Periodic employee performance evaluations can be an effective tool in employee management and performance improvement or they can be the noose that hangs the employer out to dry in discrimination or wrongful termination claims. The result depends on the care the employer uses in developing, implementing, and monitoring the evaluation process. A well prepared evaluation encourages employee strengths and works to correct deficiencies. A careless evaluation process fosters favoritism, discourages employees from pursuing excellent performance, or creates a "halo" effect that makes even poor performers look good.

A good evaluation process starts with articulating objectives. These goals should include thoroughly analyzing each employee's performance, identifying strengths, correcting problems, recognizing good contributions, and encouraging improvement. Evaluations should also be tied directly to wage increases. The better an employee's job performance, the greater his/her pay raise. A system that results in nearly all of the staff receiving the same percentage wage increase rewards the lazy and discourages the ambitious.

Tools of Effective Evaluations

An effective evaluation system requires a well written form, effective training of supervisors in preparing the review, and vigilant oversight to assure timeliness, fairness, and accuracy of implementation. In a long-term care facility, there should be different forms for unlicensed nursing staff, nurses, and other support positions such as dietary, housekeeping, and laundry. The reason for the differences is skill assessment and duties performed. The forms should assess attributes including work qualities, job skills, and attendance/punctuality. Work qualities include cooperation (never "attitude"), courtesy, promptness of care, cleanliness, friendliness, and adherence to work rules and policies. Job skills include training completed, knowledge of, and adherence to, standards and care plans, ability to work independently, and following directions. In the unlicensed nursing staff evaluation, a category should be included to reflect the individual's responsiveness to his/her charge nurse. In the case of charge nurses, which is generally all nurses, the ability to supervise unlicensed nursing staff is an important category.

Evaluations should be a scored process, with a set number of points being awarded for each category, and the total score of all categories being a composite that directly relates to the employee's wage increase. A minimum threshold should be established for any increase, with employees below that minimum placed on probation and subject to re-evaluation in no longer than 60 days. Employees who do not successfully complete the evaluation in the first or re-evaluation period should be terminated. Never retain an unsatisfactory employee. They are a lawsuit, or a union organizing campaign, waiting to happen.

At least annually, supervisors should be trained in how to administer evaluations. This includes a discussion of the evaluation categories and examples of the types of conduct expected to receive the various ratings. Training should include discussion as to the relationship of the evaluation to the wage increase and the importance of the process to encouraging good performance and correcting problems.

Procedure for Conducting Evaluations

Evaluations should be prepared by the employee's immediate supervisor. In the case of unlicensed nursing staff, the charge nurse is the supervisor; in the case of the charge nurse, the assistant director or director of nurses is the supervisor; and in all other cases, the department heads are the supervisors. The administrator and director of nurses should only prepare evaluations for either department heads or licensed nursing staff. The charge nurse's role in preparing evaluations is key for at least two reasons. First, it gives the nurse an effective tool in managing her staff. Second, it helps prove the nurse is a supervisor and, thus, insulates him/her from union organizing activity.

An office employee should monitor performance evaluation due dates, generally the employee's anniversary date or completion of probation. Two weeks before achieving that date, the office person should provide directly to the evaluator an evaluation form that includes the employee's name and attendance record. Also, any discipline the employee has received in the prior year should be included with the form. In the case of charge nurses receiving forms, the director of nurses should be sent a note so that he/she is aware of evaluations under preparation. It is the responsibility of the department head to assure evaluations are completed on time. Ultimately, it is the administrator's responsibility to manage the process.

The department head or charge nurse should privately prepare the evaluation. Since this is "work," it must be on paid time. If the employee has worked with multiple charge nurses, then one charge nurse should be designated as "primary," and he/she should consult with peers for their input. After the evaluation is completed, the preparer must meet with the employee and review it. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the reviewer to explain the ratings given, make suggestions for improvement, and allow the employee an opportunity to respond. These meetings are critical to an effective evaluation. The reviewers must be trained on how to conduct the session. A poorly conducted review session creates animosity.

After the evaluation is completed and reviewed by the employee, the reviewer and employee sign it. The evaluation then moves up the chain of command to the department head, in the case of the nursing department, or directly to the administrator in the case of all other departments. The administrator or director of nurses should review all evaluations to assure they are completely prepared, signed by all participants, and are an accurate assessment of performance. If it appears the evaluators are merely rating all employees as "average" or failing to give adequate individual assessment to employees, then the supervisor should be counseled and retrained. The administrator should assign a wage increase based on the score given by the charge nurse or department head. The administrator or director of nurses should never change a score, without consultation with the preparer.

Punctuality in completing evaluations is important. Employees know they are to receive evaluations at the end of their probationary period and annually. Similarly, they expect wage increases at that time. Evaluations that are delayed, even with retroactive pay increases, create hard feelings and are counterproductive. A firm commitment should be made to complete all evaluation on time.

An employer must commit to maintaining an effective evaluation process with training and oversight. Otherwise, the employer is best served by having no evaluations and just awarding pay increases in an across the board manner.