Over the past few years, there have been an abundance of articles and blogs about performance and evaluation interviews, particularly focusing on their timing. Especially at this point of the year, being half way through, follow up evaluations interviews are scheduled at this point in many organizations. But the question that should be asked year round is really: how are your employees doing?
Research by Lepaya has shown that throughout Europe, 66% of employees experience an unhealthy amount of stress in the workplace. This includes 56% of Dutch employees and 71% of German employees. These numbers indicate a major mental health problem that needs to be addressed.
Is an evaluation interview just once or twice a year still sufficient? And can you keep a finger on the pulse of your employees with your current evaluation and performance approach?
Unhealthy levels of stress in the workplace
56% of Dutch, 67% of Belgian, 70% of British and 71% of German employees indicated that they experienced an unhealthy level of work-related stress during the survey. None of the requested European countries answered positively to the question ‘Do you ever experience an unhealthy amount of stress at work?’.
After seeing the numbers in the survey, it was easy to identify the extent of what Forbes calls the “work stress epidemic.” Work-related stress is consuming and appears to be the biggest source of stress, ranking higher than other sources such as family related problems and health. (1). The adverse effects of stressing more about work than health can certainly have adverse effects on your physical and mental health.
There is a lot of stress at work. Working longer hours is becoming more and more common with higher expectations of today’s business world, and this environment causes employees to experience increasing levels of stress.
“Stress is the result of emotional, physical, social, economic or other factors that require a response to change. Workplace stress, then, refers to the harmful responses that can occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the employee.” (2)
The most common factors of stress are too often work-associated issues with unrealistic deadlines, little support and frequent changes within the organization as well as concerns about job security and growth opportunities. A skills mismatch and a low workload can also increase stress, because if employees cannot utilise their best skills it will often work against them mentally. And have an impact on employee engagement and productivity. Work stress therefore has an effect on both the employee and the organization. (2)
But the factors that cause work stress are not essential to work and should not be normalized and be made a part of work. After all, work stress is not what we call ‘healthy stress’. For example, achieving challenges or learning a difficult skill, these are challenging situations that may be stressful but can also be exciting and are an important part of working. A healthy form of stress also has a positive effect, it can motivate an employee to achieve her/his goals. Work stress, on the other hand, is associated with unrealistic employee expectations and responsibilities, and has no beneficial effect.
Considering 66% of the employees indicated that they ‘regularly experience stress at work’, it proves that work stress has become a structural and unhealthy part of work. Work stress is too common and affects the mental and physical health of employees. (3) While work stress is not always unavoidable, because there will always be deadlines, it should not become a structural part of work.
(un)Healthy organizational culture
Many stress-inducing factors fall under communication and involvement with the organization. Are the employees really connected to their teams, management and organizational structure and culture? Unrealistic expectations and poor communication or leadership stem from the organization itself. Because these stress factors all occur in the workplace it means that these are factors that the organization can change.
A healthy organization is:
“[…] more than just culture or employee engagement. It’s the organization’s ability to align around a common vision, execute against that vision effectively, and renew itself through innovation and creative thinking. Put another way, health is how the ship is run, no matter who is at the helm and what waves rock the vessel.” (4)
The best way to run the ship is without unnecessary stress. Healthy organizations perform much better than organizations with an unhealthy structure and culture.
“The proof is strong—the top quartile of publicly traded companies in McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index (OHI) delivers roughly three times the returns to shareholders as those in the bottom quartile—so strong, indeed, that we’ve almost come to take it for granted.” (4)
Because work stress comes from within the organization, it is logical to start counteracting stress from within. 56% of employees believe that the responsibility lies with the organization. This highlights once again that it is the organization’s turn to take responsibility. Not only do employees have to think about their health, organizations also need to pay attention to theirs.
Are conversations once or twice a year enough to reduce work stress and create a healthy organizational culture?
No, but as HR professionals with a vision for the future, you already knew that. Much has been written about midyear evaluations and their usefulness. We often read that an interview, if it is a performance or evaluation interview, needs more frequency than twice a year.
If an organization wants to be ‘healthy’, it is important to create an organization with a learning culture. This means paying attention to development and having conversations more often than twice a year.
It is not without reason that a continuous feedback culture has been named an HR trend in 2018, 2019 and again in 2021.(6)
Employees ask for support
With the right skills it is possible to deal with stress in a healthy way and in many cases even to prevent stress. Positive results have also emerged from the survey. For example, it appears that no less than 71% of European employees are open to personal development.
With so many employees open to development, 62% are also directly asking for more help from their organization.
With the right skills it is possible to deal with stress in a healthy way and in many cases even to prevent stress
For example, it appears that no less than 71% of European employees are open to personal development. With so many employees open to development, 62% are also directly asking for more help from their organization.
How do you support your employees?
As HR professionals you ask a lot of questions every day, this is essential. Because if you want to remain or become future-proof as an organization, it is crucial to ask yourself: is mental health a priority within our organization?
When mental health is a priority, you can:
- Create a people-oriented culture with psychological safety, which empowers people, decreases work stress and builds employees’ capabilities.
- Build a motivated & talented pool of employees that are more productive and committed to the organization.
By asking your employees questions and scheduling many conversations, you keep a finger on the pulse of the health of your organization. This is important because it is not only the employees that you evaluate but also the health and functioning of the entire organization.
Tips & tricks for evaluation interviews
- Before the interview: Create a consistent cycle of conversations
Check-ins need to be consistent if they want to make an impact. Scheduling an evaluation meeting a few days in advance does not give employees enough time to think about it. Are there weekly or monthly touch-points? Or quarterly evaluation and performance interviews? The purpose of the meeting must be clear to everyone well in advance. It also helps if team leads always choose the same moments. This way everyone has time to set, discuss and implement the objectives.
- Before the interview: Make sure there is good preparation
If the purpose of the meeting is an evaluation, this is important for both the employees and the manager. After all, this is about the well-being of the employee and their productivity. Is there good preparation on both sides? This will ensure that employees feel heard and more involved in the organization. Planning is everything, so ensure you support your leaders to prepare well for the interview (8)
- During the conversation: Give your leaders the right tools to have a good conversation. Time management, empathy and coaching are all essential Power Skills for leaders to support an employee.
Your team leads should be just as committed to success as your employees. After all, both are working towards the same goal: happy and productive teams! Therefore track discussed goals not just once, but throughout the year. This way you keep an eye on the growth and development of your employee!
Evaluation and performance interviews are perfect opportunities for you and your team leads to check how employees are doing. Therefore once or twice a year is too little. Continuous feedback moments ensure that you can ask a lot of questions, and with that you can check a lot: Is everyone in the right place? Do the teams feel good? Are the departments productive? And as a result: is the organization healthy?
Many employees experience work stress, despite the fact that it is not a structural part of their work. That’s why just as many employees ask for support. Ask yourself often enough how your employees are doing to reduce work stress and enable a healthy work culture for the organization where everyone can perform at their best.