Battling post-appraisal blues

Battling post-appraisal blues

Comparisons are inevitable, and disappointments are bound to occur after appraisals. Renuka Vembu writes on handling the post-appraisal gloomy scenario

It is a yearly or bi-annual phenomenon which is bound to create some friction between an organisation and its employees. Appraisals are that time of the year when all that the company has been doing all year round for their employees fall flat on its face, because unavoidably there is someone out there who is not too pleased. Similarly, employees can not help but feel bitter after all the efforts they put in all year long, which then do not get the desired or deserved payback. The post-appraisal blues symptoms are inevitable; while a few are celebrating their growth, a handful of them are left with a feeling of betrayal.

The appraisal process

Pradeep Vaishnav, Senior Director, HR, Sanofi-Aventis India, explains, “The performance appraisal system comprises of three critical phases-timely objective setting, mid-term and a final review with appraisal grading. One finds that if these phases are not handled properly, then it can lead to disgruntlement amongst employees. Therefore, we focus on improving the ‘dialogue’ element of a review process. Very simply, the formula for successfully managing employees is to ensure correct objective setting and healthy dialogue during reviews.”

S C Sehgal, CEO and MD, The Ozone Group, states, “The first step for formation of the appraisal system is that the task of each employee must be very clearly defined. It should be clearly spelt out and it should be made known to the employee as to what areas he or she would be responsible for. Without defining tasks and responsibilities, the meaningful system of appraisal cannot be formed.”

Transparency and consistency hold the key to performance reviews. Employees are touted as equal partners in growth. To optimise their performance level, they should have a clear understanding of their defined job role and an unambiguous vision of their career path. This should be a joint effort by the employee and his/her immediate supervisor, taking into account business needs and employee strengths and interests. Employee engagement is assuming greater importance at every level and in every aspect of working.

Proactive steps

“There is nothing which does not diminish. It is the management’s professional and moral responsibility to make the business grow and create opportunities for one and all”

– S C Sehgal CEO and MD

The Ozone Group

“The performance appraisal system comprises of three
critical phases-timely objective setting, mid-term and a final review with appraisal grading”

– Pradeep Vaishnav Senior Director, HR

Sanofi-Aventis India

Employee disgruntlement cannot be avoided totally because at all times every individual cannot be pleased. Some early precautionary measures that can be taken by the company are setting a clear career path for employees, measuring performance against Key responsibility Areas (KRAs), and building an open communication channel. Proper grievance mechanism and an open door policy enabling a one-on-one relationship between the manager and his subordinates set the tone for a healthy environment. Similarly, employees need to proactively clear the air and get issues sorted out rather than waiting till the last minute.

Suresh Patil, Vice President, HR, Calyx Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, says, “Employees are the heart of a company, successfully piloting business through challenges and opportunities. The foundation for the future thus lies in having people with the right knowledge, experience and capabilities. It is always a challenge to convince disgruntled employees and bring normalcy after appraisals. An open dialogue with the concerned member explaining the company policy on salary rise, budget approved, guidelines from HR, feedback on overall performance and competence displayed throughout the year and gaps identified for further improvement, will better the situation.”

Inputs on how one can improve and polish the skill-sets and bridge the gap, which will also pave way for assuming future role will help ease out the situation. It is thus also clear that the onus of the appraisal process is not a singular task to be undertaken by the manager/team leader alone. The HR department should also lay down clear ground rules of the break-up in terms of number or percentage of the workforce, who will be promoted to the next level, the cap on monetary raise in appraisals, the different slabs in the bonus/increments levels, etc.

Instead of appraisals being a yearly activity, it should be designed as a continuous process so that there are constant tabs kept on the employee productivity and areas of improvement. Any ambiguity or key concerns cannot be promptly sorted out, and documented too for further reference. A joint effort by the employee and his manager in drawing up of a mutually agreed plan leads to less friction and conflict, and also to increased output and quality standards. Just like organisational goals have to be in sync with individual interests, personal aspirations have to be in line with one’s strong points too.

Salaries are a contentious issue and can spark off emotional triggers. Sehgal feels, “In the interest of everyone, it is extremely important that the salary packages should be kept confidential. Even with a very nicely spelt out system of appraisal, every employee thinks his or her contribution is more than the rest and his or her self appraisal is normally higher than the actual. Whereas while appraising the colleagues, the attitude is conserved, if it is not intended comparison, which is likely to bring dissatisfaction. This is a basic fact of life although painful, the thought is that ‘people can stand their problems but they are unhappy because of the happiness of others’.”

Handling the situation

As and when such an acrimonious situation occurs, the key lies in handling it effectively so that employee morale does not take a plunge and negative vibes are not spread across the workplace. Various tactics help in going to the root of the problem, if any, as also weeding out any negativity that may have crept up. While on many occasions the problem may not be on the surface level, at others, changing the strategy and helping employees opt for a different track helps the cause.

Vaishnav asserts, “We find that anxiety levels amongst employees have reduced considerably as decisions on increment are no longer ambiguous. Promotions on the other hand are based on business requirement and increase or change in responsibilities of the employee. If line managers are involved in decisions on increment and promotions, then the outcome naturally is more equitable.”

Patil says, “It needs to be addressed immediately with an open discussion along with the immediate manager, explaining the company policy on promotion, structure in the function, non-availability of immediate vacancy for promotion in the function, skills and competence required for the next promotion. Additionally, the manager should check possibility of rewarding with alternate attractive benefit schemes and brief the employee on the challenging opportunities to work and career development plan, if identified.”

Wanting to leave the organisation and escape the after-effects of the temporary blues, seeing no future growth path or career with the company, the situation seeming unreasonable, and wanting to compare with other colleagues who might have got their share of the pie, are all natural and immediate emotional reactions that trigger off in such a situation.

Ravikant Tadinada, Senior Manager, HR, Neuland Laboratories, says, “Job rotations for those who are a better fit in some other assignments, is one of the resources that a Head of Department (HOD) or the HR department advocates as alternates to disgruntled and deserving employees. In spite of the best of pro-active as well as remedial measures, there is some display of post-appraisal discontentment like complete or partial withdrawal, sulking, silent participation in big ticket activities, etc., by certain individuals.”

Organisations which are not able to accommodate all employees on the appraisal scale tend to come up with other options, which to the employee seem like a mere compromise. It is important to know ones’ employees/ team members personally and maintain a one-on-one relationship. Vaishnav asserts, “The concept of ‘Do you know your people?’ comes into the picture when one discusses how managers can plan their feedback sessions and managing the employees’ reactions. The manager must be sensitive enough to recognise withdrawal symptoms or betrayal felt by the employee. This could be temporary if treated at the right time or may worsen resulting into permanent damage. A counselling conversation with the employee in which he/she is encouraged can help the employee shed negative feelings that might potentially have occurred.”

Sehgal viewed, “Nothing is stagnant in this world. There is nothing which does not diminish. It is the management’s professional and moral responsibility to make the business grow and create opportunities for one and all. The policies of the organisation should be always growth-oriented for its employees as well as for self. It should be clearly understood by one and all that we all grow up to a certain level of incompetence. If a person rises to the position for which the individual never qualifies, it is neither right for the person nor for any organisation.”

Train the trainers

Not only is it important to set goals, managers need to be experienced and trained in handling difficult situations. Often carrying a face-to-face interaction and putting one’s point across, convincing employees and highlighting facts are skills that they need to be adept with. Vaishnav concludes, “We have recently conducted a company-wide training for managers, and found that though some of them are very experienced, they still feel the need to improve their ability to have ‘courageous conversations’ with their respective teams. Thus, a manager and his reportee must jointly plan the reportee’s development and growth opportunities. This coupled with periodic reviews, will help manage the annual appraisal process in a much better way, since performance related discussions would have been conducted several times before and hopefully, rectification action taken.”