Talking To Employees About Performance: Some Best Practices

If you manage or own a business with employees, you have likely faced (or will face) the need to address poor employee performance. This task is neither fun nor comfortable. Keep in mind, however, that providing honest, routine feedback can help protect employers from liability down the line, especially if the employment relationship goes sour. 

The following are some best practices employers can implement as part of their performance review process:

  • Have a Formal Performance Evaluation Policy, But Don’t Wait for the Formal Review to Provide Negative (or Positive!) Feedback.  Many employer policies dictate that supervisors or managers provide annual or semi-annual performance reviews for their employees.  These reviews are a good opportunity to document performance on a consistent basis and set routine expectations.  That being said, I always recommend performance concerns be addressed as they arise because it becomes much harder to justify action against an employee if the performance review is the first time the employee is made aware of any problems.  Of course, this goes for positive feedback as well—do not be afraid to let your employees know when they are doing a great job! 
  • Document, Document, Document.  Whether you are providing a formal review or informal feedback, employers should regularly document when they need to address employee performance—especially if the feedback is negative.  Employee performance feedback should be documented soon after the relevant event(s) and filed in the employee’s personnel file.  Crafting timely records can help managers see trends in work performance, and they can be used to justify the decision to take further action if necessary.
  • Apply the Same Standards to All Employees.  As a rule, employers should apply the same level of scrutiny to substantively similar situations, and managers should be aligned in their expectations and approach.  Keep your personal feelings toward an employee out of the process.  Applying consistent practices across the board can help employees feel they are being treated fairly and equally which, in turn, will help your business maintain talent and avoid legal trouble. 
  • Make Performance Objectives as Specific and Objective Possible.  Often, employers have an instinct to provide general negative feedback, but this does not always help an employee improve in a meaningful way.  For example, instead of saying an employee has “bad customer service skills,” employers should focus on specific examples of how the employee provided poor customer service.  Did the employee receive a valid complaint?  Did the employee raise his or her voice to a customer?  Being specific about the issues that need to be addressed will help the employee understand how expectations were not met.  Specificity also enables an employer to craft performance metrics to measure improvement.
  • Feedback Does Not Need to Go One Way. I always encourage employers to solicit feedback from their own employees, as doing so can help your business identify areas of growth and improvement.

There are always additional and unique considerations for each situation, so while the list above contains helpful starting points, it is far from exhaustive.  By far the best tool in your toolbox is an on-hand employment attorney who can help you navigate the employee performance review process.  At Beresford Booth, our experienced employment attorneys can help you navigate employee issues, so please feel free to contact us directly for assistance.

Please contact Beresford Booth’s Employment Law Group at or by phone at (425) 776-4100, if you need assistance with an employment law matter.

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