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Eight Ways to Make Employee Reviews Meaningful

By Britenae Pierce

Employee reviews should be valuable to both the employer and its employees. Reviews are an opportunity for open communication to give praise and constructive criticism. Meaningful reviews help improve employee performance, decrease turnover, foster a positive work environment, and create a written record of performance. However, providing a meaningful review is not as easy as it may seem. Below are nine ways to help make an employee review meaningful.


1. Give feedback throughout the year.

The end of each calendar year is the traditional time for employers to give employee reviews. But many employers do this to the exclusion of giving feedback throughout the year. This is a mistake. Genuine workplace issues may be glossed over for the sake of the holidays, having to conduct a multitude of employee reviews, or simply forgetting issues that occurred months in the past. Providing feedback throughout the year, whether in a formal or informal review setting, is helpful to make sure the employee is meeting expectations at all times. It is also helpful to address problems as they occur, so they can be resolved in a timely manner. More frequent reviews are also helpful to create a written record of behavior or concerns. For example, employees who are terminated for poor performance often complain that they heard nothing throughout the year but were surprised by a negative review at year-end. This is not helpful for either improving employee performance or for the employer substantiating its case of poor performance. Instead of waiting until year-end for an annual review, carve out time throughout the year to meet with employees to provide mini-reviews. Mini-reviews can be done as issues arise or on a more formal basis such as quarterly. These mini-reviews will help keep both employees and managers accountable for improving the work environment and productivity.

2. Share both positive and negative feedback.

Managers giving employee reviews often give only positive feedback or negative feedback. The former scenario may ignore issues that should have been raised and the latter may make the employee defensive and unwilling to improve performance. It is best to strike a balance, sharing both the positive aspects of an employee’s performance and the areas which could be improved. Every employee could improve in some way, and the review is a great opportunity to share ideas for improvement. Conversely, every employee does at least something right. Giving positive feedback will help employees know that their good work does not go unnoticed, which will encourage them to do more good work in the future.


3. Give concrete examples.

Giving specific examples of employee performance during the review is an easy way to illustrate the feedback you are sharing with the employee. For example, instead of saying “you always try to avoid responsibility” you should state “last week when I gave you a new assignment you passed it off to someone else, which is not okay when I asked you to do it.” These specifics help substantiate the issues raised in a review and also allow the employee a better opportunity to respond to feedback.


4. Prepare for each review.

Some people view the review as a once-a-year task they must get through, never to be thought of again until the next year’s review. This mindset does not help either the employee or the employer improve. To avoid this mindset, consider creating an agenda before the meeting, to be shared with the employee. Then both the employee and the manager are prepared to discuss the set topics and to give input on each. An agenda is important even if a manager chooses not to share it with the employee in advance, to ensure that issues are thought-through before the meeting. Preparation allows a more meaningful conversation on both sides.

5. Treat a review as a two-way street.

Employees should be encouraged to raise issues and give input during their reviews. Allowing for interaction on both sides helps the employee feel valued and also helps the employer improve its employee relations and even business practices. A conversation, instead of a lecture, will help the review be more meaningful.


6. Keep each review simple.

While it is helpful to have an agenda, it is not helpful to have such a long list of topics to be covered that none of them can be addressed in depth. Instead, keep the review simple, focusing on several key issues that need to be discussed. This is another reason why it is important to give feedback more than just once a year, so that you can address matters as they arise instead of waiting and presenting a laundry list at year’s end.

7. Create an action plan with quantifiable objectives.

Just like it is important to create an agenda before the review, it is also important to leave the review with an action plan for the employee. The plan should contain specific objectives for the employee to accomplish within a certain timeframe. This helps the employee aim for a specific goal, rather than something more vague like “improving performance.” Be sure to follow up on the objectives at the appropriate intervals to make sure the employee is on track and meeting the agreed upon goals.

8. Keep a record of the review.

Summarize the review in a written document that will go into the employee’s personnel file. This is important to keep a record of issues raised, actions planned, and also to maintain a record in case of future complaints or litigation by the employee. There is no specific format required – the documentation can take the form of the agenda with some written notes, a follow-up email identifying the action plan, or a more formal write-up addressing all the issues covered in the review. The written record can protect the employer from future claims but also is a useful tool to keep track of an employee’s progress from review-to-review.

Britenae Pierce is a partner in Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC’s Employment Rights, Benefits and Labor Group. She can be reached at 206.654.2289 or pierce@ryanlaw.com.


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This message has been created by the Employment Rights, Benefits & Labor Group at Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC to advise of recent developments in the law. Because each situation is different, this information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any specific facts and circumstances. Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC is a full-service law firm located in Seattle, Washington.

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