Should I give myself a bad review at work?
December 5, 2014 5:28 AM   Subscribe

I want to be honest in my year end self assessment at work. How harshly should I critique my performance over the past year?

This year, I feel like I took a step back at work. I made a few errors, one of which was fairly high profile.

I took the job in my company's communications department and was expected to do data analysis. After my first year, my boss and teammates wanted me more involved in the actual communications work. So I took on a huge project and did it pretty well save for a huge blowup towards the end that got a lot of attention, including from the CEO.

I was also having health issues earlier in the year that caused me to not be as alert as I should have been. This caused me to make some errors on a few of my other projects. It also caused me Rio snooze Asset work from time to time. I'm currently addressing the root cause of these Health issues and it's going well.

Simply put, I feel like I took a step back this year. I want to be honest in my year end self assessment, but how honest should I be? I don't want to make excuses for my reduced performance this year. I want to call it out and show I'm taking steps to improve. I have already implemented a system of checklists to ensure that I follow all the required steps in completing my projects. I also have expressed to my boss that I want to go back to more of the data work I did my first year.

What should I do?
posted by stedman15 to Work & Money (30 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
No no no no, in 99.9% of workplaces that is mad. Your performance for the year was excellent / of an exceptionally high standard - you rose to meet uniquley challenging situations and learned from them equipping you for the future. your performance review is a tool for negotiating salary increases and definitely not the place for critical appraisal of your actual performance
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:38 AM on December 5, 2014 [53 favorites]

No harsh self-criticism in your performance review. Focus on everything you did right, and spin the stuff you did wrong into stuff you want to build/improve upon or goals for next year.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:41 AM on December 5, 2014 [20 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with those who say "Don't do it!" Why draw attention to your weaknesses, sign off on them, and have them committed to your HR file? That doesn't make any sense. If they ever wanted to let you go, you will have given them the perfect ammunition.

I had to do my own assessment a few years ago using the same ranking tool as my bosses. Then we sat down to review together. In the interest of keeping my job and getting future raises, I took whatever might be perceived as a weakness and talked about how I improved in those areas.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:46 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Never do this! You laudably want to be real about struggles you faced - but the place for that is not your permanent record. And it's not like the struggles were a giant secret, right?

Also, never put health information in a permanent record like this.

There must be a place in the review for "growing edge" stuff - that's where you say that in the next year you would like to work on [whatever it would take to have your next project go more smoothly - more training, build in better milestones, etc]. This is the accepted language for "I know things did not go as well as hoped".

If you start running yourself down, not only will you leave yourself open to intentional bad action from your bosses, but you will also be showing that you don't understand how to deploy work language and affect correctly, which will make you seem unpredictable. (It's like if you made an ordinary work mistake and burst into tears in the meeting - if you were very young, it might pass, or if it were a really super grave mistake, but in the normal course of things, it would weird everyone out.)

Also, remember to forgive yourself for your mistakes - all robust systems ought to be built with the expectation of learning curves and errors because that's how human beings are. If your work is structured with the expectation that you will hit it out of the park 100% of the time, it's badly structured.
posted by Frowner at 5:47 AM on December 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

Absolutely avoid the take on it you're presenting here.

Here is what happened: You have grown a great deal professionally. You rose to challenges and accepted responsibility. You took risks. You explored a new role. You have gained a wealth of experience in communications. You have developed superior systems to produce excellent work. You are now a veteran of a major project. You are experienced, savvy, and smart.

Those things are just as true as what you wrote - don't do your enemy's work for them. Not that your employer is your enemy. But they are also not your friend.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:49 AM on December 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

Do not put harsh self-criticism in a year-end review. Be positive and then talk about things you can do to improve on the year.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that when you write something in an official review document, you're projecting how you want to be perceived in pay reviews and so on in the coming financial year.

The second is that — and I've made this mistake so I know whereof I speak — being too harsh in a self-review could get used against you later.

In my case, I was honest but harsh in a self review after a not-brilliant year. I'd joined a new project, struggled a bit, and not been as productive as I would have liked, and I said so. At the time of the review we'd just had a change of manager, from one who was very supportive of my desire to improve to one who was much less sympathetic. After a few months of steady improvements I was hauled through a disciplinary hearing for poor performance — even though my performance was vastly improved — and my personal statement about not having had the best of years was waved in front of me as evidence that I knew I wasn't doing well enough and that I should have tried harder.

If you're really bothered about this stuff, keep it in a document for yourself and no-one-else, but in truth I'd much rather set myself positive goals for the future than write down criticisms about the past.
posted by gmb at 5:52 AM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

At best, you can state that you "met expectations" on major challenges and new responsibilities and acknowledge that there is room to improve the next year. Your year end review is a great time to outline a plan for next year and makes you look proactive.
posted by larthegreat at 5:55 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe your workplace is different, but when I worked for a giant international corporation, reviews were not honest assessments of one's performance. They were lists of accomplishments and were used primarily to justify raises, bonuses, and restricted stock unit awards. Please don't shoot yourself in the foot.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:59 AM on December 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Never, ever give yourself a bad review. That's your boss' job, and if they don't have the backbone to do it when it's merited (not to imply that it is in your case), that isn't your problem.
posted by starbreaker at 6:01 AM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

You may have to acknowledge that one high-profile mistake because to completely overlook it could suggest you are delusional given that it even caught the attention of the CEO. However, you address it in the mildest terms possible and, as Frowner suggests, in the context of areas for growth. You are a good employee looking to become even better, not someone confessing to having had a bad year. Overall, you should give yourself a good review, and be sure to give yourself good marks for doing pretty well on a huge project.
posted by Area Man at 6:07 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nope, nope, nope.

Forgive yourself for your perceived transgressions. You were asked to do something, you gave it your best shot, oh well.

Write up a list of accomplishments, including: Created a series of checklists to insure accurate and timely reporting.

You're allowed to make mistakes as part of accepting more responsibility and certainly as a part of taking on duties that were not originally within the scope of your job description.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:18 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

No no no no no! Let management knock you down a peg if it is deserved. You sound very conscientious. Just think of all the truly sucky employees who are undoubtedly overrating themselves to no end.

And the blowup? That's a conduct thing and has no place in assessing your PERFORMANCE. Also, the health issues--no one is going to excuse or rate you more favorably because you had any sort of "justification" for your performance, or lack thereof. All your employer cares about is what your results were.

Your development of a checklist sounds like an accomplishment. "I implemented a set of checklists to ensure quality of final products."

Don't say "Next year, I plan to improve in X area." Say something like "My goal for next year is to expand the customer base for my Rio snooze Asset work."

Sorry if I sound adamant, but I work in HR and have seen gazillions of employee assessments. Again, let management knock you down if warranted, but I'd bet you are still miles above your peers. Also, assessments are often just a paperwork drill for managers, and many times they just want to sign off and get it done with.

Good luck!
posted by auntie maim at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

They were lists of accomplishments and were used primarily to justify raises, bonuses, and restricted stock unit awards.

Yeah, or worst case, documentation to justify termination in the future. Not saying they would want to terminate you, you sound hard-working and honest and diligent -- I'm just saying it is really hard to fire people and one has to be able to point to reasons. No sense documenting any reasons on your own.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2014

The bigger the blow up, the less it is on you alone. That blowup was either smaller than you think, or the CEO (or your legal department or your boss) should have mitigated that risk knowing they put an inexperienced person on the job.
posted by rada at 6:25 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pick one thing that you did very well this year. Did you communicate well with a team? Did you take a step up in terms of having responsibility for a project? Did you dramatically increase your depth of knowledge about issue X? Dramatically increase your breath of knowledge across company's whole field? Run down the list of "rate yourself 1-5" categories and pick one that you're going to be a 5 at. Take all of your guilt/shame over the bad things that happened this year, and pick one category in which to express that. This one is a 3. Not a 2. Everything else gets a 4, and you comment on how you can make it even better next year.

Adjust that for your overall workplace vibe; I'm currently someplace where they want 80% of people to be at 3&4 out of 6, they save the 6 for crazy 1% performance, and the 5 for top 10%. Most places, though, seem to expect people to be in the 4 (of 5) category, and the 3s imply "barely acceptable", even though the column is labeled "good". So don't label performance as being barely acceptable, mark those 4s.
posted by aimedwander at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2014

It's admirable to want to be honest, to account fully for issues that have affected you, etc -- in the course of normal human interaction. But an end-of-year review is not a normal human interaction, it's part of the mercenary process of employment. You are not talking to your colleagues/friends, you are talking to the company, or in a sense to the economy/capitalist system in general. In such 'conversations', there is no value or virtue in being honest, because you will receive no reciprocation.

Polish your shoes, slick your hair and huck yourself like a shyster. There's no shame in it whatsoever. Save your humanity for humans.
posted by Drexen at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Forgot to mention, I just went through my year's performance reviews after having spend 2.5 weeks out of work and being physically unable to participate fully in about 2 months of work. I felt bad about that, and let it drag me down when I was self-assessing, but in my followup meeting, all the bosses wanted to talk about was the groundwork we laid before my issue, and the end-of-project success we had a month ago (even though that was technically after the end of the assessment period).
You can mention it in the meeting, "it was very frustrating to be unable to do X and Y as fully as I wanted, I'm so happy to be feeling better now." as opposed to "Well, I kind of dropped the ball on X and Y because I was sick". But don't mention anything in print, you don't need documentation of negativity, you want that to blur into the "glad that's over with" past.
posted by aimedwander at 7:38 AM on December 5, 2014

I had a boss who told me that harsh self-crit was the norm for self-assessment. I did it and then found out it was the reason I was denied a raise later on. When I resigned later, all was revealed and she was selected for face-saving early "retirement". You need to be honest but don't put yourself down even a little. It's just fodder for others to make themselves look good if you make yourself look bad.
posted by parmanparman at 7:51 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is not what your performance review is for.

It is not an exercise in expressing your personal feelings about your work performance. It's a standardized procedure to encourage more responsible pay and promotion policies (and firings) on a company-wide basis. In fact, it is to some extent an evaluation of your boss's supervisory skills as well.

You can have a heart-to-heart with your boss about your personal work goals and expectations and ethics, but do as The Pink Superhero says upthread on the official work performance evaluation, "Focus on everything you did right, and spin the stuff you did wrong into stuff you want to build/improve upon or goals for next year."
posted by desuetude at 8:56 AM on December 5, 2014

No, this is not a relationship, this is your livelihood. If you don't protect yourself at work, you will at best eliminate any chance at moving up, and at worst get yourself
"laid off." Even the most positive supervisor is going to read a negative self review as a tipoff that you did a whole lot more than that wrong.

Plan privately how you intend to do better. For your work evaluation, do just as TPS advises.
posted by bearwife at 9:01 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most places, though, seem to expect people to be in the 4 (of 5) category, and the 3s imply "barely acceptable", even though the column is labeled "good". So don't label performance as being barely acceptable, mark those 4s.

It's not quite the same as a performance review, but when I talk to my students before handing out student evaluations, which have a 5 point scale (excellent, very good, good, fair, poor), I tell them that the ratings seem to be interpreted as letter grades: 5=I did an A job at teaching, 4= I did a B job, etc. this seems to help the cognitive dissonance of "but I must reserve "excellent" for truly sky-high amazing.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:25 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

No. Do not do this. If you deserve criticism, that is your supervisor's job. Performance reviews are used to justify raises and to justify who to keep in the event of layoffs. Spin the negatives into positives as suggested several times here.
posted by tckma at 9:42 AM on December 5, 2014

No. Do not be honest. I've learned this in academic and professional settings -- you get nothing out of being hard on yourself and being honest. I once screwed myself out of vital points that made a big difference and I learned that there was no incentive to be honest on self assessments. You don't get bonus points for honesty. If anything, you get bonus points for lying. If it's a 5-star rating, maybe don't give yourself a 5 because you want to show there is potential for even more from you. Plus, a 5 looks like bullshit anyway -- a 5 on a performance evaluation is rare. But I would give myself a 4 and be done with it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:50 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I totally screwed myself in a performance review by being too honest and having my boss use something I told him then, that was not written down, as part of his evaluation of me later. So Nthing everything people have told you above. If you need to share your feelings about being a fully human person then share them with a friend or a partner. Do not share them with your boss, do not write them down, and do not tell a coworker. That, at least, is my advice. Be upbeat and excited about your amazing accomplishments in the face of challenges and be upbeat and excited about the growth you expect to experience over the coming year.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:36 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my career, I have had one extremely crappy year that I felt was a step backwards. In that case, it was still my job to put the best light on my performance and project work and let my manager make any additions he felt necessary.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:40 AM on December 5, 2014

Always give yourself 5/5.
Never write about your screw-ups, if any. In cases where you -might- have screwed up take the long view if it helps, and say "despite difficulties carried project Z to completion".
Most of the self-assessment type reviews I have seen lately provide ample opportunity for others to bitch about you; do not ever, ever add to the chorus.
posted by jet_silver at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2014

You also need to consider how long ago stuff was happening. You had health problems a year ago that haven't affected your work in a long time? No one remembers that, don't bring it up. Was the major blow-up last week? Then you better address it, but put the best spin on it you can. If it is further in the past, better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Don't forget to quantify the work you've done... Completed a project that reached x number of people, worked on something that saved/earned y dollars. Get creative coming up with metrics for your accomplishments. Numbers are very compelling, and will distract from other things.
posted by anaelith at 6:03 PM on December 5, 2014

Nthing "NOPE."

I feel you, I do. I once appeared in my manager's doorway and dramatically offered to "do the yakuza pinky-chopping thing if it will get me out of this self-evaluation." (She laughed and told me to go back to my desk and finish it.) But the truth is that performance reviews are the place for faux-failings like "sometimes gets too focused on details" and "can be perfectionist and should learn to sometimes relax standards", if anything.
posted by Lexica at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2014


- Use your review for branding and self-promotion. Turn your negatives into positives.
- Explore the negative stuff in a separate, private effort. At the most, I'd confide in a trusted mentor, or colleague. I recommend instead taking it to someone outside - lifecoach, peer in another firm...
posted by j_curiouser at 10:04 PM on December 5, 2014

I'm going to be a contrarian and say that as long as you phrase things the right way, being self-critical can be a good thing in the right organization. That last bit is key, I guess, but if done right this way you show you're honest and it also helps you control the conversation during the review discussion.

I know it's just one anecdote, but it's helped me grow to a pretty prestigious position at one of the top companies in the world and my career at this company is old enough to drive. :)
posted by GoldenShackles at 3:44 PM on December 6, 2014

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