No one likes to be criticised.

A bad performance review can be an emotional and extremely demotivating experience, particularly if a person feels unfairly treated.

But not all performance reviews can be glowing bundles of praise. So how can you lessen the negative impact of a poor performance review?

The aim of performance management is to praise achievement and address any issues. The intention is to motivate the employee to improve upon poor performance, but research shows that performance may actually worsen as a result of a bad review.

Related: Explore more performance management advice here

Here are some simple steps to ensure your reviews don't go too far into negative gear.

Be objective

Even the best of us can feel personally hurt by professional criticism. So it’s extremely important to avoid any unnecessary subjectivity entering into the review.

A performance review should be as objective and impartial as possible. If the employee believes the review is driven by personal opinion, it will be easier for them to reject the findings or claim unfair treatment. No performance review should rely on how well an employee gets on with the boss.

Rely on facts

Use numbers and facts wherever possible – such as agreed-upon KPIs or attendance records – and never use unsupported anecdotal evidence to make a point. A review based on opinion and interpretation of anecdotal reports can appear as subjective bias. And you don’t want your feedback to be undermined by the employee disputing the source.

For the employee to accept the criticism, there has to be documented and indisputable substance to back it up.

Present solutions, not problems

A performance review should always be a constructive exercise. The goal is to achieve better performance for the company, not worse. And that means helping the employee to willingly address performance issues. So instead of focusing on the negative issues, identify how the business can help correct or support improvement.

Allocating a mentor can help the employee feel supported, with someone to answer questions and offer advice on a daily basis. But if you do choose a mentor, it must be someone the employee respects. If he or she dislikes the mentor or feels pressured by them, it will feel more like a punishment than help.

Related: Setting up mentoring in your team? here is our advice on how to make the most of mentoring

In appropriate cases, further training or a refresher course may help. The cost of supporting an existing employee with a short training program can be far less than the expense of hiring and training a new employee.

Above all, it is the manager’s role not only to identify performance issues but also to work with the employee to find solutions. This can help turn a bad review into a positive, supportive one. The employee may still feel cowed, but at least they’ll also feel valued and supported. And that can lead to greater employee motivation.

Don't use a bad performance review to drive resignation

Bad performance reviews being used in the hope that the employee would get the message and start looking for another job are futile.

While it can save on a lot of paperwork and the long, complex disciplinary process of warnings if the bad employee decides to leave of their own accord, this tactic can fail far more easily than it can succeed, possibly making matters worse in the process. Wrongful dismissal claims and complaints of personal vendettas can damage business productivity just as much, if not more, than absenteeism and poor performance.

If the employee’s performance is genuinely poor enough to warrant efforts to want them out of the business, then it becomes even more important that every performance review is well documented and based on clear, undisputed numbers and evidence.


Used correctly, even a bad performance review can be a positive tool for the business. It can be hugely rewarding and satisfying experience for any employer when a struggling employee manages, with support, to turn things around and become a positive asset to the business.

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