When performance reviews happen depends, of course, on your own employer’s calendar. But come, they will. (That is, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who either has no performance review cycle. Or whose employer has chosen to freeze everyone’s positions and pay this year because of the pandemic. Yes, there are employers doing this. Hint, hint.)
Some organizations these days are adopting COVID-related manager training that instructs managers how to take into account an understanding that certain employees simply had a reduced potential for completing goals this year.
Regardless of how well managers have been trained, though, the review process itself is likely to give many of us heartburn. Knowing we are judging ourselves against potentially impossible-to-meet standards is anxiety-producing. Full stop.
One mama and Mindful Return alum reached out to me last week with the following question related to performance reviews. I decided to feature it here, as I know this issue is top-of-mind for so many working parents these days.
A Working Mom’s Question About Performance Reviews
Question from a Working Mama (with a Toddler):
I’m scheduled to have a meeting with my manager soon as part of our organization’s process for performance reviews. Our new system focuses on progress toward current and future goals, rather than work that has been done in the past. One question we’re asked to reflect on is, “Where would you like to stretch and grow?” Is there a positive way I can answer this question of “stretching and growing at work,” while being honest with myself and the fact that I just can’t imagine stretching more than I can at the moment? Is there a way you recommend that I can still gain back and leverage the momentum I had pre-Covid? And build a case around my value to the company, even though my current situation seems to make me a less than ideal contributor at this point in time?
My Response to This Working Mama:
Thanks so much for reaching out. I hope it’s okay that I shared your question with my husband, who is a career coach. He declared, “It’s not a fair question! That’s a pre-COVID assessment that isn’t relevant anymore.” Okay, so maybe it’s still relevant, but he has a good point. (And I always appreciate his enthusiasm for just causes.)
Here are my thoughts about how to approach your review:
- Reinforce Your Long-Term Commitment: There’s a way to be authentic in declaring your commitment to the company for the long term, while being honest about short-term limitations. Perhaps you can frame shared commitments to one another in a way that takes a longer view.
- What “Stretching and Growing” Looks Like Right Now May Be Different: Is there a way to frame your career commitment as one of “sustainability under the current extenuating circumstances“? For you, stretching right now in your career might be finding a way to balance toddler caregiving with a full-time job, while getting more than 4 hours of sleep per night.
- Patience with Ourselves: In terms of gaining back momentum, I think the best thing we can offer ourselves right now is patience and self-compassion. If you are committed to career momentum, it will still be there when this disaster is over. Remember this mantra: it’s not me, it’s the pandemic.
- Enlist Help in Prioritizing: Is there a way to flip the question around (in your conversation) to ask your supervisor what she or he would *prefer* your #1 priority to be, given there are fewer hours in a day to accomplish things right now?
There is a fundamental injustice in evaluating working parents who, through no fault of their own, simply cannot work like we did before COVID. The companies we want to keep working for when this is over, I think, are the ones who will take these factors into account. Good luck with your conversation, and keep me posted.
Performance Reviews: The Outcome?
I was grateful this alum reached out after her conversation to let me know how it went.
She told me that her manager was understanding of her goal “to strike a good balance with work and home life.” She said she asked for help with project timelines and communicating where her team needs to push back when they don’t have any capacity. And together they re-defined what “maximum capacity means” in this moment.
This mama also noted that while she didn’t focus on her own prior accomplishments, her manager encouraged her to do so and to take pride in those. (YES! More of this from managers, please!!)
She was glad to have approached the conversation in a way that was open and honest. And I’m so glad it led to a good outcome for her.
As working parents in an era of #wfhwk, we are struggling so much these days with our own professional identities. As we are forced to confront those identities head-on in performance review season, let’s not allow our own judgments and self-criticism get the better of us. That we are alive and putting one foot in front of the other is a miracle these days.
Again, my dear working parents, it’s not you, it’s the pandemic.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave