Feedback and Wellbeing

One of the dreaded experiences of many employees is performance appraisal, an annual audit of your work performance. It is interesting that work organisations persist with this mechanism even though it is a dreaded experience. It is similar to a teacher or lecturer persisting with a teaching method that students hate.

Employees find performance appraisals threatening because, one, the appraisals are judgemental and, two, are a one-way street. Certainly, employees are encouraged to state their own case about their work, but the final rating is done by the manager or director. There is no space for the employer to do a similar appraisal on the manager. This is a deficit I have long questioned – who evaluates the top managers? To suggest that they evaluate themselves would not be wise, because age, status, gender, career position and education are no indices of maturity. For performance appraisals to be fair and just there needs to be a level two-way playing field.

There is a more serious issue to be considered and that is by their very nature performance appraisals are seen as threatening and more often than not generate anxiety. Indeed, the most common anxiety in schools and workplaces is performance anxiety. A more effective way of considering an employee’s work progress is to provide an opportunity for mutual feedback between the employee and the manager who is representing the work organisation. Similarly, in classrooms and lecture rooms, students need to be able to provide feedback of their experiences at the hands of teachers and the school system. One of the underlying causes for our present economic crisis is because those at the top of financial organisations were not accountable to anybody. All work, educational and other social systems require an inbuilt means of accountability for each member, particularly, those who hold most responsibility.

The word feedback symbolically means to nurture and an employee’s own feedback on his year’s work needs to be an exercise in determining what has been achieved and what new challenges arise from past and present endeavours – whether these are low, average or high. Progress can only be built on what is present; it rarely emerges from a performance appraisal that emphasises deficits in performance. Feedback is to attempt to deepen wellbeing and progress for the individual employee and the work organisation. Similarly, when an employee provides feedback on his experiences of management and the organisation’s culture, the aim needs to be to nurture what is mature. Feedback throws light on the organisation’s growth that has been developed to this point in time and provides the basis for enhancement of that growth.

A vital aspect of feedback is that it is always about the person providing it. When a manager gives feedback to an employee, it is important that he realises that what he is saying is about himself – his expectations, his needs and goals. No one can evaluate the work of another; what they can do is report their responses to the employee’s endeavours, but they need to make sure that they own these responses as being about themselves. Similarly, when an employee provides feedback on the manager’s practices and the structures and work procedures of the organisation, it is a maturity to view that feedback as being about the employee and the degree to which his needs, expectations and work goals have been met by the manager and the work organisation. No progress can be made when the feedback given is seen as being about the person or system being considered and not the person providing the feedback. Regrettably, performance appraisals are not viewed with such clarity and maturity.

Psycho-social wellbeing of employee, irrespective of the level of responsibility held, is a key issue within a work organisation. It is about people before profits; it is also about emotional and social prosperity being coupled with economic prosperity. Annual or bi-annual feedback opportunities for all members of the organisation is one way of checking-up on how well the organisation and management is meeting its responsibilities towards employees; it is also an opportunity to examine the degree of personal accountability of each employee, especially those individuals who hold top positions.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices clinical psychology and is the author of several books on practical psychology, including The Mature Manager.