Bringing Joy and Purpose to Your Employee Reviews

May 19, 2022

By Allison Iantosca

This past week I found myself enjoying an extraordinary piece of swordfish and a long overdue catch-up with a fellow business owner. Plenty to talk about. An appropriately nurturing waiter and nowhere else to be for the next hour or two. Lovely.

We both came to the conversation with a great sense of joy and, over the course of the evening found an equal compelling sense of purpose. We moved easily from topic to topic covering who we live with, who we love, what personal transitions we find ourselves navigating, war, politics…and employee reviews.

‘Tis the season, you see. June. Halfway through the year. A commonality we discovered: a commitment to sitting down with the individuals on our teams twice a year to talk about life inside our respective companies. And you might not be surprised to hear that it took up a good bit of our dinner airtime.

  • What outcomes do we hope to achieve in a good and powerful review process?
  • What perfect system will elicit candid conversation that supports personal development?
  • Why does the way we did it last time not necessarily fit this time?

Being in business for twenty-five years (each) didn’t seem to guarantee answers to any of the above questions. In fact, like most kinds of aging, it just opened more inquiry. We found ourselves quite captivated by the depth of nuance in the human beings that come to work for us every day. What do they need most from us, what complexities have surreptitiously reconstructed their outlook on life over the past two years and how do we, as leaders, best use ourselves to support our teams?

For all of this, our conversation led to two conclusions: one, our employees are, indeed, languishing (as defined by Adam Grant in his New York Times article as feeling somewhat joyless and aimless) and two, for that, it is critical that we, as leaders, maintain a rigor to our own self-care in order to not, well, languish ourselves.

We also came to a third conclusion: though feeling joyless and aimless may be an overarching experience, there is no one-size-fits-all way to sate the enduring anxiety. What will relieve languishing for one person isn’t what will relieve it for another. This got me thinking about some exposure I had recently to Dr. Christina Maslach and her work on burnout.

Dr. Maslach’s research suggests that there are six common drivers of burnout, including mismatches on:

  • Workload
  • Control
  • Reward
  • Community
  • Fairness
  • Values

So, for example, one employee may feel like they don’t have the appropriate tools to do their job, a control issue, while another may feel like they aren’t getting the credit they deserve for their work which is a reward issue.

So much to contemplate. And the questions flowed:

“Do we openly and honestly present the list as six forms of burnout and get feedback from each employee before the review?  Or maybe it’s a paper we bring in as a surprise and have them look at it during their review time?”

“I suppose I wouldn’t want to start out any review season assuming discord. But I do think, in session, if burnout comes up this might be really good to have on hand to use as a way to ask what is really driving those feelings. Then we have some common ground to begin to build in ways to adjust. Right?”

Plates cleared. An empty tabletop. Two abandoned dessert spoons pushed to the side. Water glasses refilled for the third or fourth time. A flickering candle capturing our gazes as our brains sought to capture new and ambitious models to bring coaching into our review processes this time around. 

It was getting late. And we were fully nourished (body, heart and mind) unable to take in anymore. Walking side by side down the block towards my car we stood one more minute, assuring, somehow, that we were each taking the same portion of fresh ideas with us.

And we stood to cement that this dinner was our own review process for and with each other.

An important re-set to our sense of joy and purpose: the very two things we both most want to bring back to our teams.

Allison Iantosca is a Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) trained coach with extensive leadership and management experience. She is an ICF-certified Executive Coach and is the Owner and President of Boston-based FH Perry Builder.

*Photo Hitesh Dewasi

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