, which contributes to motivation. How can these employees be deployed for tasks they are good at? For those who have trouble functioning, ask what is bothering them and how they think they can recover. Everyone wants to improve themselves. But don’t push the employee into the curtains.”
It is precisely now that the performance appraisal has added value, says Sylvia Kraal (40), HR advisor at the accountancy firm KroeseWevers. “People are worried about their jobs, they don’t feel seen, they miss their colleagues. Start with: how are you? In this way, you can make it possible for an employee to discuss what he or she encounters. Before corona, such a person worked in a team, then they brought out each other’s talents. Now an employee is on his own.”
It is good to reflect on the special work situation that has arisen due to corona, Kraal emphasizes. What does it mean for the employee? Ask open questions and keep asking questions. Do not only discuss general functioning and goals, but certainly address personal circumstances. Sometimes an employee is completely isolated, especially people without a partner and children. Then they are really alone.”
The younger generation also often feels lonely, Kraal experiences. “As a manager, pay attention to this, for example with a coaching program. A solution can also be to continue seeing colleagues from a distance. For example, our organization holds coffee breaks and pub quizzes.”
Judging is already very difficult, according to trainer Jan Jacob de Groot. “People are really bad judges. Taking personal circumstances into account makes a performance appraisal even more complicated.”
How should a supervisor act when a family member of an employee is in the ICU, or when employees suffer from gloom because of working from home? “In such cases you have to agree on different objectives. Even better is to start a conversation at an early stage. Stay in touch. Don’t wait until the end of the ride.”
At KroeseWevers, the management expressed how much they appreciated the efforts of the employees. People who have children at home were given the hours they could not work as a gift. Kraal: “There was little appeal for that, so they gave that little bit extra and they worked through the evening.”
People react very differently to working from home, says Kraal. „One person loves to enjoy the children and the flexibility, the other thinks ‘how do I pass the time?’ But the feeling of distance is widely experienced, employees no longer feel part of the group.”
In many organisations, the manager does not constantly see what someone is doing, notes Dorien Kooij (41), professor human resource studies at Tilburg University. “An annual interview does not lead to better performance. You should move to continuous conversations and feedback – more and more companies are doing that. For the past year, you cannot expect that the targets set at the beginning of 2020 have been achieved.”
Back and neck complaints
Soraya Vrijdag (31) has been working from home since March 2020. Until January 1, 2021, she was an account advisor for Randstad Groep Nederland, now she works, still at home, as an internal communications advisor for the head office. “There was a lot of attention for working from home during my assessment interview.” Randstad Groep Nederland works with a ‘starting meeting’, at the beginning of the year, and afterwards so-called great conversations which are held all year round. “Now you are first asked what you encounter at work and at home. Only then will the goals for the year be discussed.” Working on her laptop caused back and neck problems with Friday, so she quickly got a large screen with wireless mouse delivered to her home.
“The conversation with my manager is very open. When I tell them that I miss the interaction with colleagues, she also shares her experiences. I can learn from that.” Now (video) Friday calls colleagues more often to arrange a coffee moment together. Her manager is very lenient to employees who are now home-schooling children. “They can do the work when it suits them.” Friday herself has a stepdaughter who is in high school. “He’ll be fine.”
The home situation can be stressful, says professor Kooij. “Staying at home with the kids is very demanding. Work and private life overlap. You can no longer do what you did before. Continue to pay attention to the development of the employee, it would be a shame if he stood still.” Can someone do their job well, or should something be removed from the range of tasks? Is anyone still connected to the workplace? Kooij: “Here at the university, contact with students is mostly via Zoom and mail, which is less satisfying. Pay attention to motivation. Ask questions: what is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant?”
Jaap Paauwe (67) is emeritus professor of organization and human resource management and, like Dorien Kooij, affiliated with Tilburg University. He advises managers to keep the virtual ‘door’ open once a week, where people can spontaneously ‘ring the bell’. “If you only start now with these kinds of measures for your staff, you have failed as a manager. Signals give so much to hold on to. That way you know how your people are doing. That is more useful than one interview a year.”
Teaching at the university now takes more time, says Paauwe. “That means people are less productive when it comes to publishing articles, reports and books. That makes sense in this lockdown. Employees have every right to mention aggravating circumstances.”
The experience of working from home will continue to play a role in future performance interviews, the experts say. “We will soon be working fifty-fifty at home and at the office,” predicts Paauwe. “A number of companies are already preparing for that.” In this way, corona also offers employees new opportunities, he says. “Why are you still stuck in traffic? Overcrowded trains are a thing of the past and offices are being furnished differently. Open offices are a crime.”
Dorien Kooij also sees that corona creates new possibilities. “It can also give a boost to approach performance appraisals differently. No more setting goals once a year while things are happening all year round, but more continuous feedback. We have to work in a different way: job crafting, adapt a job to what suits you.”