Performance is a key objective for companies. Just as they are under pressure to become more focused, effective and efficient in executing their strategy, so are their employees.

Employee performance (or appraisal) reviews are a great way to measure performance. They’re also a great way to connect strategic objectives with day-to-day activities. Plus, they help managers and HR professionals determine employee compensation.

For generations, these reviews have been done at the end of the year (fiscal or calendar). In the last decade, companies have added mid-year reviews to provide opportunities to check in on progress. Even with these adjustments, such a structured system doesn’t always work in the best interest of every employee.

Limitations for employees in transition

Employees on parental leave during annual appraisals or those who have returned shortly before the process kicks off miss out on this key process. This will impact their current employee performance record as well as their compensation. What’s more, often times, these records form a benchmark that’s used to decide future years’ performance and compensation.

Such an outcome further widens pay gap between employees and drives high performing employees away. It’s why one-third of US companies (e.g., Adobe, Microsoft, Deloitte, PwC, Gap, General Electric) are moving away from annual processes. Instead, they are placing their bets on ongoing, informal check-ins between managers and employees.

The verdict is still out on the effectiveness of such programs, so most companies are continuing with their performance programs. Below are proactive steps HR and managers can take to ensure the annual review process benefits pregnant employees and those returning from parental leave.

If you’re an employee returning from leave, review the 5 things you can do to get the most out of your performance appraisal.

HR processes that support parents in transition

To ensure your annual performance process benefits all employees, including pregnant employees and new parents returning from leave, HR should consider making adjustments to their appraisal process. Such steps include:

Perform annual appraisal before the employee’s leave begins

To ensure consistency with all employees missing this important business exercise due to parental leave, develop a process for managers to complete this exercise with the employee three-to-four weeks ahead of their leave start date.

Create a goal-setting process for leavers and returnees

All employees benefit from the goal setting process. For those about to head out on leave, setting general career goals will provide a roadmap to be used upon their return. For returning employees, setting goals can provide direction and focus on the right activities that will deliver value to the team.

Reconfigure HR systems to more fairly account for gaps resulting from leaves

To avoid long-term penalties of leave, update HR systems and processes – tech-based and otherwise – to keep clear record of an employee’s last full year’s ratings and compensation. This way salary and performance bases are built upon full-year metrics and not those provided during partial years.

Managers that lead employees through transitions

On the frontline, managers play a key role in the performance review process. It’s never an easy role. It’s even trickier when working with employees in transition to or from parental leave. These strategies can help you get the most of your employees over the long-term.

Set priorities to increase returnee’s productivity

During times of transition and uncertainty, productivity and efficiency can be compromised. If your employee was absent during the regular goal-setting cycle, be sure to complete the process upon their return. Doing so will provide your employee with a roadmap to once again become a valuable contributor to the team. Begin with a comprehensive review of the business and company goals. Be sure to cover any changes that may have happened during their leave. As you do, discuss opportunities where the returnee can contribute to specific objectives, and together, set goals and priorities for the next several months. This will focus energies on the tasks that matter, at least initially. Over time, build on these goals.

Focus on ongoing, informal feedback

Expecting employees or those returning from leave are experiencing significant life changes that can negatively affect their confidence and performance at work. To build confidence, while offering the coaching and guidance that may be needed during this time, provide ongoing, informal performance feedback. In real time, provide praise, share feedback collected from others and offer coaching when you spot areas for improvement. This is a good practice for all employees, but can be especially beneficial for employees in transition.

Discuss future career aspirations and development goals

If you’re expecting employee will be out on leave during the goal setting process, be sure to take time a few weeks before her leave to discuss future goals, development opportunities, and general career ambitions and aspirations. Employees on leave for a short time period should tied their goals specifically to team objectives. If leave will be longer, use the time to talk more generally about career aspirations and development opportunities. Doing so will help the employee begin to consider opportunities, while also providing her a guidepost that can be used to accelerate her return. Be sure to record goals before her leave, so they can be referenced upon her return.

Discuss communication preferences for maternity leave

Things can change, and sometimes, rather quickly. As you set goals with your employee, take a few minutes to discuss if, when and how often she wants to stay in contact with you and the team. Does she want to be notified of a job opportunity that aligns with her career goals? If there is a strategic or business shift on the team, how would she like to be notified?   

Do you have any best practices in managing this important business exercise for expecting and returning parents? Share it in the comments below.

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