How Are Companies Handling Performance Reviews During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

You can delay formal performance reviews, but don’t skip regular check-ins.

By Katie Navarra May 19, 2020
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​The pandemic has upended business as usual for nearly every worker. Some people are busier than ever; others have little to do. Everyone is facing new stress and pressure. That leaves human resource professionals wondering if and when it is appropriate to hold performance reviews.

At ThirdLove, a women's underwear company based in San Francisco, COVID19 interrupted one of the company's performance review cycles. Leaders decided to delay it until later in the year, according to Serena Ziskroit, the company's vice president and head of people.

"We prioritized the team's well-being first and then the team's performance," she said. "After assuring the team was doing well, we asked each teammate to set new Q2 goals and to specifically scale back their goals, if they didn't have the same resources or capacity that they had before the pandemic."

Fortunately for Lynn Manning, the senior leader of people and talent at MVP Health Care, an insurance company based in Schenectady, N.Y., the company's annual reviews were completed in the first quarter of 2020. The company transitioned 95 percent of its staff to remote working situations in two weeks.

"Our tenets haven't changed, but the tools have. Instead of face-to-face, it is all virtual," she said. "We emphasize communication between team leaders and staff."

Some managers may experience fewer performance issues with remote work, according to Eileen M. Levitt, SHRM-SCP, CEO of the HR Team, Inc. Levitt said that with fewer places for employees to congregate and socialize, there will be less opportunity for problems to develop.

However, she predicts performance issues that weren't addressed prior to the pandemic will intensify.

"You can't ignore performance issues that started before this," Levitt said. "Going forward with having a dialogue with the person and discussing the details is important."

Whether remote work lasts through the year or fades out as businesses reopen, performance management and reviews can't be avoided indefinitely.

Regular Check-Ins

Ongoing performance management relies on regular check-ins. In the office that may have occurred once a month or every other week. Levitt encourages her clients to increase these conversations to once per week. The check-ins provide an open forum for employees to share concerns, provide updates and ask questions.

Social distancing has eliminated in-person meetings, but Levitt says video rather than phone-based check-ins are preferable. Virtual meeting platforms allow managers to see the other person's facial expressions and encourage a focused discussion.

"It's easy to do 60 other things when you're on the phone with someone. But when they see your face you can't be doing other things," she said. "With video you can better judge how things are going."

In Manning's opinion, the current situation has encouraged more dialogue and candor. For example, one of her direct reports who is caring for an elderly parent has started talking about her challenges of balancing workload and caretaking, requesting flexibility in her work schedule to fit it all in.

"There is almost an increased connectivity because we are providing flexibility like that to help people cope," Manning said.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

Review Processes

Recognizing that employees may not be able to achieve 100 percent of their previous workload is important. As Ziskroit mentioned above, ThirdLove is asking teammates to revise previous goals to those that are realistic in the current situation.   

"Our hope was that giving teammates control over resetting goals would empower them during a time when other things were out of their control or uncertain," she said.

Levitt has one client proceeding as normal. Another spent months developing a new process, which would have launched this spring. Those plans have been postponed. For companies moving forward with reviews, Levitt encourages them to evaluate their procedures and find a way to simplify it. For example, if the review is based on a formal grading system, a shift to a dialogue with a few guided questions may be a better fit for the times, she said.

Looking Ahead

No one knows how long this situation will last. According to Manning, MVP Health Care is proceeding as if the next phase of remote work will last through next summer. The company has established talent development channels within Microsoft Teams where it provides articles and resources to support leaders.

"We are proactively reimagining the new normal, and we are all going to have to work together because we don't know how it will impact our employees' families," she said. "We need to support our employees so they can continue to deliver top-value service to our customers."

While best practices help guide employee development and performance management processes, it is important to remember that what works for one organization may not be a good fit for another.

"All situations are different, and the key is remembering that, analyzing and then adapting, not the other way around," Levitt said.

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.

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