Secretarial: It doesn't have to hurt

Staff and bosses find them painful, but an appraisal can be tolerable.

Alice Speight was horrified when she entered her boss's office for her latest annual performance appraisal. "To be honest, I hate doing these damn things and I don't really know how they work. Do you?" said the manager to his legal secretary from Buckinghamshire.

Alice represents a third of the employees who recently responded to an Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) survey by claiming their bosses treated appraisals as "a bureaucratic chore". Indeed, the same survey showed that 15 per cent of bosses would rather visit the dentist than carry out an appraisal.

"Appraisal systems have become so diverse during the last few years," says Angela Edward, IPD's policy advisor. "The result is that a great many managers - as well as their staff - don't really know how to make the most out of them. And for the appraisee, that can mean losing out on pay, promotions and training."

At their simplest, performance appraisals enable employees to plan and control their work better, to learn from their mistakes and profit from their successes. "But even if managers don't put every effort into achieving this, there's a great deal appraisees can do to help themselves," says Max A Eggert, management psychologist and author of The Managing Your Appraisal Pocketbook.

"The first thing to do, for example, is to request a preliminary discussion about what is going to be assessed and what the results will be. What kind of questions will you be asked? Will you need to produce any paperwork? Will the appraisal identify training needs or is it a chance to bargain for an increase in pay?"

In fact, claims the Industrial Society, the Nineties have witnessed a clear trend away from connections between appraisals and pay. A recent study reveals that of the 77 per cent of British companies that have a formal appraisal system in place, almost half claim there is no link to money. Furthermore, steps have been taken in many organisations to ensure that appraisals have nothing to do with past performance. Instead, they only focus on the future of the staff member in terms of development needs.

"These are things the appraisee must know about in order to prepare," says Debra Allcock, the Industrial Society's head of campaigning.

According to Ms Allcock, secretarial staff are at a particular advantage when it comes to getting the best from their appraisals. "Most appraisals occur annually,' she says. "But throughout the year, there should really be one-to-one's, mini-appraisals ensuring that no progress is missed. Since secretaries are usually in charge of their manager's diary, they can just book in a half-hour slot once a month or so."

Ms Allcock says that secretaries should keep a file on themselves, to keep track of their own progress. "Don't wait until the one-to-one interview to write down your achievements. If someone writes you a note to thank you for something, pop it in a file. If something went really well due to your expertise, write it down and add that too. This file will undoubtedly effect your future because even untrained managers will feel they have to record it.

"In fact, the more untrained they are, the more frightened they may be of messing up and consequently the more likely they may be to record whatever you say or give them.'

June Short, a Hertfordshire-based PA, adds that the close relationship between secretaries and managers can be of enormous benefit. "In every appraisal I've had, I've always asked the boss what I could do to improve our relationship. Without fail, it leads them into asking me the same question back."

If there is one problem that Ms Short hasn't found so easy to overcome, it is subjectivity. Almost a third of the IPD's survey respondents agreed that appraisal ratings have everything to do with how much your boss likes you and nothing to do with how well you do the job. But Angela Edward claims there is a solution.

"Insist on objectivity. If there are complaints about your work or if you come fairly low on the appraisal scale system, ask why and demand examples. Was that report late because you were incompetent, or did your manager omit to record the fact that you were given instructions to amend the whole thing at 10pm the night before it was due? Is it fair to say your time-keeping is bad, or are you given so many chores outside the office that you simply can't be in the office from 9-5? Discuss these details at length and make sure they are recorded."

One way in which companies such as Sony and The Body Shop have attempted to conquer the problem of subjectivity is through the introduction of 360-degree appraisal - in which information about your performance is collated from as many sources as possible.

Your team members, your customers and your subordinates may all be asked to contribute. Sometimes called multi-sourced feedback, it has only been introduced at secretarial level during the past few months but it is quickly catching on.

Undoubtedly, it will be a while before smaller companies introduce such measures. But, claims Debra Allcock, secretarial staff shouldn't make the mistake of assuming large organisations always have the best appraisal systems. "The bigger the company, the more formal the system. Yet this doesn't necessarily mean it's more effective."

Ms Allcock says the best advice to secretaries is to keep copies of appraisals. "That way, you can check there are no discrepancies. Also, you never know when you'll want to look for another job, and if you can produce your last appraisal at the interview - in which it says you're God's gift to the secretarial universe - then you'll increase your chances considerably."

But the really good news for employees who are keen to ensure that the appraisal system works in their favour, is that companies will soon be banned from keeping the content of appraisals secret from their staff.

For under the new data protection bill, all employees will be legally entitled to see every word, which can only act in their favour.

Execsec 98, a new national exhibition and seminar programme for executive secretaries and PAs, begins today. Execsec is held at the Pavilion, NEC Birmingham, and runs from 9am to 5pm, today and tomorrow. Entrance to the exhibition is free.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?