Appraisals – common pitfalls and challenges

We have all had that feeling around appraisal season. Everything seems fine so why waste time when we have work to get on with?

However, with many employees still working from home for some or all of their time, a good appraisal system is now more important than ever before.

Some common questions answered.


Are employers legally obliged to appraise employees?

No, but failure to assess performance and provide feedback can have several ramifications; how can an employer objectively justify who should receive pay increases/ bonuses or tell an employee that they need to improve?


Is there a one size fits all system?

Again, no. Appraisals should be crafted around the employer's business, how the employer measures performance and how it wishes to encourage growth.


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What are the best appraising criteria?

In the event of an employment claim, objective data is the employer's best friend. Anything linked to quantitative data, including fee income, number of calls made, will be difficult to challenge. However, tribunals accept that employees are not robots and therefore, it is reasonable for employers to also use subjective criteria such as attitude, potential, etc. They would expect the scores for these criteria to be backed up with data, which is measured consistently amongst colleagues.

It is important to obtain feedback from those who work closely with the employee which may include those in other departments.


Can appraisals put employers in a better position to dismiss?

Yes. For example, when it comes to poor performance, employers often approach solicitors and say they wish to dismiss an employee immediately, after a number of years of dreadful performance.

While discussing the issue, it becomes clear that the appraisals are either incomplete, non-existent or actually provide quite positive feedback with none of these issues having been fed back to the employee.

Where an employee has more than two years complete service or a protected characteristic, moving straight to dismissal will be challenging and costly.

It is important that appraisals are used not just to praise employees but also to provide constructive feedback where there is a problem. This gives employers the perfect platform to formally performance manage if things do not improve.


How does an employer appraise absent employees?

It is not uncommon for those employees who are sick or on family related leave to be overlooked or a view taken not to disturb them. This can be a huge error. While employers should not be seen to be harassing staff, it is important that these employees are offered an opportunity to participate in a process.

Employers should consider adjustments to how the process is conducted, perhaps on the phone, offsite, video link or even via correspondence and should also adjust scoring.  


What if the employee does not agree with the appraisal?

Ideally, appraisals should be agreed and signed by both parties. This limits scope for future challenges of accuracy. However, sometimes employees will simply not accept the feedback. In this case, employers should seek to hold additional discussions to reach a consensus.

If agreement cannot be reached, an employer will need to file its appraisal and note the comments made by the employee. These types of scenarios tend to escalate over the preceding years so should be kept under regular review.


Practical steps

Appraisals are a keen component of recruitment and retention as well as keeping employers out of the employment tribunal. Employers should ideally:

  • Make appraisal questions and/or scoring as objective as possible
  • Consider having two managers moderate scores
  • Obtain views from those who work with the employee and do not limit to personal experiences
  • Appraise regularly
  • Not form views based purely on an employee’s presence in the office or the employer's social scene
  • Not forget about absent employees


Adam Grant is employment partner at Wedlake Bell