The Annual Evaluation: A Hindrance to Psychological Safety

Orestes Pursued by the Furies, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1862

I have been privy to the annual evaluation most of my career.  In my experience it is synonymous across federal and state service (of which I have over 15 years invested).  From the employee side, it never felt natural.  Sometimes my supervisors would produce one seemly out of thin air with lots of concepts and bullets that I didn’t quite understand. (I was especially confused as to what was going on as a young and dazed Airman – a special thanks to those who looked after me!)  At other times, my supervisor requested bullets from me a week or two beforehand.  I learned to start tracking my own work rather quickly since I found it difficult to remember anything more than a month prior and definitely not up to a past year. 

There were times when I was completely and totally blindsided by comments on my evaluation.  They were either negative or suggested some improvement easily taken.  I was dismayed that no one, especially my supervisor or my trainer, actually addressed the issues with me in real time.  I didn’t know they were issues so how was I to work on them?  I have found myself writing memos for records to accompany the evaluations to their resting places in Human Resources.  They mostly stated that I was unaware of the issue and included a plan I drafted to address said issues. 

I see no value in the annual evaluation or really any evaluation at all.  They take away valuable man hours from both managers and employees.  They serve to strengthen the impression of a hierarchy and seats people in an “us versus them” place.  They give people undue anxiety.  They are a crutch for absentee managers.  

I want a flat hierarchy where every single person is equally valued.  I want managers and front-line technicians to work together every day and have clear channel of communication.  I want people to concern themselves with the mission and not a lack of psychological safety.  I do not wish to pass this sort of judgement on a person, and I request no person pass it on me.  Yes, I have an annual evaluation still.  However, my supervisor and I have a day-to-day working relationship and I believe we both simply see it as another task to appease the bureaucracy.  It is what it is. 

I don’t care to spend my time writing out an evaluation.  Every day, I make contact my people and my supervisor.  I give and ask for feedback on a consistent basis.  We work together.  I document as we move along.  I encourage my people to do the same – not for covering their own posterior, but to add to their résumés.

I am not required to give my people evaluations as they are not on contract (e.g. hourly workers).  However, I give them a set of standards when they start working.  I ask them for feedback and their opinions often and request them to submit questions to me.  I tell them I value their input because they are the front-line workers and they know what is best.  I tell them I am here to support their work.  I schedule one-on-one meets where we will go for a coffee or tea and chat.  I ask them about their lives.  Every day I make space for psychological safety and hence our working relationships are open and honest.  We simply don’t need evaluations.

A final thought here.  In this current economy, I feel the shift from employees as commodities to employees as our most valuable customers.  If we do not treat them right our best people will move on.  They are savvy and they will find a place where they are appreciated and valued, and don’t have to submit to an annual evaluation.

Let me know your experience or thoughts! Please comment below!

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