Rethinking Performance Reviews: Implications from a Global Pandemic

By Sofia Kospanos

With the pandemic bringing so much devastation to “normal” business, millions of employees lost their jobs. In February 2020, unemployment was at a low of 3.8%, and rose to 14.4% in April 2020 (Kochhar, 2020). Many workers re-evaluated their job satisfaction and considered changing careers to be more in alignment with their values and goals. Likewise, employers evaluated how they reacted to their situation resulting from COVID-19 in terms of how that impacted employees. How did the organization react? With what new or adapted policies and programs? With what shifts to remote work or flexible schedules? How were employees supported to meet new goals? All these answers impact employee performance. As a result of the global pandemic, should employee performance reviews be different this year?

Validity of Performance Reviews

Performance reviews were already being called into question prior to 2020 as a practice that was falling out of favor (O’Connell, 2020). Employees are placing more value into regular communication and open discussion about their work (O’Connell, 2020). SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, referenced the Workhuman Analytics & Research 2019 study which states 55% of United States workers polled believed annual reviews do not improve their performance (O’Connell, 2020). So, that leads to the question – what is the inherent purpose of performance reviews?

Some potential strengths of performance reviews for employees are:

  • Creating a defined focus
  • Outlining long-term annual goals
  • Showcasing and reinforcing the employer’s mission and the employee’s purpose
  • Highlighting the employee’s contributions.

The weaknesses of performance reviews are inherent in their alignment with the company’s goals and the manager’s goals. The employee is asked to provide feedback, suggestions, and input on those goals, but it’s not usually an authentic exchange of mutually beneficial outcomes. Very frequently the goals are financial, which does not address all the steps needed in order to get to profit and revenue.

Applicability of Performance Reviews in a Pandemic

In 2020, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org conducted a study involving 317 United States companies and 40,000 employees called Women in the Workplace 2020. In the study, only 30% of companies reported adjusting their evaluation criteria for this year’s performance reviews due to COVID-19. Two percent said that employees would be given the same rating they received during the previous review cycle, and 5% said reviews have been put on hold or canceled. Those numbers are starkly unempathetic. Employees are dealing with different circumstances this year, and performance reviews should be nimbler and adjust accordingly. Twitter announced they are suspending all performance reviews this year (McGregor, 2020). Assuming other companies follow Twitter's example, how might employers reconsider how to help employees succeed?

Considerations for Employers

Half of the employers in the Woman in the Workplace 2020 study report that productivity expectations had changed during COVID-19 (McKinsey & Company & Lean In, n.d.). When children are home engaging in distance learning, parents that are working from home will attempt to maintain their workloads while supporting their children's educational needs. It may be an unrealistic challenge to expect working parents to maintain pre-COVID productivity and to be assessed on it by their employers during this time.

Companies that support employees with extended policies and programs such as more time off, mental health offerings, and flexibility with schedules may be more successful by strengthening employee communications, fostering a culture of empathy, and being more open and transparent leaders, HR teams and managers (Janzer, 2020).

What didn’t work? Maintaining unrealistic pre-pandemic goals, expecting employees to produce at the same rate as before, assessing people right now on productivity, not addressing the impact COVID-19 had and continues to have on mental, physical and emotional well-being, all reduced employee and organization success.

Photo By Amy Hirschi On Unsplash

Adapting Performance Reviews

Employees need support to meet goals, and certain goals are simply outside of their control during a pandemic, making goals on performance reviews difficult to achieve. Employers may adapt by focusing on

  • Incremental goals to allow employees time to pivot and change
  • Goals that are more short term and realistic
  • Opening communication by having managers speak with employees about how to offer support
  • Start discussing personal and professional development goals, such as a work-life balance goal.

Communication between employees and employers is key moving forward. There is so much uncertainty to contend with. Giving an employee transparent communication and showing empathy will allow for flexibility and responsiveness from both sides. Adjusting the performance review process could provide an opportunity to show that an employee’s performance is not just dependent on the company’s goals but is impacted and affected by all the challenges that are being navigated this year and into the future.

Meeting Employees Changing Needs

An employee who is valued, encouraged and supported, is a productive employee. If companies take this opportunity to make shifts in their mindset around performance reviews, they will lay the groundwork for a better workplace for the future. A more empathic workplace, with more realistic goal planning, is needed in the post-pandemic world, and will be a positive impact that can benefit both employees and companies.



Janzer, C. (2020, October 5). Employer empathy is crucial for employees amidst covid-19. https://www.zenefits.com/workest/employer-empathy-is-crucial-for-employees-amidst-covid-19/

Kochhar, R. (2020, August 26). Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/

McGregor, J. (2020, October 19). One potential pandemic upside: Performance reviews are getting simpler. https://www.washingtonpost.com/road-torecovery/2020/10/19/performance-reviews-changes-pandemic/

McKinsey & Company & Lean In. (n.d.). Women in the workplace 2020: A crisis is looming in corporate America. Women in the Workplace. https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf

O’Connell, B. (2020, June 13). Performance management evolves. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/performance-management-evolves.aspx




Sofia KospanosSofia Kospanos is a life-long learner, wife, mother and working professional living in northern Virginia, in the DC metro area. She is currently in the process of applying for the Certified Career Services Provider credential and making plans for transition to a new career in career services. She has always enjoyed writing and treasures her experiences on her high school newspaper. She continues to write as a volunteer Digital Content Writer for Step Up for Mental Health, an advocacy group providing support, assistance, and education regarding mental health. She is working to combine her love of writing with topics on career development. She can be reached at sofia.kospanos@gmail.com.


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1 Comment

Meg Gerry   on Monday 03/01/2021 at 08:54 AM

Some great advice contained in this article on how employers can successfully proceed forward with regards to performance reviews. Excellent piece Sofia!

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