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Andrew Heath

WeThrive LTD


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Performance management and wellbeing in a virtual world

Hybrid working is shifting employee expectations around performance management – it’s a great opportunity to make yours better.

Even prior to the pandemic, organisations were beginning to adjust their thinking on performance management. Annual reviews had seemingly gone out of fashion, in favour of regular ‘coaching conversations’ and catch-ups (although how effective these were, if they were indeed happening, is anyone’s guess). Add remote working and the absence of in-person meetings into the mix, and effective performance management is even more challenging.

Having richer performance management conversations will also foster trust, an essential ingredient in the hybrid working world. 

More than ever, supporting employees to feel fulfilled in their role and that they’re on a development path that suits them is crucial. With fewer opportunities to see colleagues and connect in person, performance management conversations can unlock better wellbeing and reduce stress.

Those day-to-day serendipitous interactions, where a manager might spot that an employee is struggling, or where it is simply easier to go to a manager’s desk and ask a quick question, are no longer there in the world of remote and hybrid work. This means managers have to be more intentional and targeted in how they support their teams.

Asking the right questions

Thousands of organisations turned to surveys during the pandemic to get an insight into the ‘health’ of their employees. Many supplemented annual engagement surveys with pulse questionnaires or regular polls about specific topics such as mental health or how they felt about a return to the office. Since they tend to be anonymous, however, they reveal little about how individuals are coping with their roles or how they really feel about their career prospects, particularly during a period where there are worries about job security.

Instead, empower managers to ask the right questions of individual employees so they can pinpoint specific areas to cover during a performance management conversation, making it more rewarding and constructive for both parties.

An example of good virtual performance management

An employee completes a questionnaire that pinpoints areas of their job or where they are strong and a few where they are weak. Their areas for development might include simple things such as improving their Excel skills or be more impactful, such as closing sales with clients. Doing this before a performance review or catch-up creates a ready-made agenda that aligns with the needs of the employee, rather than following some rigid organisational structure.

The manager can open up a conversation about where the employee needs support, signpost them to useful learning content or curate external resources that will boost their confidence. There’s also transparency about areas where the employee feels confident, which can feed into future development conversations.

Add in questions about their experience of working at the company (do they feel valued, is there something that would make them feel more included?) and it’s possible to build up a fuller picture of the person and their potential.

This not only helps organisations identify skills gaps and do effective workforce planning, it also contributes to those overall engagement scores.

Having richer performance management conversations will also foster trust, an essential ingredient in the hybrid working world.

Employees that feel their managers are aware of their development needs and actively try to support them tend to be happier and more loyal, with less likelihood of sickness absence due to poor mental health. They’ll receive those feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine rather than increasing their levels of stress hormone cortisol, which in a remote work environment is more important than ever.

The alternative is a manager who is not tuned in, who doesn’t know enough about their employee to support them in the most effective way and who will end up filling out a review form based on their own assumptions rather than what the individual really needs to thrive.

Nurturing trust

Having richer performance management conversations will also foster trust, an essential ingredient in the hybrid working world. We’ve all heard the stories of managers insisting all employees return to the office “so they can benefit from interaction” (or so they can keep tabs on them) or that employees log into video calls just to prove they are working.

Yet research by analyst company Gartner has shown that UK employees are 62% more likely to have seen an increase in the length of their day since the start of the pandemic, and 42% feel emotionally drained by their work. Whether someone is at home or in the office, identifying ways to ensure they get the best out of the blurring boundaries between home and work means this burnout is less likely to happen.

Traditional performance management was often a chore for all parties, and HR teams would struggle to engage managers to complete reviews, while employees failed to see their value. The pandemic might have driven more feedback conversations online, but this could also be the perfect opportunity to make sure they’re more regular, fruitful and deliver results.

Interested in this topic? Read A (first iteration) guide to hybrid working for people teams.

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