The pandemic so dramatically shifted the landscape of work and how work gets done that employers worldwide and in nearly every industry either put their standard performance reviews on hold last year or altered them significantly to account for the disruption. Now, deep into the midyear-review season for 2021, it’s a good idea to take a fresh look at the factors still impacting performance reviews and consider suggestions for supporting managers and employees in the return to this necessity of traditional work life. 

First, it’s important to consider two workplace trends that have combined to affect every facet of workforce management for most companies: a record number of people quitting their jobs, and more jobs becoming available as the economy reopens. As a result, it’s hugely important that executive teams get performance reviews and talent management in general right if they hope to continue attracting the best new talent and retaining their most valued workers.

Even before the pandemic, a company’s approach to performance reviews was critical to employee engagement, retention, and culture-building. Reed Global, the world’s largest family-run recruiting firm, argues that the way a company manages performance evaluations is one of seven key factors that contribute to a happy workforce and help promote a positive workplace culture.

But this year, like last, the stakes are even higher. Employees continue to cope with historically high levels of stress caused by a host of uncertainties. Companies are still finding their sea legs as we seem to be coming out of the pandemic. But in many organizations, many questions remain about how employees will return to work and what the “new” workplace will look like. 

The bottom line is that this year, as last, as three HR advisors from the total HR platform Insperity put it:

  • Goals that employees and managers started the year with have very likely changed or at least need to be reviewed
  • Performance evaluations should include more intangible examples that portray the work employees have been doing outside of their defined roles (e.g., coworker or client accolades, ideas for meeting goals in the future, adjusting to remote work, and more)

More specifically, Insperity’s advisors recommend that performance reviews be reviewed and revised based on at least these four considerations:

  1. Remote work: It’s become a major culture shift for many companies, so how does this impact how performance reviews are conducted?  
  2. Returning and new employees: As companies continue to reopen and get back on track, many employers will need to accommodate employees who were furloughed or are newly hired. How should their reviews be approached, considering the ongoing state of flux? 
  3. Company goals remain uncertain or new directives haven’t been finalized: Insperity advisors suggest that managers be proactive in considering and making goal adjustments based on business changes. Communication is key.  
  4. Employees who have taken on more responsibilities: When should these people discuss additional compensation or an appropriate title change — and when should a manager raise these topics? 

Winston Tan, co-author of The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit: Redesigning Your Performance Review Template to Drive Individual and Organizational Change, told SHRM last year that “agility, flexibility, speed, and adaptability are an excellent place to start” in revisiting performance assessments. 

But in the same SHRM article, Steve Rumery, director of the Leadership Research Institute, a global consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development, cautioned that identifying the right set of competencies in a shifting environment is only the first step.

“The next critical step is to describe (competencies) in a way that raises the performance bar,” Rumery said. “People actually want to perform at higher and higher levels, but the next level of performance is often not well defined (and) job descriptions often define performance with the lowest acceptable standards.”

However your organization is approaching its midyear reviews or is already looking ahead to year-end assessments, it’s important to remember this: Amid all of the change and uncertainty, employees need to be supported in a way that makes them feel respected and valued. This includes offering benefits that go far beyond traditional medical and dental care, and that include programs that address mental, emotional, and physical well-being

Supporting employees holistically is key to having a workforce that can respond with ”agility, flexibility, speed, and adaptability” — the starting point that Winston Tan recommends for revisiting performance reviews.