Why even great employees get average evaluations

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Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have been in a new role for four months and have gone above and beyond my written job description. I complete all my weekly tasks on schedule, take on new projects, and often stay late or work on weekends to get the job done. When I first started, I was trained on a new function (let's call it Project Bob). My boss then asked me to work on a special project (let's call it Project Jane), which took up a lot of time. We both agreed two months in that I should focus 100 percent of my time to work on Jane.

When the time came for my performance evaluation, my boss gave me a 2 regarding my work on Bob. For everything else she gave me a 3 -- and gave me one 4 on a piece related to Jane. Thus, my score averaged out to a 3. I have a comfortable relationship with her, so I explained why I disagreed with her assessment about Bob. I then asked her to reconsider the 2. She did not agree or disagree.

Overall, I am very disappointed with my score. My boss claims that a 3 is a good score, particularly for someone who is new. I am wondering if I should dispute this further -- particularly the 2 -- or should I just let it go?

Take a deep breath and let it go.

Performance ratings reflect so much more than actual performance. They have politics, tradition and budgets all wrapped together in one number that will haunt you the rest of your life.

Often, companies have quotas that define the percentage of people who can receive each performance rating. So not only do you have to be performing "above" the job description, you have to be in the top 10, 15 or 20 percent of employees overall. So it doesn't matter if you're fabulous -- it matters if you are more fabulous than everyone else.

With those restrictions come the politics. Every manager wants to reward her own employees because rewarded employees are happy employees. But how high up your manager stands in the company can determine your chances of being awarded a top rating. Her boss may bestow more 4s on another department and your boss my just have to deal with it.

Likewise, the reason your boss neither agreed nor disagreed with your complaint may well be because she didn't choose your final rating. I've had numerous phone calls with managers where I've said, "You need to move one more person from a 4 to a 3 before I can approve this." Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Well, that's how the ball bounces. If there's a limit of 15 percent of employees who can be rated a 4, and your 4 would push it to 20 percent, you're going to miss out.

And why you, and why not someone else? Well, knowing nothing about your coworkers' performance, I can state that since you are new to the job, you are the likely choice for a lower rating. You've only been in the role for four months. Why should you get a 4 when someone who has been in her role for four years and performs at an equal level get stuck with the 3?

It's often an unwritten rule that no one gets anything other than average their first year. You should consider yourself lucky that you didn't get stuck with a 2. Some managers will try to fill their low-rating quota with new employees. That shouldn't happen, but it does.

There's also money at stake. Ratings often contribute to your annual salary increase and any performance bonus. There is only so much money, but the percentages are often spelled out in policy. If you get a rating of 4, you get a 10 percent bonus. If your rating is a 3, you get a 5 percent bonus. And if you're a 2, you get nothing. Even without a forced ratings distribution, the company can't give everyone a 10 percent budget, so, again, someone has to get the 3.

Your boss heard you out. Your rating isn't bad. It's probably not even unfair. If you fight something like this, it won't be helpful to you in the long run. Yes, it may be unpleasant, but let it go.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your question to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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