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Performance Reviews: How To Respond When Employees Are Upset

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Performance Reviews: How To Respond When Employees Are Upset

Performance Reviews: How To Respond When Employees Are Upset

Employee performance reviews are a critical part of performance management and contribute toward continuous improvement. Still, they always seem to be accompanied by an element of stress. 

From the employer’s perspective, they may feel they need to share a review the employee will not want to hear. Though constructive criticism is essential for employee growth, there are some things that managers can do in advance to help ensure a smooth performance review process. 

If an employee is still upset by their review, it is important to address their concerns and listen to their perspective. This guide provides an overview of strategies you can use to cultivate a positive performance review process and what to do when employees don’t respond as you would have hoped. 

Setting the Right Environment 

Choosing the right environment is important in setting up a successful employee review program. Choose a space that is comfortable and ensures privacy. Furthermore, be sure to alert employees of an upcoming performance review at least a day in advance. 

Employees who feel unprepared or like they’re in the spotlight are more likely to be defensive, hindering a productive conversation. 

Preparing for the Conversation 

Properly preparing employees for the conversation will significantly impact how they respond to unwanted feedback. In fact, best practices for performance reviews suggest employers provide continuous feedback beginning months in advance. 

If the employee is surprised by something in their performance report, that is a sign that the manager or employer has not done their job properly. Ideally, the employee will have been given the opportunity to correct a behavior or improve an area of low productivity before the review. 

That way, if it is still lacking, they can’t claim they were unaware of the issue. This is a common reason employees cite for unfairness in the review process. 

Protect yourself as an employer and create opportunities for employees to succeed by alerting them of problem areas months in advance. Document those conversations so you’ll have them on record and will be able to refer to them if needed during employee reviews. 

Another common pushback is to deny that negative feedback is true. In these scenarios, it’s important to be prepared with concrete examples of the issues you’re referring to. Otherwise, the employee may feel they are being personally attacked. 

Keep things polite and professional with clear examples and suggestions for improvement. 

Active Listening 

Active listening is another essential component of a successful employee review. 

In the case where employees are resistant to feedback, be sure to listen to their concerns seriously. After all, a manager might not know about all factors that affect performance, such as personal life or being asked to help out in other areas. 

If an employee expresses disagreement, encourage them to share their perspective and utilize open-ended questions to elicit detailed feedback. Whether or not their explanation changes your review, validate the employee’s feelings and emotions. 

Active listening also requires the listener to avoid interrupting or becoming defensive, allowing the speaker to feel their concerns and perspective have been fully heard. 

Clarify Misunderstandings

Misunderstandings often arise during conversations where someone feels defensive or targeted, so clarifying misunderstandings can prevent issues down the road. Provide clarification on points of contention and share your own perspective and intentions behind the review. 

Much of the negative feelings arising from performance reviews can be prevented by highlighting an employee’s successes. From three, highlight areas of agreement or common ground, and be sure to acknowledge any errors or inconsistencies in the review. 

Managers who can’t admit their mistakes are often not respected by employees, and the feedback they provide in employee reviews may not be taken seriously. 

Provide Actionable Suggestions

When providing constructive feedback, following up with actionable suggestions is critical. Offer support and resources for improvement in the areas discussed and a clear plan for moving forward. 

Be open to revising performance goals or expectations if necessary, as collaboration will make responding to the performance review feel more inclusive. 

Emotional Support 

If an employee is upset about a critical performance review, providing emotional support can reassure them that the purpose of reviews is to help them improve, not tear them down. Show empathy and understanding in response to their concerns. 

This is also an important time to offer resources for stress management or counseling if needed and reiterate commitment to the employee’s growth and success. 

Follow-Up and Documentation 

After the performance review, summarize the conversation in writing and share it with the employee so that both parties have a record of what was discussed. 

Establish a timeline for a follow-up meeting and progress updates and document any agreed-upon changes to the performance review or goals. Change won’t always happen overnight, but providing the right feedback and encouragement will help employees improve their performance and achieve their career goals.

Continuous Improvement 

Finally, make a commitment to working toward continuous improvement of performance reviews. Reflect on employee feedback and evaluate and refine the process to prevent future issues. 

Encourage a culture of open communication and feedback within the organization in which management addresses employee concerns proactively. After all, there are many benefits to turning upset employees into engaged and motivated team members. 

Investing in performance management training can equip management to ensure constructive and beneficial performance discussions for all parties.


How can managers balance being empathetic with maintaining performance standards during performance review discussions with upset employees?

Finding the right balance involves acknowledging emotions while also emphasizing the importance of meeting expectations for an employee’s performance. Managers should aim to motivate and support employees in achieving those standards.

Are there cultural differences in how employees respond to a poor performance review, and how should those be addressed?

Yes, cultural norms and expectations can influence how employees react to feedback. Managers should be culturally sensitive and adapt their approach to accommodate different cultural perspectives on feedback and evaluation.

What should be done if an upset employee insists on bringing a union representative or legal counsel to the performance appraisal?

In such cases, complying with legal requirements and company policies is crucial. HR should be involved to ensure proper procedures are followed and the discussion remains productive.

Can upset employees' negative emotions impact team dynamics and overall productivity?

Yes, unresolved issues with performance reviews can lead to decreased morale and productivity among the affected employee and their team members. Addressing the employee’s concerns promptly is essential to maintaining a healthy work environment.

How can an organization create a feedback culture that reduces the likelihood of employees becoming upset during performance reviews?

Fostering a feedback culture involves ongoing communication, regular check-ins, and training for managers and employees on constructively giving and receiving feedback.

Can an employee's personal life or external factors influence their reaction to a performance review?

Personal issues or external stressors can affect an employee’s emotional response to a performance review. Managers should be sensitive to these factors and offer support where appropriate.

Can the timing of performance reviews influence how upset employees react to them?

Yes, the timing of performance reviews can impact employee reactions. For example, conducting reviews during a particularly stressful period for the employee or the organization may lead to heightened emotions. Try to deliver constructive criticism during a less stressful time of year, or at least toward the end of the week to give employees time to process direct negative feedback.