Weekly Wrap: Best/Worst Jobs, Bad Bosses, a Million-Dollar Performance Review

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I hate performance reviews.

Yes, I understand how valuable they are to all involved – both employee and employer – and perhaps I would feel a lot differently about them if I ever worked somewhere with a talent management system that allowed you to automate the process and make it both easier and more meaningful for everyone. In that case, it’s less about the process and more about helping to really track and improve employee performance.

But I have never, ever had the luxury of using one of those automated talent management systems. All the places I have worked were stuck in the old, fill-out-the-annual form mode, where performance reviews were a pain and a bother for everyone involved.

That’s the wrong way to approach such an important topic, and I certainly know it, so that’s why I found this story to be a wake-up call for people like me who still are stuck doing old-fashioned performance reviews and loathe the process. It proves – as if we needed more proof – that ignoring or downplaying reviews and the review process can be very costly, as the city of Henderson, Nevada found out this week.

According to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the city of Henderson could end up paying more than $1 million (and perhaps as much as $1.4 million), to a former city manager who sued after she was fired for breach of contract back in 2009. And, the lack of a performance review is partially to blame. Here’s what the newspaper said:

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An arbitrator has ruled against the city in a breach-of-contract claim brought by Mary Kay Peck, who spent 18 months as Henderson’s first female city manager before being dismissed with cause by the City Council.

In his interim order, arbitrator Gerald McKay ruled that city officials failed to prove they had sufficient cause to fire Peck from the $225,000-a-year job. McKay gave the city 30 days to negotiate damages with Peck’s attorney, Norman Kirshman, who is predicting an award “in excess of a million dollars…”

McKay wrote that the city’s contract with Peck made it clear she could be fired “for any reason or for no reason,” but if she were to be fired without cause, as defined by the contract, she would be entitled to compensation…

Kirshman said Peck received no formal performance reviews during her time as manager or anything in writing that found fault with how she was doing her job…

In the wake of her complaints about not receiving formal evaluations, the City Council resumed the practice of conducting regular reviews of its top three administrators for the first time since 2002.”

It’s not clear from the story just how much of a factor the lack of a performance review played in the arbitrator’s ruling, but not having one (or more) reviews certainly helped make the fired city manager’s point that she was fired “without cause” and entitled to compensation upon termination.

If this isn’t yet another wake up call – a million dollar one — for guys like me who hate doing performance reviews, I don’t know what is. Avoid them at your own peril.

There’s more than performance reviews in the news this week, and here are some other workplace and HR-related items you may have missed while celebrating the New Year. Yes, this is a weekly round up of news, trends, and all sorts of information from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Best and Worst jobs of 2010 – Life is good if you are a software engineer, mathematician, actuary, statistician, or computer systems analysts. Those were rated the best jobs of the year according to a new study on the best and worst jobs by Careercast.com, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal . On the other end of the scale (from the bottom up), are roustabout, lumberjack, iron worker, dairy farmer, and welder.
  • Flex schedules and part-time work takes hold in Europe. The New York Times had an interesting story about the growth of flexible (and part-time) work arrangements in Europe, with a focus on how it is growing in the Netherlands. “In just a few years, part-time work has ceased being the prerogative of woman with little career ambition, and become a powerful tool to attract and retain talent — male and female — in a competitive Dutch labor market. Indeed, for a growing group of younger professionals, the appetite for a shorter, a more flexible workweek appears to be spreading, with implications for everything from gender identity to rush-hour traffic.”
  • Who are the worst bosses? – There are always lots of best and worst lists at the end of the year, but here’s one I haven’t seen before: America’s Worst Bosses 2010, by the website www.ebosswatch.com (their tagline – “Nobody should have to work with a jerk.”) Hard to tell how credible this list is (I have never, ever heard of any of the workplace experts on their eBossWatch panel, and I track this stuff for a living), but you can never go wrong highlighting terrible bosses and management practices given how pervasive they are in American society.
  • A not-so-relaxed dress code. In a lot of offices, formal business attire has made way for a more casual (and flexible) sense of workplace dress. That’s how it was at the State Farm corporate offices in Bloomington, Illinois, but as the Bloomington Pantagraph newspaper points out, that’s changing. “Three years after relaxing its dress code, State Farm Insurance Cos. has a message for employees: Shorts are a no-no. The change was effective Jan. 1 and primarily impacts the Corporate South complex, specifically the systems department. Some employees there who don’t regularly interact with customers or upper-level management were wearing shorts on warm-weather days.”
  • Why “Anger is illogical.” Anger can be a huge workplace issue, and that’s why this One Minute Galactica video (from Nerdy Instructional Films) is so much fun – especially if you are a fan of the original “Star Trek” series. Enjoy.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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