Research Shows That No One Really Benefits From Performance Reviews

Performance review

January 29, 2014

For most people, performance reviews are not fun, but we have all accepted that they are necessary. Recent research, however, shows that they actually do little to motivate employees to improve the way they work.

PayScale reported that researchers from Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M University examined how employees responded to negative feedback given during a performance review. They hypothesized that workers who wanted to learn and develop their skills would respond positively to constructive criticism. The researchers interviewed 234 university workers and asked how they felt about their performance reviews three months earlier. The Washington Post noted that participants were also asked a series of questions to determine what type of goal orientation each person had. The researchers were surprised to find out that their hypothesis was wrong.

According to The Washington Post, the study was based on prior research that found that people choose one of three ways to achieve their goals -- they either try to show their competence and get positive feedback, avoid tasks they might fail in order to avoid negative feedback or focus on learning and developing their skills. As expected, those who fell in the first two categories hated receiving negative feedback during evaluations. The researchers thought, however, that those who fell in the latter category would "take negative feedback in stride", but it turns out that no one takes negative feedback well.

"Some people want to learn as much as possible. They want to just do well for their own sake," said Satoris Culbertson, one of the researchers from Kansas State University, in The Washington Post. "…We thought if anything they'd be able to take [negative feedback] and apply it to their own jobs, but they simply don't like negative feedback, either."

However, before companies start doing away with performance reviews, Culbertson noted that the take away from this study is that performance reviews need to be redesigned, particularly reviews that involve numerical ratings.

Culbertson explained in The Washington Post that even if a manager means to give an employee a positive review, "for a really strong performer, getting a four on a five-point rating scale can be devastatingly bad… you have to think about what the person is seeing. We can't just put a number on it."

U.S. News & World Report also noted that it is up to the employee to look at the big picture and to be a good listener.

"This conversation is for the purpose of helping you become more successful," said Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, in U.S. News & World Report. Handal went on to say that you and your manager are in it together, since it is also in your manager's best interest that you do your job well.

Handal also noted that some managers may not be the best communicators, so it is important to not get defensive and instead carefully listen to what is really being said. If you still do not understand, ask your boss to provide specific examples of where you can improve as well as examples of something you have done well.

"Take a deep breath, be calm and think there must be some value to this conversation," said Handal in U.S. News & World Report.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Everyone Hates Performance Reviews,", January 28, 2014, Jen Hubley Luckwaldt,

"How to Bounce Back From a Negative Performance Review,", January 28, 2014, Vicki Salemi,

"Performance appraisal satisfaction: The role of feedback and goal orientation,", 2013, Satoris S. Culbertson, Jaime B. Henning, Stephanie C. Payne,

"Study finds that basically every single person hates performance reviews,", January 27, 2014, Jena McGregor,

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