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Writing a Negative Performance Review

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/24/2011

Preparing a performance review is often a challenge, especially when the review is not so positive. Here, Jean Scheid, an HR expert, tells us how to write a negative performance review that encourages instead of belittling.

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    Negatives Can Be Positives

    Employees Want Feedback Even as an employer, if you think back, once upon a time, somewhere in a world far, far away—you were most likely an employee first. Back in the old days, performance reviews weren’t common and a nod or slap on the back from the boss was usually all a worker received.

    These days, your employees want and expect feedback and sometimes that feedback may not be what they want to hear. It’s possible to learn how to write a negative performance review, however, and turn negative words and phrases into positives that will help elevate an employee’s performance.

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)

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    Tips for Writing Negative Reviews

    Help for Negative Employee Reviews Most performance appraisal formats, such as the many offered in our Media Gallery offer sections for comments on an employee’s abilities. The more intense 360 employee performance review requires comments from more than one reviewer. So, when the need for comments arise in an employee evaluation, it’s best to encourage diplomatically instead of criticizing too much. Some examples include:

    • Specific Area Problems – If an employee falls short in a specific area—such as being consistently late or absent, or failure to complete daily tasks, instead of writing just those words, you might choose more positive phrases. Instead of “John is consistently late," you should write “John has shown some improvement on reporting to work on time and we expect this great pattern to continue." Or, if Joe never finishes his tasks on time you might write, “Joe seems overwhelmed at completing daily tasks—the company recommends an organizational seminar to help him improve."
    • Poor Effort or Skills – When an employee shows no effort, interest, or needs to improve their skill level, there are also ways to say this to get your point across without judging too harshly. For example, for a poor effort problem, you should write, “To help Sally improve her work efforts on a day-to-day basis, the company will be partnering Sally with a mentor to aid her in reaching for higher goals." If an employee is just plain bad when it comes to a certain job skill, you could offer up, “Sam’s IT knowledge level will benefit from additional training or mentorship."
    • Personality Issues – Then you will have the Debbie Downer employee who is never happy or complains all the time. These types of employees are a little more challenging when learning how to write a negative performance review. In these instances, think about words and adjectives that describe the employee first. If they are “too critical of co-workers," change that to read, “To improve Debbie’s co-worker attitude, an interpersonal skills seminar is recommended." Or if a person is shy or not out-going causing issues of teasing from others or the inability to offer suggestions, you may encourage the employee by writing “Debbie’s working relationships will improve through self-esteem training."

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)

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    When It’s Really Bad, Say So

    Help Employees Improve With Negative Reviews There will be times when employees need to “get it," or truly understand the need for improvement in the way he or she behaves at the workplace. Workplace bullies or those accused of harassment at some level need to receive harsher reviews.

    When learning how to write a negative performance review or appraisal, the reviewer must clearly state these serious problems to get their point across. If Don bullies everyone, you really need to say so such as, “Don’s attitude toward co-workers needs improvement. This is indicated by the number of workplace bullying complaints the company has received on Don in this area."

    If an employee just refuses to follow a company policy and is blatant about abusing the system, you must interject that into the review: “Doug has received two written warnings on the use of company vehicles and, therefore, will be suspended from using a company vehicle until his next review."

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)

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    Final Thoughts

    Tips on Negative Employee Reviews As hard as preparing a performance review can be, if you have a bad apple in the bunch, you need to make sure he realizes he is the bad apple. If he disagrees with various comments--and be prepared for that--you can always implement a time for questions from the employee regarding his review. Or, you can offer up suggestions on how you can help him to improve and see if he seems receptive to new ideas.

    For other employees that fall on the average line, often turning negative words into more positive words—or encouraging words--is your best bet.

    If an employee has received documented warnings repeatedly, make sure to include comments regarding those warnings and converse with the employee during the review process to make your point—and to let them know their job may be in jeopardy if no improvement is seen.

    None of your employees will ever be 100% the way you want them to be—all the time, so don’t expect it. On the other side of that coin, a negative performance review can be a useful tool in making an average employee a great employee. When considering how to write a negative performance review, make a list of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses along with personality traits. It’s also important to make a list of adjectives that describe the employee to gain better insight on where she may need improvement.

    A person that wants to improve, move up, and keep her job will indeed be responsive to internal suggestions on improving. While she may seem distraught about the bad review at first, if you offer up assistance or ideas on how she can succeed, she’ll realize the review is being used as a tool to help her be a better employee.

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)

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