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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing