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Could your performance review kill you? New research suggests, ‘yes’

8 November 2010

Workplace stress is sharply rising globally and one of the biggest contributors to poor performance is a strategy that is supposed to help improve productivity: the annual performance review.

Liza van Wyk, CEO of two of South Africa’s largest training organisations, AstroTech and BizTech said: “this year some of our most popular courses had to do with better managing staff, whether labour relations, emotional intelligence or people management for new managers. Globally the workplace has become extremely stressful and often volatile with job fears, shorter work weeks, poor management of staff and workers being distracted by issues outside of work, for example, high debt.”

Now new research from the United States Conference Board has shown that only 45% of employees are happy at work compared to 67% in 1987. Van Wyk said the findings seemed to tally with feedback from the thousands of delegates who pass through their courses each year, “Employees are unhappy about the design of their jobs, the health of their organisations and the quality of their managers.” She said that too often people were made managers before being given courses in people management, “managing staff is highly complex and poor management can add to pressure on executives and staff and lead to the collapse of a unit or company.”

Samuel A. Culbert, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, author of a new book: Get Rid of the Performance Review! Claims that “Annual reviews not only create a high level of stress for workers, but end up making everybody, bosses and subordinates less effective at their jobs.”

His research has found that “reviews are so subjective, so dependent on the worker’s relationship with the boss, as to be meaningless. There is a very bad set of values that are embedded in the air because of performance reviews.”

Stanford University management professor, Robert I. Sutton in a recent International Herald Tribune interview, concurred, saying that the typical performance review was “done so badly it’s better not to do it at all.”

Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington, said office bullies have been known to use performance reviews to undermine a worker. He counsels that “It should be replaced by daily ongoing contact with managers who know the work and who can become coaches.”

Van Wyk said the research pointed to the negative consequences of what a growing cadre of management writers call “destructive leadership or those people in positions of power that manipulate it not to suit organisational goals, but their own ends. These are managers who are often bullies or divide and rule, such tactics always lead to a demoralised and ultimately underperforming workplace. The very bitter strikes we have recently seen in South Africa typify employees who feel that their concerns are not being heard.”

Workplace stress has serious health consequences. In a British study of nurses, workers who did not like their supervisors had consistently elevated blood pressure throughout the workday. And 15 years of Danish research with 12 000 nurses found that those struggling with excessive work pressures had twice the risk of a heart attack. A British study tracking 6 000 workers for 11 years found that those who regularly worked more than 10 hours a day had a 60 percent higher risk for heart disease than those who put in 7 hours.

Van Wyk says, “Compelling research by the guru of emotional intelligence Daniel Goleman found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high
degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Regrettably, we find that these qualities are lacking in many business executives, yet without them workplace performance will continue to be poor.”


LIZA VAN WYK, CEO ASTROTECH 011 582 3200 cell: 082 466 8975 or

Issued by Charlene Smith Communications