Performance Management and Mental Health

Sep 15, 2023 | Best Practice, Performance Appraisals

Mental Health at work and Performance Management

1. Introduction

We’ve all been there: sitting nervously in a conference room, waiting for feedback on our work. Performance management, with its reviews and assessments, is a routine part of our professional lives. But have we ever stopped to ponder its impact on our mental well-being? Let’s dive deep into this critical intersection and uncover the link between feedback, performance reviews, and our mental health at work.


2. The Dual Nature of Feedback

Feedback is a double-edged sword. When done right, it can uplift, motivate, and guide us. When done wrong, it can drain our confidence and leave us questioning our abilities.

Positive Feedback:

We crave validation. When our boss praises us for a job well done, it’s more than just a pat on the back. It fuels our drive, boosts our morale, and reinforces our positive actions. Studies have shown that recognising an employee’s efforts directly relates to their happiness and productivity.

Constructive Feedback:

Growth often comes from addressing our shortcomings. Constructive feedback plays a crucial role here. It offers insights into areas of improvement, nudging us towards better performance. But a careless word or an ill-timed remark can do more harm than good. It’s essential to strike a balance, ensuring that feedback helps rather than hinders.

Remember, it’s not just about what’s said, but how it’s conveyed. An open dialogue, transparent intentions, and a genuine desire to help can transform feedback from a daunting ordeal into an empowering conversation.


3. The Psychological Impact of Performance Reviews

Picture the traditional annual review: an intense session where a year’s worth of work is dissected, sometimes in just a single hour. For many, it’s a source of stress and anxiety. Why? Because it’s not just a review of work. Often, it feels like a judgment of one’s worth.

However, the landscape of performance assessments is shifting. Companies are realizing that continuous, regular feedback is healthier and more effective. This approach alleviates the anxiety of a once-a-year, high-stakes evaluation, fostering a culture of continuous growth and open communication.


4. Factors that Influence Perception of Feedback

Feedback isn’t received in a vacuum. Several elements dictate how an employee perceives feedback:

  • Delivery Method: A face-to-face conversation carries a personal touch, but can also be intimidating. Written feedback offers time to process but lacks tone and nuance. Virtual meetings bridge some gaps but come with their set of challenges.
  • Timing and Frequency: Immediate feedback can be impactful, but there’s also value in periodic, reflective feedback. Striking the right frequency ensures employees are informed without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Relationship Dynamics: Trust plays a massive role. Feedback from a trusted manager is more likely to be received positively, whereas from someone with whom there’s friction, it can be met with skepticism.
  • Personal Experiences: Past experiences shape our perception. An employee who’s had negative feedback experiences might approach reviews defensively, even if they’re now in a supportive environment.

5. Strategies for Ensuring Positive Impact

Feedback should empower, not dishearten. Here are ways to ensure it serves its purpose:

  • Empathetic Delivery: Put yourself in the employee’s shoes. Understand their perspective, and deliver feedback keeping their emotional state in mind.
  • Clarity is Key: Vague feedback can confuse and demotivate. Be clear, specific, and direct. Highlight the issue, explain the implications, and suggest a solution.
  • Safe Spaces Matter: Create an environment where employees feel they can voice their concerns, ask questions, and seek clarity without fear of judgment.
  • Training for Managers: A well-intentioned feedback can fall flat if not communicated effectively. Equip managers with the skills to deliver feedback that’s both honest and compassionate. This isn’t just about structured training sessions—encourage open discussions, role-playing, and regular check-ins to ensure feedback remains a two-way street.
  • Continuous Feedback Loop: Foster a culture where feedback isn’t an annual event, but an ongoing dialogue. Regular check-ins help in catching potential issues early and addressing them before they snowball into bigger challenges.


6. The Importance of Support Systems

Feedback and performance assessments are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s essential to have robust support systems in place to ensure employees can navigate challenges with resilience:

  • Resources at Hand: Offer counselling services, workshops, and peer support groups. A safe space to talk, vent, or simply understand can make a world of difference.
  • Promote Open Communication: Encourage employees to share their feelings, apprehensions, and thoughts about feedback received. This not only helps in addressing any immediate concerns but also fosters a culture of trust.
  • Role of HR: HR teams can play a pivotal role in mediating feedback processes. They can ensure that feedback remains objective, unbiased, and constructive. Moreover, they can serve as a touchpoint for employees who need guidance post-feedback.


7. Further Reading

Well worth a read is Mind’s “How to implement the Thriving at Work mental health standards in your workplace“.

The guide emphasises the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace. One in six British workers are affected by mental health issues annually, costing employers between £33 billion and £44 billion. The “Thriving at Work” review recommends six core mental health standards for employers to foster a supportive environment. The guide provides actionable steps for employers, such as creating a mental health work plan, promoting employee wellbeing, addressing work-related mental health causes, and offering resources for those experiencing mental health problems.

By adopting these standards, employers can not only improve the mental well-being of their staff but also enhance organisational productivity and reduce associated costs. The guide serves as a comprehensive tool for organisations of all sizes to prioritise and invest in mental health, ensuring a healthier and more productive workforce.



8. Conclusion

Balancing performance management with employee well-being isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. In a world where work dynamics are ever-evolving, it’s vital for companies to remember that behind every assessment, every feedback, is a human with emotions, aspirations, and vulnerabilities. When feedback becomes a tool for growth and not just evaluation, both employees and organizations thrive.



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