5 Ways to Kill Employee Morale in a Performance Review

performance review compressed

No one wants to intentionally kill employee morale. It results in less productivity, more absenteeism, and increased turnover among employees. Yet these are common problems in many organizations.

Performance reviews often end up creating the very problem they were intended to solve. Ultimately, this list details five common performance review mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

1. Surprise the employee with negative feedback.

Joe found out in his performance review that his boss was consistently unhappy with his work on a project from three months ago. Under deadlines, his boss had been revising Joe’s work, but never telling Joe about the problem. Until his performance review, Joe had no idea his projects were under par.


  • Clearly communicate expectations at the beginning of each project and provide written, measurable criteria for every assignment.
  • Discuss expectations for integrity, honesty, and work quality. As needed, include them in criteria, especially if you notice a weak area.
  • Engage in frequent conversation with those who report directly to you—ideally, on a daily basis.
  • If there’s a problem, discuss it sooner, rather than later.
  • The only surprise at a performance review should be about a raise or a promotion!

2. Ignore circumstances in an employee’s personal life or on the job that may be hindering performance.

Anna was going through a divorce and trying hard to leave her problems at home. She knew she was distracted at work and less attentive to details, but she was afraid to tell her colleagues what was really going on. Anna’s supervisor noticed an uncharacteristic drop in her performance but justified his frustration instead of asking questions. He eventually gave Anna a harsh performance review, despite her solid work history and sustained commitment to the job.


  • Be social with employees at work, and be present in their work areas when possible; watch for any signs of negativity, drop in morale, or personal distress.
  • Inquire with an employee if something appears to be wrong, or work performance has suddenly changed.
  • Express interest in employees’ work/life balance, and establish a culture of compassion when life occasionally gets in the way.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between employees who routinely make excuses and those are facing real difficulty. (Hint: Examine an isolated issue in the context of the employee’s overall work history.).

3. Beat around the bush

Ron’s boss knew that he was underperforming, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She consistently cheered Ron on without mentioning that his employment was in jeopardy. When she finally had no choice but to put him on official performance notice, Ron was shocked and had no idea why this was happening.


  • Tactfully tell the truth.
  • Be up front about concerns.
  • Provide written criteria for specific changes expected and opportunities for improvement.
  • Continue the conversation by revisiting written criteria with the employee to provide positive feedback (or negative, if needed).

4. Focus on isolated events

John made an uncharacteristic communication mistake that delayed a team project by a week. As soon as he discovered it, he told his boss, who responded calmly. They talked through a Plan B and the delay ultimately had no negative repercussions. However, at his performance review nine months later, John’s boss gave him a low rating under “attention to detail” because of the incident, even though John’s work showed no pattern of missed details.


  • If an employee admits an error with candor and thoughtful solutions, provide the support needed to make it right. Isolated mistakes are inevitable, and when handled appropriately, can build confidence in the employee/supervisor relationship.
  • If incidents become routine, address the behavior, set expectations, and provide feedback long before the performance review.

5. Treat everyone the same

Alice was a quiet, hard-working introvert who was well-suited to her role. But in her performance review, her extroverted boss judged Alice by what he perceived as a lack of enthusiasm, rather than by her skills and performance. The performance review he gave made her feel unvalued, despite the fact that her work record was stellar.


  • Learn the personality types and temperaments of yourself and your team members by using a simple inventory such as DISC or Insights.
  • Learn to recognize and appreciate employee differences, and delegate jobs according to each person’s strengths.

Effective Performance Reviews

These dilemmas suggest that giving an effective performance review is more than keeping a list of infractions and filling out forms. Every interaction throughout the year contributes to the effectiveness of a performance review.

To cultivate fairness, compassion, and candor between a boss and employee, the supervisor should promote frequent conversation about expectations and individual assignments, and evaluate progress along the way. That way, there are no unpleasant surprises.


Besides keeping your campers coming back, retaining your seasonal staff will ensure your culture is consistent, lower your bottom line, AND reduce the HR headaches of finding and training new staff each year.