How to Conduct a Non-Traditional Work Performance Appraisal - An Employer's Guide

Performance Appraisals for the Non-Traditional Work Setting

Conducting performance appraisals in non-traditional work settings provides unique challenges and benefits to both employer and employee. In some ways, the methods used are very similar, but in other ways they may be radically different.

Part-Time Staff

When dealing with part-time workers in a traditional work environment, performance appraisal methods tend to be very similar in design and delivery as those for full-time staff members. Nevertheless, it is likely you will experience some differences with these staff members and it may be necessary to frame their review in a different context.

Most of the time, part-time staff members do not develop relationships with other staff as intensely as full-time employees tend to do. This has both positive and negative effects on the performance appraisal process, particularly when an employer chooses to utilize peer evaluations or a 360-degree appraisal process. There are sometimes underlying issues between full- and part-time staff that may be unfairly placed on the person receiving the appraisal. Consider, for example, an evaluation of a part-time staff member who unloads freight trucks in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps there is so much freight that the part-time workers are unable to completely unload the trucks during their shifts on a regular basis, and full-time staff members who begin work in the morning have to complete this task before moving on with their own work. These full-time staff members are directly influenced by the part-time workers, thus making their perspective credible when providing a performance appraisal for part-time staff member. In this type of situation, it is entirely possible that a full-time employee is likely to be more negative in their criticism of the part-time staff member, but the inability of the team to complete the task during their part-time shift may not have anything to do with the employee being evaluated.

When it comes to judgment evaluations, it may be a challenge for supervisors to appropriately appraise part-time team members due to a natural predisposition (one that may even be subconscious) to compare a part-time worker with a full-time worker. Often, a manager is unlikely to actually evaluate an individual's job performance on an hourly basis to compare a part-time member with a full-time member of staff. Moreover, part-time members are often not included in strategic meetings, and thus are not always aware of decisions made, or the basis for those decisions; it may, thus, take longer for part-time staff to acclimate to changes being made, or may require additional information that takes time to communicate.

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So what is the ideal method of performance appraisal for part-time staff? Whenever possible, objective measures should be used, if appropriate, (preferably in conjunction with judgment evaluations). At the very least, raters (whether supervisors or peers) must be properly trained in rating part-time staff, in addition to full-time employees. Self-evaluations may also be a helpful tool, particularly when used in conjunction with judgment evaluations, as they provide a platform for which employer and employee are able to communicate and make a more accurate appraisal together.

Virtual or Telecommute Employees

With ongoing technological developments that have completely changed (and continue to change) the business landscape, more and more companies are hiring telecommute employees, or allowing existing employees to telecommute for at least part of their work schedule. This has really opened up numerous possibilities for companies, especially small businesses or companies in rural locations that have a difficult time finding niche employees. As technology continues to improve, tools are being developed constantly that will help employers supervise and evaluate employees who telecommute.

When it comes to providing performance appraisals for this type of employee, there are some limitations as to what type of method will be most effective. Depending upon the nature of their position, it may be possible to conduct peer and/or 360-degree evaluations. If the telecommute employee works within a team, even if every member of that team is telecommuting, then those individuals have sufficient information to perform peer review. In fact, peer evaluations and 360-degree appraisals have the opportunity to be more effective and accurate in a telecommute setting, than in a brick and mortar setting. Typically, members of a telecommuting team, and certainly telecommuters who work primarily independently, don't usually get bogged down or invested in office politics or personal relationships with each other, thus often producing more accurate reviews. Moreover, employees being evaluated are less likely to be personally offended or even knowledgeable about what other individuals said regarding their performances. Many organizational psychologists also believe that telecommute employees are more likely to be receptive to the advice and perspective provided by raters simply because it is delivered in a way that does not involve a personal relationship or affront.

Alternatively, if you are dealing with a telecommute employee who works virtually independently of other staff members, peer evaluations and 360-degree appraisals are not likely to be accurate or effective. In these types of situations, judgment evaluations, or combined judgment/self-evaluations, tend to be the most effective. Any concrete, objective measures that can be used are also helpful when utilized in an appropriate setting. Whatever method you decide to engage in with any telecommute employees you may have, make sure that you perform appraisals of them on a regular basis, just as you would in-person staff. It can become very easy for an employer to overlook, or even completely miss, problems that may exist with telecommute employees if they're not expected to provide regularly scheduled reviews of them.

Alternatively, it is important for supervisors and managers to be aware of any predisposition they may have toward unfairly rating telecommute employees, because of their own lack of comfort with the entire concept of virtual staff. While many large-scale employers have embraced the concept of telecommuters, many smaller organizations and businesses still struggle to accept this type of worker, even when it is necessary for them to do so. Consequently, performance appraisals may be unfairly negative or strict, based solely on the employee's geographic distance. If you feel this may be an issue for you or your management team, work with your managers and your telecommute employees to establish a plan designed to develop trust between employee and employer. Supervisors should communicate clearly what their expectations are of each telecommuting member of their staff, just as they would any in-person employee. Explore programs that allow you access to see what your employees doing on their computer, if necessary; frequent phone calls, emails, Skype sessions, and so on can also help ease some of the hesitancy and prejudice an employer may have.

Contract Workers and Freelancers

When it comes to contract workers and freelancers, determining an ideal performance appraisal method must be undertaken with considerable thought.. There's an incredibly wide range of tasks that contract workers or freelancers may be performing; their client or employer is likely to be the only individual who can sufficiently decide what appraisal method is ideal for each individual situation.

For example, a contract worker who is helping build new offices at your facility may not require a full performance evaluation unless you work with this contractor on a regular basis, having them perform numerous different projects. If this is the case, an optimal evaluation might include a judgment evaluation component, perhaps a self evaluation, and perhaps a modified 360° appraisal approach where the contract worker's boss (if he or she has one) also participates in the review. In this case, although their boss may be reviewing their work, it is within the context of your overall performance appraisal and should be limited to their behaviors and objective measures that directly relate to the work that contractor does for your organization.

Alternatively, working with an independent freelancer who telecommutes is going to require a radically different evaluation process. As an independent freelancer, this individual's self-evaluation and your judgment evaluation may be the only measures you have by which to make an appraisal. Of course, most of the time there's some measure of objective performance that can be considered. It is important, however, to recognize that you may not be the best person to determine what those measures are, particularly if your freelancer performs niche services. For example, if you run a nonprofit organization that provides numerous services to homeless families, perhaps you have hired a freelance tutor to help the school-age children who have fallen behind in their studies. From your perspective, a successful freelancer may be measured by each child passing all of their tests. It seems like a sensible, objective measure. But perhaps some, or all, of the children are so far behind that is simply not feasible to expect them to pass their tests and progress to the next grade level. In this type of situation, not only would it be unfair to expect the tutor to achieve the impossible, it also demonstrates the arrogance and/or naiveté of the rater, as the tutor could most likely have provided the reader with reasonable expectations and performance measures (if only they had asked).