The Covid-19 crisis has been a wakeup call, forcing us to confront difficult truths about the world we live in. It has highlighted severe healthcare disparities, persistent economic inequities, and our society’s lack of attention to mental health, especially in the workplace. The pandemic has severely damaged global mental health and wellbeing, and the mental health crisis will not abate when the pandemic ends. Now more than ever, employers must proactively and intentionally promote employees’ mental emotional wellbeing.
In addition to providing mental health support, there may be elements of an organization’s culture or even the ‘modus operandi’ of the business that need to be reconsidered if an organization wants to authentically respond to the personal challenges their workforce may be facing. Fortunately, promoting worker wellbeing goes hand in hand with performance and ultimately, economic and business success.
For example, as the year draws to a close, many companies conduct annual performance reviews that, even in non-pandemic years, can induce a stressful psychological “flight or fight” response. While many organizations use the annual review as a core element in their approach to promoting high-performing workers – which is ultimately a very positive outcome for the employee – managers should be mindful of adding more stress and anxiety at the end of a difficult year. Employers can take four steps to leverage the annual review process to boost performance while still communicating empathy and promoting a supportive work environment:
1. Be Compassionate and Flexible
Most importantly, managers should approach each performance conversation with empathy, compassion, and understanding. Check in with employees about their emotional and mental wellbeing, and let them know that their mental health is a priority. Avoid a perform-at-all-costs mentality, make sure team members know that their health comes first, and offer flexibility and leniency.
Compassion and flexibility are especially important during a pandemic, when many employees are working from home while supporting children in zoom classes, caring for elderly parents vulnerable to COVID-19, or fighting quarantine loneliness.
2. Adopt a Growth Mindset, Not a Fixed Mindset
According to the Wall Street Journal, certain forms of performance reviews can give the impression that performance is based on unchanging, fixed abilities— which employees have no power to improve. This approach can leave team members with feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and failure. Instead, managers should promote a growth mindset, emphasizing that workers can always take concrete, tangible action to improve, learn, and grow. With a growth mindset, every performance review is a step towards an employee’s full potential, not a reflection of someone’s unchanging aptitude.
Numerical comparisons to other employees can cause workers to feel “disregarded and undermined” and trigger a defensive reaction that makes them less inclined to productively respond to feedback. Even worse, rigid rankings undermine growth mindsets by sending the message that talent is static and some employees simply possess greater fixed ability than others.
In doing so, rankings often pit workers against each other and can contribute to a culture of competitiveness, rather than collaboration. And they’re frequently an unreliable indicator of relative performance; according to leadership advisory firm CEB, two-thirds of the employees who receive the top ratings under standard performance management system are not actually the top employees.
Instead, employers should adopt performance evaluation frameworks that do not rely solely on rankings but also incorporate diverse sources of data—from colleague feedback to self-evaluations to objective-based metrics—and create narrative assessments that laud workers for what they do well and give specific action steps where team members have room to grow. These assessments should be flexible and tailored to each individual’s unique circumstances.
4. Check in Often – Not Just During Annual Reviews
Poor performance reviews can seem to come out of nowhere, with half of employees expressing surprise at lower-than-expected performance ratings. 90% of these workers report feeling unhappy after a disappointing review, and their engagement with their jobs drops by 23%.
Frequent communication between managers and employees minimizes the chance that an employee will feel surprised or blindsided by an unexpected negative review. By checking in often, a supervisor can more easily set clear expectations, coach employees toward higher day-to-day performance, and adapt in real time to keep their finger on the pulse of their team.
Finally, check-ins allow bosses to actively support their team members. Managers can ask employees about the challenges they’re facing, identify the resources they need to be successful, and encourage them to reach out with questions or concerns. Above all, leaders should take the time to truly understand and respond to their team members’ needs and to recognize the reality that in these times especially, it’s “ok not be ok.”
This content was originally published here.