What Are the Benefits of Appraisals?

Appraisals are a two-headed process of looking backwards to analyse past job performance and also looking forward into the future with a view to improving future performance.

The overall objective of an effective appraisal scheme should be to help each of your employees to maximise their job performance for the joint benefit of that employee and your organisation.

This blog aims to help line managers to understand the processes involved in conducting effective appraisals.

The Purpose of appraisals

The main purpose of an appraisal scheme should be to assist employees to improve their performance. This will be of benefit to both the employees and the organisation.

An appraisal scheme may be designed to include some or all of the following elements:

  • a review of the employee’s past performance
  • discussion of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses
  • discussion of any problems and constraints, with a view to identifying solutions
  • a review of the extent to which the employee has achieved set targets
  • discussion of appropriate targets for the forthcoming year
  • identification of training and development needs in relation to the employee’s current job
  • identification of training and development needs in relation to a job that the employee may do in the future
  • a review of the employee’s long-term potential
  • a discussion about the employer’s future plans and
  • a discussion about the employee’s future ambitions and plans.

The Benefits of Appraisals

If carried out effectively, a staff appraisal scheme will provide benefits for the individual, the line manager and the organisation.

What are the Problem Areas to Look For?

While appraisal schemes have many potential benefits, it is useful for line managers to appreciate the negative issues that they may sometimes raise.

  • If appraisal is linked to the organisation’s pay review process, discussions may become focused on pay instead of performance. Pay reviews are therefore best kept separate from performance appraisal.
  • The line manager may be tempted to use the appraisal interview to raise disciplinary matters. If there is a problem with an employee’s conduct or performance, the matter should be raised with the employee at the time the problem arises, and not stored up for the annual appraisal interview.
  • Managers may be reluctant to deliver criticism on a face-to-face basis, perhaps because of a fear that the employee might react badly, become defensive or even respond negatively to the whole process of appraisal.
  • Line managers may not work closely with their staff and may not therefore have the necessary insight into their performance or strengths and weaknesses. If this is the case, it will be vital for the line manager to talk to the employee’s immediate supervisor to gain the necessary feedback.
  • Personal likes and dislikes can affect the outcome of appraisal interviews, unless the line manager has a sound awareness of these, and is able to put them to one side and view the employee’s abilities objectively.
  • An employee may believe that the line manager holds prejudices against him or her, perhaps as a result of a personality clash or because of disagreements over the year.
  • Some employees are intrinsically suspicious of appraisal.

If you need more advice about appraisals, you can listen to the free webinar that we ran in October 2017. Click here to register your details and you’ll be able to listen to the webinar straight away.

Source: XpertHR

Is it Cheaper to Look After Your Staff or Cheaper to Replace Them When They Leave?

How can the loss of key staff members be prevented when so many employers are not interested in managing retention?

Many employers don’t attempt to manage retention of their staff. Those that do so seldom evaluate the impact of their measures, and often base them on unreliable assumptions about the reasons why employees resign.

Several research studies have shown that retention is linked to employee engagement, which in turn is linked to profitability, customer service and other important business metrics. So is it better to focus on improving engagement, rather than retention. Or should you not worry and just bear the cost of replacing people when they leave?

Despite all the evidence that staff attrition costs money, many businesses take no active steps to control their staff turnover. Research has shown that action is most likely to be taken after the event: when turnover has already become a problem and damage is being done to organisational efficiency.

Studies also consistently show that employers tend to mishandle their efforts to manage retention, focusing on issues that they believe are linked to resignations rather than those that actually motivate staff to leave. Pay in particular is often used to encourage employees to stay, yet it is much less of a deciding factor in employees’ own decision-making than being offered career opportunities, being kept informed and consulted and having faith in the business’s leadership.

What is ‘employee engagement’?

It embraces the older concepts of job satisfaction, motivation and attachment that described individual employees’ attitudes to their employer, but goes beyond them to provide a complete model of the psychological relationship between individuals and organisations. It is a two-way process in which employers and employees interact and respond to each other, unlike the more static concept of job satisfaction.

Employee engagement involves two issues:

  • personal satisfaction in the individual’s job or role (“I like my work and do it well”); and
  • the individual’s contribution to their employer’s success (“I help achieve the goals of my organisation”).

Staff retention can be used as a measure of employee engagement, with many companies now believing that employee engagement is one of the keys to managing performance and retaining talent. Initiatives to improve employee engagement are much more likely to gain the interest and active support of senior management than those focused narrowly on increasing staff retention. Employee engagement has much broader business benefits, including:

  • increased profitability
  • faster revenue growth
  • improved organisational efficiency
  • better attendance levels
  • heightened customer focus.

Look after your staff and they are more likely to look after you and the future of your business. If you need some advice or ideas on employee engagement, email us at sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk or call 0118 940 3032.

Improving Performance Through a Probation Period

Taking on new members of staff for a growing business can be a costly and time consuming process – especially if you get it wrong. Finding the best person for your business is important, and many people think that they can sit back and rest once their new recruit arrives on their first day. But that’s just the start of it!

This blog looks at how to give your new employee the best start with your business.

You worked hard on crafting the best Job Description for your new team member. The adverts went out and the applications came in. You spent time interviewing potential candidates to join your team. Finally you found them – the perfect person to work with you. They even turned up on their start date. What happens next?

If you think you can just sit back and expect your new recruit to get on with their job and perform as you expect them to – with no input from you – you’ll be disappointed.

The first thing to do – even before a new employee joins you – is to decide on the length of their probation period. This could be between three and six months, depending on the type of work being done. The probation period is your chance to start assessing your new recruit; it’s their time to find their feet and get used to their new role. It is a vital tool in measuring the performance of a new employee.

Next you need to plan when you’re going to review their performance, during the probation period. Planning a review halfway through is a good idea – don’t leave it until the end. This allows you to take action if you’re in any doubt about their ability to do the job for which you have employed them. Their performance will only get better if you do something about it. They might not have understood the job that you need them to do, so this is the time to go over what you expect from them. It’s also a good time for them to air any concerns they might have about their future with you.

You should next plan to review the performance of your new recruit before the end of the probation period. This could be after five months, if the probation is six months in length. This gives you time to properly review their performance and plan any action that needs to be taken – such as training or development. This will put you in the best position to be able to confirm whether or not your new recruit will be staying on.

If you decide that they will not remain with you, and your employment contract is correctly worded, the notice period for a new employee is usually less than for someone who successfully completes a probation period. If they have to leave, you can quickly turn your attention to finding a better person to fill their role.

There is no legal requirement for using a probation period at the start of an employment contract. However, it is a very good way of making sure you get the right person for the job, after all the time and effort you put into the recruitment process. Just make sure that your employment contract explains all this and that you discuss the use of the probation period with anyone to whom you offer the job!

What’s the Difference Between Informal and Formal Appraisals?

This is a question I’m often asked by managers, so I thought I would answer it here.

A performance appraisal can occur in two ways – informally or more formally (or systematically.) Informal appraisals can be carried out whenever the supervisor feels it is necessary. The day-to-day working relationship between a manager and an employee offers an opportunity for the employee’s performance to be assessed. This assessment is communicated through conversation on the job, over coffee, or by on-the-spot examination of a particular piece of work. Informal appraisals are especially appropriate when time is an issue. The longer feedback is delayed, the less likely it is to encourage a change in behaviour. Frequent informal feedback to employees can also prevent surprises when the formal evaluation is communicated. However, you should make sure that they don’t become too informal – don’t be tempted to discuss an appraisal in the pub!

Although informal appraisals are useful, they should not take the place of formal appraisals. These are used when the contact between a manager and an employee is more formal. This could be when they don’t see each other on a daily, or even weekly basis. It requires a system to be in place to report managerial impressions and observations on employee performance.

When Should You Carry out Appraisals?

Appraisals typically are conducted once or twice a year, most often annually, near the anniversary of the employee’s start date. For new employees, common timing is to conduct an appraisal 90 days after employment, again at six months and annually after that. ‘Probationary’ or new employees, or those who are new and in a trial period, should be evaluated frequently—perhaps weekly for the first month and monthly thereafter until the end of the introductory period for new employees. After that, annual reviews may be sufficient.

Some managers prefer to meet with their employees more frequently. Some companies in high-technology fields are promising accelerated appraisals— six months instead of a year—so that employees receive more frequent raises. The result for some companies has been a reduction in turnover among these very turnover-prone employees.

A regular time interval is a feature of formal, systematic appraisals that distinguishes them from informal appraisals. Both employees and managers are aware that performance will be reviewed on a regular basis and they can plan for performance discussions. In addition, informal appraisals should be conducted whenever a manager feels they are desirable.

Should We Talk About Pay As Well?

Many experts say that the timing of performance appraisals and pay discussions should be different. The major reason for this view is that employees often focus more on the pay amount than on what they have done well or need to improve. Sometimes managers may manipulate performance appraisal ratings to justify the desired pay treatment for a given individual.

However you carry out appraisals – whether informally or formally – take some time to think about the pros and cons of the different options. This will help you implement the best process for the development of your business and your employees.

Communication is the Most Powerful HR Tool

Communicating on a regular basis with your employees is one of the most powerful HR tools available to you. Talking to your staff can help prevent small issues from turning into more complex, potentially expensive ones, such as grievances or disciplinary problems. Finding out what your employees are thinking can even help you encourage them to work harder for your business.

How do you do this?

One of my clients called me in to help them sort out some problems recently. The management had noticed that their staff were complaining about not being told what was going on in the business. There was actually nothing happening for them to worry about, but because the management didn’t tell them anything, they started to think that the management was hiding something. A regular open forum was held at their quarterly staff meetings, giving employees the chance to speak up and ask questions; but no one ever did. So the managers assumed that everyone was happy.

To find out more, I arranged a meeting with a cross section of the staff, to ask them how they really felt about the communication in the business and how it could improve. One thing they told me was that no one liked asking questions in the open forum. No had had the courage to stand up in front the whole business to speak out!

Next I had a meeting with the directors of the business, to report back what I had found out. There was another staff meeting coming up, so instead of expecting employees to voice their concerns at the open forum, we came up with an alternative. Before the staff meeting, we would split the employees into a number of smaller groups, each with one of the directors. They would ask their group how they would like to be communicated with. One person from each group would then bring forward the ideas from their group to present to the whole business. This allowed people who were brave enough to stand up in front of the colleagues the opportunity to do so.

At the very next staff meeting, a whole range of issues where brought up in front of the whole business in this way. It gave the employees a real chance to tell the management what they thought. There was an opportunity to really discuss, openly, what was going on in the business (and what wasn’t going on!) Concerns were aired and fears where allayed. The end result was a very happy staff – and happy management too.

This is just one example of how communication can be used to improve a business. This solution worked for this business – what is important is that you work with your staff to find out what will be the most appropriate for them.

When you have regular and open lines of communication with your employees, you can help to prevent negative issues from arising and build a happy, engaged and productive team for your business.

Holiday Pay – Is There a New Way to Calculate it?

It was recently reported in the press that certain trade unions are encouraging their members to launch claims against their employers in respect of payments they may be owed as a result of the recent case of Lock v British Gas Trading Ltd. In that case, the European Court of Justice ruled that commission had to be taken into account when calculating holiday pay, rather than just basic pay.

As most UK employers only pay basic salary for holidays, the potential impact of the ECJ’s decision, and other similar cases that have been brought since, is substantial, and could include unlawful deductions claims stretching back a significant number of years.

It appears that two of the country’s biggest unions are taking steps to actively promote claims from their members. Meanwhile, employers groups are pressing the Government to introduce emergency legislation that will limit the impact of the rulings which are at odds with current UK law. Employers have warned that unless such measures are taken, the resultant legal costs could seriously threaten economic recovery.

The two main options open to employers remain unchanged. You can either:

1. Take steps to mitigate past liabilities and reduce future liabilities by introducing changes to holiday pay so that it includes all elements of normal pay (e.g. overtime and commission). The legal argument here would then be that this “breaks” the series of any unlawful deductions which an ET deems to have been made, meaning that employees have only three months from the date of the change to bring a claim (i.e. the clock would start ticking for employees). However, the success of this strategy is not guaranteed. Tribunals may determine that it was not reasonably practicable to bring a claim in time if the legal position was uncertain.

2. Wait for the outcome of the aforementioned EAT cases, and Employers’ appeals for emergency legislation to limit the impact of the rulings to date.

Whichever route you choose to take, it is advisable in the first instance to review your existing methods of calculating holiday pay and assess potential liability. It may also be worth considering establishing a fund in this regard wherever possible.

How to Make Appraisals Really Easy

Appraisals should be divided in three stages – preparation, the actual meeting and the follow up. Here’s what to focus on at each stage.

 1. Preparation

This is one of the most important stages of the appraisal process and is often missed or skipped over too quickly. You need to have facts about each employee’s performance and evidence of instances in which they have performed well or badly. This will make the appraisal constructive and meaningful.

Throughout the year, track each employee’s performance and keep a log of memorable incidents or projects they’re involved in. Look back at previous appraisal information and job descriptions to make sure they are meeting their agreed objectives.

Make sure that your employees are prepared too. Agree the date, time and place for the meeting at least two weeks in advance; brief them on the importance and scope of the meeting and what you expect from them.

2. The Meeting

Once the preparation is done, here’s how to carry out the meeting:

  • Ask open and probing questions, giving your employees the opportunity to decide how to answer; encourage them to talk freely
  • Listen to what they say without interrupting. Also watch their body language for messages
  • Evaluate performance, not personality. Focus on how well the employee does their job rather than personal characteristics
  • Give feedback based on facts not subjective opinion. Use feedback to positively reinforce the good. In the case of underperformance, use it to help the employee understand the impact of their actions or behaviour and the corrective action required
  • Set SMART objectives for the future and set a timeline for improvement if an employee is underperforming. Look also for development opportunities to help your employees reach their potential
  • Document each appraisal. Write a summary of the discussion, what was agreed and any action to be taken while it’s fresh in your mind.

3. Follow Up

Don’t just walk away at the end of the meeting, breathing a sigh of relief and forgetting about it all until next year!

Do what you say you will do. Fulfilling your promises reflects well on you and your business. If you’ve set deadlines for performance reviews, follow up on them. Check on progress that you discussed in the meeting.

If you don’t follow up with appraisals, the whole process will be a waste of time and something that neither you nor your employees look forward to or find useful.

Still need some help? If you follow all these tips and still think that carrying out appraisals seems too difficult, we can help. Full preparation, support during the meetings and follow up for just £90 +VAT per employee! To find out more or to book dates for your appraisals, call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me straight away.

Scrooge’s Guide to Presents

In case you missed my December email newsletter, here’s a catch up for you!

The start of a new year is the time when some businesses think about how best to reward their staff for their hard work over the last 12 months. Instead of a one-off ‘thank you’, what about putting a more ongoing, sustainable rewards scheme in place?

Here’s the story of how one Dickensian employer got it right!

Ebenezer Scrooge loved Christmas! He really enjoyed giving his staff time off, to spend with their families over Christmas. He encouraged them to go Christmas shopping and to send cards to all their friends.

Mr Scrooge even loved giving presents to his staff. But he often struggled to find the best gift for each person. So one year, had a great idea. Instead of buying each member of his team a gift at Christmas, Mr Scrooge decided to set up a reward system for all his staff, which would run all through the year, rewarding them on an ongoing basis for their hard work.

Here’s what Ebenezer Scrooge did to create the best Christmas present that lasts for 12 months:

  1. He put a structure in place – just a simple one to begin with
  2. He took the time to identify the things that were really important to his staff – including non-financial benefits – and incorporated them into his strategy
  3. He invested in making his company an interesting and fulfilling place to work. This helped him to attract great people and helped keep overall pay costs down
  4. He created a scheme that was simple to understand, so that his line managers didn’t struggle to explain it. They were key to making his reward structure a success
  5. He didn’t assume that it was just about pay. According to research that Mr Scrooge read, some executives would consider a pay cut of up to 35% in order to get their ideal job.
  6. Then he reviewed the scheme and the effect it had on his staff throughout the year, to make sure he was still getting it right
  7. And finally he enjoyed spreading Christmas cheer amongst his staff all year long and they loved working for him!


Think about how you can engage your staff beyond Christmas by setting up a reward scheme this year.

Seven Steps for Dealing with Poor Performance in a Growing Business – Part Three

Last month I wrote about steps four and five of a seven stage process that you need to follow, when you have to deal with issues of poor performance in your business. Click here to read that blog again. If you missed steps one, two and three, you can read them here.

When you’re trying to reach a higher level in your business, you’re only as strong as your weakest member. Dealing with somebody in your team who doesn’t live up to the standards you require is difficult, both legally and ethically. Before you show an employee the red card, be sure you have tried everything that is expected from you, the employer, to guide them and push their performance to a higher level. To deal with the matter correctly, here are the remaining steps to follow:

Step 6: Agree a performance improvement plan

Where you have issued a warning, agree a written performance improvement plan with your employee. This will help you to formally identify unsatisfactory aspects of performance, agree on where further training, coaching, or other support could improve the matter and set new objectives or reiterate existing ones. You can also agree the standards to be achieved, within clear and reasonable timescales.

Provide your employee with appropriate support to improve their performance, allowing them a sufficient and reasonable period to make progress and carefully monitor this.

Step 7: Follow-up meeting

At the end of the agreed review period, arrange a formal follow-up meeting to discuss your employee’s progress and repeat the procedure from Step 3 if necessary. Up to three performance review meetings should be held before dismissal is considered.

If your employee’s performance reaches a satisfactory standard within the review period and no further action is necessary, inform your employee in writing. If this is not the case then agree a further performance improvement plan and set a further period in which your employee must improve.

Finally, with any incidence of poor performance it is crucial that you follow the Acas Code of Practice on discipline and grievance and ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently.

Deal with issues of poor performance as soon as you notice them and you’ll find it much easier to work them out, to get the best results for your employees and your business.

If you missed the first two parts of this process here, click here for Part One and click here for Part Two.

How to Improve Employee Retention

Employee retention is about keeping the great staff you have, once you’ve found them.  There are a number of factors that have an impact on improving staff retention, including:

  • Improving communication processes
  • Staff involvement
  • Confident senior and line managers with strategic direction for your organisation
  • Providing training and development opportunities
  • Market-aligned pay and benefits
  • Fair and effective management of staff by managers
  • Competence of line management.

Focus on improving these areas and you will be able to improve your employee retention. But don’t get complacent – there are many threats to retention. What might cause your employees to leave? They include:

  • Re-organisation of your company – particularly if staff are not consulted
  • Redundancies – people can lose morale when others leave
  • Recruitment freezes – this could be a sign that the business is not going places
  • Lack of confidence in management – if you people don’t have confidence in their managers they may not stay
  • Line manager incompetence ‘ your line managers may not have the skills to keep your staff!

What’s the biggest threat to employee retention? It is poor employee engagement. Work on improving your employee engagement and high employee retention will follow.

For more on employee retention, click here to watch a short video.