can I refuse to do a self-assessment?

A reader writes:

I work at a university where the staff is more or less divided into Professional or Technical/Clerical. I’m a long-time technical/clerical worker, which means I’m in the union. I have no real feelings about my union one way or another — I see both the good and the bad. One of the things about being a union member is that I never get bonuses; we get yearly raises under the terms of the contract. It also means that I have no way to stay in the union and be promoted. I’m both at the top of my pay scale/step AND the highest grade I have can have (the jobs are graded A-E, A being the most entry level, E being not applicable in my instance)

Every year or so, the university gets in an uproar about self-assessments and every time it comes up, I refuse. No one claims that it’s mandatory, but HR sends out pseudo-perky THIS IS FOR YOUR BENEFIT emails, but no one will say what exactly is being done with the information once the form is submitted. Professional staff are also expected to fill them out, which I understand. They have bonuses and yearly raises and the self-assessment makes a difference for them, since they have measurable goals/expectations and sitting down with their supervisor will play a role in their bonus.

Since there is no benefit at all for me, personally (and honestly, no benefit for any union member), am I wrong to refuse? I’ve been in my position for a very very long time, I’m good at my job, I’m considered (or so people have told me) extremely knowledgeable and helpful well above and beyond my grade. I make a generous salary. Frankly, I find it slightly insulting to be asked to fill it out, not only because of the above mentioned no benefit whatsoever to me in my position, but the implication being I’m not self-aware enough to know what my weaknesses are and that I wouldn’t take my own steps to work on these weaknesses.

I’m semi-sure I’m overreacting, but I guess I just needed a reality check. What is the point of self assessment in my situation? Do you know?

In theory the point of self-assessments is that it’s useful to set aside time to reflect on your work, what’s going well, what could be going better, and work goals for the coming year, and it’s useful for managers and employees to make sure they’re both on the same page about those things. If I’m your manager and I have concerns about your work in area X and your self-assessment is glowing about X, then clearly we have a disconnect and it’s useful for us both to know that so we can try to figure out why we see things so differently. (That’s not code for “so that your manager can tell you that you’re wrong.” It’s possible that you have info your manager doesn’t, and that sharing that info will change her perspective. That’s actually really common.)

That stuff is valuable even if it’s not tied to raises, bonuses, or promotions. It’s about your work and how you do it, and even if you know that you regularly reflect on those things on your own, part of the value here is doing it in combination with your manager.

That’s in theory. In reality, a lot of self-assessments, and review processes in general, are badly done and of limited value. Often that’s because they focus on the wrong things. They should focus on what you’ve achieved, how you achieved it (because meeting goal X isn’t so great if you did it by, for example, alienating all your coworkers), what you’re striving to achieve next, any places where you and/or your manager would like to see you improve/grow, and what support you need from your manager along the way. Too often, though, they focus on goals that don’t reflect what your focus really needed to be during the time in question or goals no one ever even informed you of, or they aren’t given any real weight and are just a box-checking bureaucratic exercise, or are mostly fluff, and/or are never discussed with your manager and thus appear to go into a void.

If some of that is the case with yours, I can see why you don’t see any value in doing them. And hey, if you can flat-out refuse to do it without any consequences, I’m not going to tell you that you need to. (It’s also really intriguing that you’ve just not been doing them and no one has said anything.)

But in your shoes, I’d want to be sure there really aren’t any consequences. Yes, you haven’t been fired or disciplined for not doing it — but is it making you look adversarial or difficult to work with? Is it making your boss conclude you’re not someone to consider for higher-level responsibilities or promotions, and if so do you care about that? Is it contributing to an overall impression that you’re kind of a pain in the ass (and thus making it more likely you could be the one who gets cut if someone needs to be cut someday)?

You might know for sure none of that is happening. You might be widely hailed as the department rock star for all I know, in which case more power to you! Or you simply might not care about that stuff; not everyone does.

But this is a pretty minor hill to take a stand on if there are any consequences.

Since most of your objection to doing a self-assessment seems to be “what’s the point?” … why not ask your boss that? Tell her you’re not clear on how they’re used or how to make them of value, and see what she says. If you’re not satisfied with her answer, so be it. But since you’re taking kind of a stand here, it’s worth at least having that discussion and hearing the answer.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonym*

    A very helpful walkthrough. I will add to the “how assessments/goals can be unhelpful” list my own company’s directive – don’t include BAU items in your goals, only stretch goals. ?!?!?! The result is that reviews/assessments seem to cover only stuff that’s outside of the core job… which is not exactly a strong basis to assess anyone’s performance in their core job. Luckily the guidance changes every year anyway, so with a little luck this unhelpful parameter will disappear soon enough.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — if doing an excellent job includes keeping the routine stuff running smoothly, assessments/goals need to include that stuff as well. (BAU = business as usual, for anyone confused by that.)

      1. Whonow*

        I definitely thought she meant Criminal Minds-style BAU and I was confused for a second.

    2. Insomniac*

      Thank you for bringing this up. I hadn’t given critical thought to this before and now my brain gears are turning and opinions are forming. What an interesting topic! Before now, I didn’t pay this much mind.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      My workplace does this too. Every year we’re supposed to come up with a new set of goals that can’t be our regular job duties. Which means we’re essentially never rated on how well we actually do our jobs, just on how well we do the special extra assignments we picked out for ourselves at the beginning of the year. I hate it.

      1. Cranky lady*

        My department does the same thing but I could never put my finger on why it bothered me. This explains it so clearly.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        In my job each year we’re supposed to set goals for ourselves–but we have no obligation to tell our supervisors what those goals are! Okay, then.

      3. kitryan*

        My office has started with this baloney too. Starting a few months into the pandemic they started up with these OCR plans that were all stretch goals/improvement stuff. This made a degree of sense since everyone was WFH all of a sudden and all the support staff weren’t doing the usual in office tasks so a lot of people had more free time. However, my teammate had been laid off and my work load had by this time actually increased. So I was having to take time away from my core duties to make up a bunch of stuff I knew I wouldn’t have time to do, and then regularly confirm that I hadn’t had time to do it, due to my overwhelming workload and no teammate. All of which is a bit demoralizing.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      It’s like they missed the part of the process where you put your normal responsibilities in for “meets expectations” and stretch goals/extra projects for “exceeds expectations.” Unless you can only meet expectations by going above and beyond?

      The flip side of using normal work as your goals is when the quality of people’s goals varies a lot and there’s no guidance. You could put down almost anything you wanted, provided it was work related, and that made it somewhat easy to game the system. One time I was allowed to put as a goal that I would read 5 journal articles that year to meet expectations, and 10 to exceed expectations. The nature of my work was that I’d easily have to read 20+ articles, minimum so it was a throwaway metric, but a better process would exclude filler like that.

  2. MusicWithRocksIn*

    Man I hate self-assessments. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten myself more stressed out about doing self assessments then any other projects I have worked on professionally. And pretty much every single time I’ve done one my manager has assured me I’m way to hard on myself and actually I’m doing great, but it sounds really cocky to fill out an assessment talking about how awesome I am. One manager did tell me that all the people who fill out their assessments with a glowing review of themselves are usually the ones that aren’t doing well, and the people who are very critical of their work are the ones that are doing great.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Dunning-Kruger Effect vs. Imposter Syndrome

        Coming soon to a self-assessment near you!

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        There’s a certain level of knowledge you have to have about something to realize you’re not good at it. I tried to google the study I read about this and I can’t think of the right key words to find it, but there’s research that shows that beginners at a given task tend to think they’re doing well, because they don’t know enough yet to realize all the things they’re doing wrong. As you learn more of what it takes to be good at that task, you start to see all the ways in which you could be doing better.

        1. Consciously commenting*

          The terms I’ve learned for this, in order of mastery, are:
          Unconsciously Incompetent (don’t even know you’re bad at it)
          Consciously Incompetent (still bad at it, but you know where to improve)
          Consciously Competent (good at it as long as you’re paying attention)
          Unconsciously Competent (so good at it you don’t even think about it)

    1. Chrissimas*

      I tie myself in knots doing them. I’ve been told to rate yourself high and if the manager disagrees they can explain why because you don’t want them to think less of you if you rate yourself low. That was…not good advice.

      Now I just give myself a slightly higher rating than the previous year. They are very involved and frankly it’s all gobbledygook to me. I just guess at what they want to hear for the most part. I know they have their eye on me for promotion and it makes me nervous that I can’t seem to do this particular dance.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        A previous job I was in (software industry), we went through a few rounds of annual changes of the self-assessment platform. The first two or so were terrible – maybe worked for sales people, but not for technical staff at all. We ended up settling onto something pretty lightweight and flexible, with either no or a very mild emphasis on rating yourself, and we were assured that there was no company-wide effort to compare self-assessment ratings between individuals. Also, we weren’t getting bonuses anyway, so this wasn’t tied to that. I also knew that the assessment was (supposedly) a tool to have a performance conversation with my manager on a regular schedule, and that they’d probably disappear into my file forever to be forgotten after one year is fully over and the next round has completed (ie, we were looking at the previous year’s form but that’s that). I tend to be too hard on me, too, and this depersonalized way of having to do it helped me take some of the emotional baggage out of it – it’s just an exercise that fulfills a business purpose that, in the form it was designed, I agreed with.

        The final version, I could enjoy as an annual “check-in” with my manager about development goals, one year’s worth of professional evolution, pain points, opportunities, and the like. I also saw it from the other side since I was in charge of running the annual performance review meetings with my team members. I kept it conversational, exploratory, and positive.

        If the employer is not even able to articulate what the goal of the self-assessment is, how it is used, what the manager is supposed to do with it, what happens to the form, etc. then, given that it’s not mandatory, I would applaud the resistance to completing it! Murky form-filling at the edges of something so key to running an organization as employee performance should not be normalized.

        On the other hand, I also don’t think that there is anything insulting about being asked to reflect on where you stand with respect to the job functions, skills-wise, workload-wise etc., and what direction to turn to next.

    2. Goldenrod*

      I have a suggestion – keep the form ready to go and every time you do something good at work, add it in real time.

      When I started doing this – filling out the form during the year in real time, rather than leaving it for the end of the year – it got a LOT easier. By the time the end of the year has rolled around, you’ve already added a lot of content to it, so it’s easy peasy.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        This is a splendid idea. I wish self-assessments were constructed like this from the get-go. People might find more value in them this way.

        1. Hummer on the Hill*

          My most recent employer changed appraisal forms with regularity. So, every year, I’d start an “Accomplishments” file that I kept current with what I did. It really helped to remind me when I had to do my self-appraisal. I’d be sure to note down “soft skills” in the file to help with that section.

          1. Holly Handbasket*

            I do this as well. I track it by month (roughly) and also include emails that are praise etc or direct feedback. At around October, I work through the list and start to directly link it to my objectives (to gh draft of my self-assessment) and then tidy it up around submission time!

          2. GrumpyGnome*

            I do that too! I call mine a ‘Gold File’ and keep track of those emails where I’m thanked for going above and beyond, the extra projects I take on, and so. So much easier at the end of the year when it’s all in one place.

      2. glitter writer*

        Yes. For the last 10-12 years I’ve kept a running file — a Google Doc, a spreadsheet, whatever — with major metrics or accomplishments, and I log them when they happen. That makes going back a year later to figure out what I did much easier.

        In my field of work that’s often something like a media appearance, or having our work cited in certain venues or boosted by certain people, but in previous careers I also used to track projects completed, praise from external vendors, and so on. Took about half the pain out of annual self-assessments.

      3. Cat Tree*

        I do something similar. I just keep a running list of my projects and accomplishments throughout the year. It’s nothing onerous, just a brief note to job my memory. Then during performance reviews I have a good starting point.

        One of my work friends has an Outlook folder where she moves relevant emails, especially ones where someone praised or thanked her for her work.

        There are a bunch of ways to do achieve it, but it’s super useful to look at your work through the lens of performance reviews as you’re doing it and find a way to remember what you did in January when filling out the form in November.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, at my last job we did self assessments, and I would start a new Word doc at the beginning of every year to keep track of the stuff I knew I would need to include. It made the process so much less painful.

      5. CurrentlyBill*

        This also makes it a lot easier to update a resume with accomplishments and be able to answer behavioral interview questions.

      6. Glitsy Gus*

        I do this, I use an excel sheet because we change up our form pretty much every year, but it is essentially the same idea.

        I don’t stress about it too much, if I forget to throw something on there, NBD. It just helps to have the notes when you are sitting there in February thinking, “what the hell DID I do last January??”

        1. JustaTech*

          I can’t agree enough on how easy it is to forget what you’ve done in a year (even a normal-ish year). One year annual review time came around just after we’d had a catastrophic server loss and I was still missing a lot of my yearly notes. But the review system didn’t care, so I did my best to remember what I’d done.

          Then a coworker suggested a way I could find some of my missing files and in them, bam, a whole huge project I’d shoved through pretty much by myself in like two and a half months that I had totally forgotten about. I probably forgot about it because it wasn’t very interesting, and I had some objections to it, but it was a big project I did very quickly, and it was to satisfy some very, very high up people, so it was still a big deal.

          And if I hadn’t found my notes I would have totally left it off my review!

    3. GreenDoor*

      “all the people who fill out their assessments with a glowing review of themselves are usually the ones that aren’t doing well, and the people who are very critical of their work are the ones that are doing great.” This right here is why self assessments are awful. Especially if you’re like me and live in the Midwest where, culturally, we don’t like to appear to “braggy.” The stress of trying to figure out that balance of being honest – without being too humble or too boastful is awful.

      So, I’m with the OP. Why go through all that mental torture if it doesn’t affect your pay/bonus, won’t affect your ability to be promoted, or where you don’t even get helpful feedback from your superiors.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’ve found the way to balance “boastful” and “humble” is to imagine that you’re writing about a close coworker rather than yourself. (Preferably a coworker you like.) I actually write my reviews/assessments in the third person (as though JustaTech is the gal who sits next to me and not me), then go back and put it in first person before I send it to my boss.

        Things that feel like bragging when you’re talking about yourself often sound and feel much more matter-of-fact when you’re talking about someone else.

        I also enjoy the perspective on the year; what *did* I do this year? What I don’t love are the things like “how does this tie into our corporate values hashtags?” and “rank yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of your goals, but know that the corporate structure still insists that the employee ratings fit a bell-curve, so you’re going to end up shoved to “average” unless you single-handedly saved the company”.

        1. kitryan*

          Yup, the third person/’my friend and coworker, who is me’ approach is what I do, as I am also too inured to my good points and too critical of my flaws.
          I also, as others have said, keep (in my case) an outlook folder where I add any ‘nice’ emails to track particularly good outcomes and things others thought were worth praising in the moment and I review that when I need to write up my accomplishments.

        2. SnappinTerrapin*

          I like that advice. My cultural upbringing discourages me from overtly “bragging” about my accomplishments.

          I’ve always struggled with being objective enough to recognize both my needs for improvement and the things I’m doing well.

          That third person approach will be helpful in private assessments, and if I ever work for another organization with a structured evaluation system, I’ll try to carry that over – and suggest it to my reports.

    4. Jillian*

      At my previous job, I ALWAYS gave myself the top scores because I knew managers were discouraged from giving perfect ratings and I liked to watch him squirm while he tried to explain why he scored me lower. Whatever I gave myself, he gave me one level down. Always.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I love the thought, but I have never mastered the mental gymnastics to claim I’ve exceeded my own expectations of myself.

        I never know how to evaluate my greatest accomplishments, either; if I automate away an opportunity to a mistake, do I claim prevention of mistakes that never occurred? At some point, that just becomes baseline…

      2. Queer Manager*

        This is opposite the last company I worked for! I consider myself an exemplary employee (with reason, I live in a small town and I have had multiple bidding wars to get me!) I ranked myself mostly with 4/5 because I could see ways I could be better. My boss at the time ranked me completely with 5/5. He took me aside afterwards and told me that yes I do occasionally chat with coworkers and don’t always give 100%. But no one does! If you give your all 80% of the time you are better than most employees. Everyone needs to realize that. We are human and it’s ridiculous to think that we can perform at peak abilities all the time.

    5. Ama*

      I’ve come to a level of acceptance with the one we do at my current job — I like that it is six text questions and doesn’t assign any kind of numerical or quality grade. The only question I hate is that, because we are a nonprofit, our last question is “How did you live the mission of [employer] this year?” (I’m pretty sure the Board forced that one in, because in general we don’t talk like that among the staff.) My response every year is a thinly veiled “I didn’t quit in the middle of y’all continuing to understaff and overbook my department, or the fact that you expect me to act as a department head while not giving me the title or pay of one.” That makes this place sound way worse than it is — that questions just really triggers my resentment.

    6. Simply the best*

      I also hate self-assessments. I seem to have fairly good self-awareness so I fill them out pretty accurately. But I just feel so awkward talking about myself in that manner.

      My boss actually says she always looks forward to mine because they end up being funny. I’m not trying to be funny, I’m just uncomfortable, but I guess my self-assessments end up being the written version of nervous laughter the whole way through.

    7. Tupac Coachella*

      I definitely have a mental block against being un-humble that can make self assessments difficult as well. One way that I’ve reframed the feeling that it’s cocky to talk myself up is keeping in mind that actually I’m not-I’m giving a factual account of events. My boss is responsible for meeting certain goals, and one of those goals is getting me to do my job well. If I don’t tell her what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and what the outcomes were, she looks like a fool in performance conversations with HER boss. It’s essential for her to be able to clearly understand and articulate what I’m really doing, not the “aw shucks” version that gives bare minimum information about whether my job is getting done. I’m giving her critical information to help her assess how well she as a boss and the department as a whole are functioning, and it would be unfair of me to withhold information she needs to do her job.

  3. Sam*

    I guess I’ve never connected my being in a union to self-assessments? Being in a union doesn’t somehow prevent you from having performance/planning/goal-setting conversations with your manager, or is at least it’s orthogonal to what’s actually preventing you.

    I think you’re assuming that the self-assessments are exclusively used to determine compensation, and I’d wonder where you got that idea, honestly.

    1. Rebecca1*

      Same question here- public school teachers are unionized and normally have to do self-assessments, at least in the states I’m familiar with.

    2. No Name Today*

      You make an excellent point.
      “HR sends out pseudo-perky THIS IS FOR YOUR BENEFIT emails, but no one will say what exactly is being done with the information once the form is submitted.”
      OP, if you really don’t know what the purpose is, you can ask. Explain exactly what you have here.
      “HR has not clearly explained the purpose of these. It seems to me they must be used to help determine raises and bonuses. If that is correct, I don’t think it applies to me because…”
      You are certainly allowed to ask about this.

    3. Charlotte*

      +1, I’m in a very similar clerical/technical university union and we still have to do self-assessments! Luckily we don’t have to give ourselves ratings, though, just list out some accomplishments from the past year and some goals/areas for improvement. I do find it kind of stupid but it also takes 15 minutes and is definitely not the sort of thing I’d personally want to spend goodwill on refusing to do.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      I think the union bit is referring to how she’s never going to get a raise except through union mandatory increases.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      Not the OP’s situation, but our union specifically tells us *not* to fill out self-evaluations for annual reviews. We write our own performance goals, we have the review meetings with managers, but we aren’t required to (and are advised by the union not to) do the self-evaluation portion. Non-union employees are supposed to but I assume they can choose not to, or at least I’ve heard people indicate that they don’t and haven’t seemed to face any consequences from it.

    6. Glitsy Gus*

      It can depend on the workplace. Two places I’ve worked pay and promotion discussions really is the only thing assessments were used for.

      In theory there was more to it, but in actual practice you were just listing out the things you did to qualify for a slightly higher merit increase (these are bad systems, but they very much exist). If you have a union covering that part, and the company’s assessment system really isn’t set up to do more than justify pay adjustments, I totally understand OP’s feeling on this.

    7. Birch*

      Yep, I’m wondering this too. If your self assessment procedure seems sketchy or unhelpful, that’s something that can be addressed, but that doesn’t mean all self assessments are pointless if they’re not connected to compensation, which they normally aren’t, if you consider that it would have to be a manager or supervisor reviewing your self-assessment to actually connect it to a raise!

      I’m also at a university but in the opposite position as teaching and research staff, meaning my salary is directly tied to funding, and promotions and raises don’t exist for me, and we absolutely have to do self assessments! The point is for you to get on the same page with your supervisors. Ideally you’d be having these conversations in more depth on a regular basis with your direct line manager, but our self assessments are conversations had with someone who oversees a handful of people at a time and who doesn’t work closely with any of us but who is responsible for our general work structure and development. It’s an opportunity to make sure we’re on the same page with that person, for them to get a big picture view of our career path, and for us to get some advice about how to move forward most effectively. I think this works well, but obviously isn’t possible to have individual conversations with a larger group. I would advise OP to ask how the info is being used–if no one is looking at the assessments, then there’s no point and there’s a case for changing that system. If they are being looked at, it would be helpful to know who is using that info.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I have seen this. Apparently, management never noticed, because they never compared one year to the next. It was more of a “check this box that we’ve done this and throw all those things in a file cabinet.” In which case, I can easily see LW’s point. I wouldn’t want to waste the time or effort on it either.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      In OP’s case, looks like no one will read their assessment, so… this should work.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      They could probably fill one in at random, like making pretty patterns on a multiple choice scantron. The fact that they do this every year, but no one has ever said anything about the OP blowing it off, suggests that this is strictly a box-checking exercise.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yep. This is strictly a “we value the process” thing rather than a “we value the results” thing.

    4. NYWeasel*

      At Old Job, part of the self assessment was a bunch of writing prompts along the lines of “At LlamaCorp we value enthusiasm, perseverance and teamwork. How have you demonstrated these values in your work over the past year?”

      This was a ton of garbage writing, so I basically drafted three annual reviews that I cycled through, and just modified the project particulars year by year. I knew the bosses would look back to the previous year, but no one EVER could remember what was written three years before, so I could zip through all the crappy questions super fast.

  4. Man of Bats*

    Oh my. This person probably has literally no incentive to do these. Even the layoffs one is likely off base — there is probably a collectively bargained for layoff process that is based on seniority.

    If the employer actually cares about this (and it seems they don’t) this letter is a good reason for them to fix this when they negotiate the next collective bargaining agreement.

    People will of course view this as a problem with unions, but it’s really a problem of the employer not knowing what it needs and wants when negotiating the contract. It’s problematic when you can have employees saying “well, this doesn’t affect me so there’s no reason I should care about it.”

    1. sagc*

      I mean, I see my incentive to do these – in a very similar university role to the LW – as informing my boss how I’m doing, and what I need support, etc on?

      Are there union contracts that actively *ban* self-assessments? I know they often mandate periodic reviews and set up things like the layoff process, but I don’t think I’ve seen one where the right not to do a self-assessment was spelled out.

      1. Ursula*

        Theoretically a contract can have anything everyone agrees to in it, as long as it’s not illegal. I’ve never seen a provision like that either, though.

  5. Guacamole Bob*

    One thing to keep in mind is that the annual self-assessment and performance review process can be a good time to ask for things you want. Changes to the cadence of checkins with your manager, moving something annoying off your plate, better tech for work from home, better communication on some aspect of an ongoing project, the chance to go to more conferences, or whatever. Sure, you may be good at taking stock regularly and asking for things ad hoc, but it can be useful to take a few minutes every now and then to think about whether there are things that will help you be happier in your job and/or more productive or effective.

    The same way Alison encourages people to think of interviews as a two-way street, a good annual performance process can also be a two-way process and a good time to let your manager know about things you want to see change.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And it’s a great time to ask for training, classes, or to attend a conference.
      I can believe the OP is a rock star and the SME for their company, but there are always opportunities to learn more.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And if OP is a rock star, documenting that can be useful if she ever wants to ask for things. If you don’t want to be the one handling X annoying task anymore, it can be easier to make the case for that if you’ve shown that you’re handing more than your share of Y and you’re the go-to person on Z. Sure, your manager may know it, but it can help to have it spelled out in writing, especially if you are asking for something that’s different from others in the same job title or that has to be approved beyond your immediate manager. And even good managers don’t always see everything their employees are doing as clearly as the employee themselves does.

        1. pbnj*

          Agreed, this is a relatively easy way to ensure it’s documented stuff you rock on, and also to have your needs/wishes clearly documented. I’ve seen managers tell people that they didn’t “know” that someone wanted to try a different role, get training, etc., but when it’s written down formally, it’s harder for people to not be on the same page.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes, plus it’s good to have these things documented for your own use later: I have used both reviews and self-reviews when updating my resume. Or when I had to pitch myself for an internal role I started prepping for the interview and was like “oh, hey, I literally just made a list of some of the good things I’ve done this year so that’s a helpful starting place.”

  6. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    The OP isn’t clear about whether or not they want a promotion. They only state that if they get promoted they have to leave the union which they are neutral on. OP, if you want a promotion, not doing the self-assessment is likely to torpedo your chances of moving up, for all of the reasons Alison mentioned above. If you don’t want a promotion, then keep on doing what you’re doing, by all means.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      not doing the self-assessment is likely to torpedo your chances of moving up

      That’s a bit of a stretch. A lot of these things happen so that somebody somewhere can tick a box on something. Nobody ever looks at them afterward, which explains why LW is reluctant to invest in this. The fact that nobody has said anything to LW about not filling it out (which I’m assuming, since LW doesn’t mention it) says how much value the university places on the results.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, self-assessments are so pointless here I assumed this was my work, but they would lose their minds and nag you for eternity to fill it out here. No way could I get away with skipping it.

      2. Snow globe*

        I don’t know that it’s a big stretch. There could be a few areas that the LW should be working on improving to be ready for a promotion, but without doing the self assessment and discussing it with the manager, that may never come up and LW just won’t know.

      3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        I disagree. The substance of the self-assessments is clearly not important, but as Alison pointed out, not doing them can make them come across as hard to work with, not a team player, insubordinate, etc. All of those things are things managers pay attention to when evaluating whether or not to promote someone into a managerial role, which would logically be the next non-union step in this person’s career trajectory. If this person won’t play the game as an IC, why would they play it any better as a manager and how could they be trusted to ensure their reports do the same?

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      OP says, “I have no way to stay in the union and be promoted. I’m both at the top of my pay scale/step AND the highest grade I have can have.” They don’t quite come out and say they don’t want a non-union job, but it sounds to me like the LW has hit the top of the technical/clerical pay scale and has no interest in moving “up” to management/professional.

      In which case…well, not wanting a promotion but being hard to fire can be very liberating. :)

      1. Eye roll*

        “not wanting a promotion but being hard to fire can be very liberating”

        1000 thumbs up. Totally recommend.

        1. Rml*

          My dad was told he would be part of a 30 percent reduction in force, with 30 days notice. He was the facilities manager. In those 30 days he had boilers upgraded, buildings painted, and leaks repaired. All stuff his boss would never approve. His response to flak from his boss was “what are you going to do? Fire me?

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            What a generous use of that time, leaving things nicer for those who would still be working there after he’s gone!

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup. The OP doesn’t quite say they aren’t interested in a promotion, but they sure circle around it.

  7. Chairman of the Bored*

    I used to put a lot of effort into my yearly self-assessments, but several years ago stopped doing that and now essentially copy/paste the same content from year to year. I haven’t noticed any difference or negative outcomes as a result.

    At both my current job and most recent previous one I know that raise and bonus amounts are decided and set in stone *before* self-assessments are turned into management; even though the assessments are notionally one of the inputs into this calculation.

    1. AntsOnMyTable*

      Yep, at my job the review from the manager is what gives you your raise but you have to review yourself first. Every metric we have is subjective which is ludicrous in my opinion. I can write a novel explaining exactly everything I have done to be excellent in a category and it doesn’t matter. My manager knows what percent raise they want to give me and they just bump be up a few things to put me there and has no real correlation to my actual performance. It is frustrating.

  8. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I agree with you on most of your reasoning about self-assessments, especially given the negotiated nature of your role. However, I can’t agree with this:

    ‘Frankly, I find it slightly insulting to be asked to fill it out, not only because of the above mentioned no benefit whatsoever to me in my position, but the implication being I’m not self-aware enough to know what my weaknesses are and that I wouldn’t take my own steps to work on these weaknesses.’

    A good self-assessment tool, among other things, is a way to frame a discussion between you and your boss for development purposes – both to improve, and to maintain good performance. Most people are pretty self-aware but maybe can’t put things into words, or quantify the impact, or somesuch. Or they don’t really know how to self-correct, or measure how well their correction plan is working. These tools can be helpful. CAN be.

    Again, I agree that you’re not obligated to do the assessment, but I don’t see any implications here to make you bristle. Just a request to do the assessment because you’re one of the team, but the tool doesn’t serve your specific situation well. Ignore it if you can do so without blowback.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed. OP, with kindness, the reasons you give for being insulted seem to me to be a bit “chip on shoulder”. Is there maybe something else going on where you work that is leading you to feel this way?

      1. justsaynotoassessment!*

        OP again! I knew I’d come off sounding snarky about it, which wasn’t my intention. There really is nothing else happening, nothing underlying.

    2. Miss Muffet*

      Also agree – any time I hear about someone wanting to “refuse” to do a part of their job (face it, we all have dumb s*** we do in all our jobs, just bc it’s expected), I feel like, there’s no way this attitude isn’t seeping into other things. Which means you’re probably hard(er) to manage. Being that person doesn’t do you any favors, union or not. If you ever do want to be promoted, or even leave to another role, this is the kind of thing people remember.

      1. NYWeasel*

        My question is why this is suddenly a question for the OP to get answered. Did someone criticize his lack of assessments? Was there conflict over it with a boss? If there are no repercussions for not doing it, and OP gets no value from the exercise, then I’m not sure why it was something he’s wondering about. And thus, reading between the lines, I wonder if he’s trying to gear up for some argument he anticipated coming up about it.

        1. justsaynotoassessment!*

          OP here! It came up because HR sent out email about it earlier this month. As I (think) I said, they go all in about these assessments every two or so years, but never follow up. It almost seems like something they feel they have to request but after hitting send they’re done because an effort was made!

          No conflict at all, and no one has criticized me for not doing it. I really was just wondering if it was common practice.

      2. justsaynotoassessment!*

        OP again again! I think this is where I’m sounding like a pain in the butt, however, filling out this assessment is not considered part of my job. If it was, I’d do it. I’ve mentioned in a few replies that once HR sends out the request, there is absolutely no followup from anyone. My manager is completely on board with whatever decisions we (the administrative staff) make about it and I’ve had conversations with her about it, to make sure she wouldn’t have negative consequences from me not doing it, she hasn’t. It’s a victimless crime!

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Nice! Then you literally can get away with it and nobody cares but (sorta) HR!

          No, skipping it isn’t common practice, I don’t think. In this one respect, you are lucky.

        2. Jane of all Trades*

          On some level, if it’s part of the process that everybody is expected to participate in, OP, it is part of your job. Might not be a core part, but I would certainly view participating in your own review process as part of your job. Especially with something so minor (does this take more than 15 minute once a year to fill out?) it seems like an odd or inflexible stance to take.

        3. Die Elster*

          you seem to cleared up that you’re nothing like my experience, but I’ll share it here anyway.

          I manage a mixed group of union and non-union people, and we are all told to do a self-assessment every year as part of our annual review. In all of my years here, I have only ever encountered one person who simply refused to do one at all. They were a union member, had confirmed directly with the union that we could not require them to complete it (without their assessment their annual review would consist solely of their supervisor’s version) and simply refused.
          That personality bled into other aspects of work and what could be “required”, so it wasn’t only due to the assessment, but that person was viewed as a bit of a pain and not a good “team player”. It certainly would have an impact on their chances of advancement or recommendation.
          So that’s what I immediately think of when I hear someone is refusing to participate.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, offense is a strong and odd response to that. You know more about the day-to-day stuff you are doing than your boss does, so it’s useful for them to hear about it from your view or to have you point out things you’ve done that they might not know about or remember. So it’s not just about weaknesses but also about strengths!

      And it doesn’t even make sense to me to say that asking you to take a self-review implies you aren’t aware of your own weaknesses, if anything it’s the opposite because how could you review anything you aren’t aware of? (Although many if not most people wouldn’t be aware of all of them, or there may be things that aren’t objective weaknesses but that a boss might prefer you change so even that would be an odd thing to be offended about).

  9. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    Alison hits on a great point towards the end of her response:
    >Since most of your objection to doing a self-assessment seems to be “what’s the point?” … why not ask your boss that?
    Expanding this outside of doing self-assessments, asking the point behind something you don’t understand the need of offers an incredible two-way street. It’s entirely possible that your manager might not have even considered why something was being done, and it offers the opportunity to prune needless tasks that offer no value to the company. It’s also entirely possible that you simply don’t have the full-picture view of the tasking and that your small cog is important in the widget machine.

    1. Zephy*

      There are employers who will view someone asking for this kind of context as insubordination, though. Source: personal experience. I don’t know why my bosses read so much hostility into my asking, but they did. I don’t see the harm in letting me see the widget machine, as you so delightfully put it, beyond my little cog.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Normally I would say tone and diction make a difference. “What’s the point?” comes across very differently than “I’m wondering what the next step is now that I’ve completed this. What kind of feedback will I be getting?”

        Then again, we had a Boss From Hell™ who viewed the word “please” as an order, so…..

  10. AnonForThis*

    I’m currently slacking on doing mine, which is due in 2 days. It seems like every other year they change the system, which makes continuity hard.

    But what really hasn’t helped is this past year, my manager has become almost entirely disconnected from us. We work great without him but it still feels weird to have had maybe a half-dozen conversations with him in that time, usually dropping some weird new development that it feels like we should have known before then.

    If he weren’t actually reading these*, I’d feel like putting “doing great all things considered” in every blank and calling it a day.

    *I assume. We got no feedback on the midyear evals but he has a new direct boss now, so I expect he’s reading them.

  11. MassMatt*

    I admit as a manager I had mixed feelings about putting work into doing reviews/assessments for my team when I knew full well that everyone was going to get a 2% increase regardless. I still put in the work for the sake of my team members’ growth and giving them feedback, etc. but it was aggravating when both high performers and mediocre ones were treated exactly the same when it came to anything tangible. Yes, perhaps someone scoring 4/5 and being told they’re doing great feels good, but it’s really undercut by no raises or raises the same for everyone across the board.

    With that said it does sound as though the LW sees no value in the process, and maybe that’s not entirely the LW’s fault? Maybe the managers at the workplace are phoning it in and not really putting any thought into the review process, which is a shame.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Well, here they don’t raise your pay no matter what you do, at best you get “meets expectations.” Why knock yourself out on trying to do better?

  12. Salad Daisy*

    Self assessments at my company: We are sent a list of goals from our grandboss in November for the current year, the year which is about to end. We enter those goals in the assessment software, then mark them all “on target”. Manager goes over them with you in December and gives you a numerical rating between 1 and 5. In order to get a raise, you need to get a 4. Nobody ever gets a 4, so nobody gets a raise. Last time I got a 3.85. Then the new year starts, and we have no idea what our goals are again until 11 months down the road. This is a waste of time.

  13. Kat*

    I have a similar frustration with the self-review at my job too (admin staff at private college, no unions) in that they say they are VERY IMPORTANT and will HELP YOU, but I have never been able to see how. At least in my department we actually have a pretty healthy work culture so I am in touch with my supervisor and her manager frequently so they are well aware of my work/accomplishments/goals and I get appropriate feedback throughout the year. I know where I stand, where I excel and where I could improve. They tell me the reviews are all read by our director and VP, but for what purpose? No one can say. As an organization they rarely give raises for merit and there is no formal process for promotions or career advancement so the review has no impact in that area. Do they use the information in the reviews for strategic planning? Does it influence work planning or organizational structure? It’d be nice to know.

  14. Astor*

    OP, as someone in a similarly designed union, where my pay is tied to my job/seniority and my boss can’t promote (or demote) me, I want to clarify that when Alison says, “[is] it making your boss conclude you’re not someone to consider for higher-level responsibilities or promotions, and if so do you care about that?” I translate that question to “is it making your boss conclude that you’re not someone whose expertise should be trusted or considered for a strong recommendation, and if so do you care about that?” I have had jobs/bosses where I care, and ones where I don’t care.

    It may also help to hear that if you’re being asked to do a self-assessment, I think that usually the assumption is that you’re self-aware enough to know what my weaknesses are and that you’re taking your own steps to work on these weaknesses. It should just be a structured way for your supervisor to be aware that you’re doing that, so that they can support you and/or give suggestions if they have additional ideas for either.

    (I also hate self-assessments, but at the same time I work best with people where I regularly feel like we’ve done a detailed assessment of how I’m handling my role and how I can improve.)

  15. Aquawoman*

    I don’t really understand the offense part. She doesn’t want to do it, she doesn’t do it, and nobody seems to care. That seems like not a problem to me. But is HR supposed to send out emails that say “everybody do your self-assessment except Darla!” It’s like being insulted to have to walk past the hammers on your way to buy a screwdriver because you don’t need a hammer.

  16. Anon For This*

    I can relate to the OP’s frustration. At my office we were told in advance that top management would not accept any average score on our evaluations above a 3.5 out of 5 and that no individual item scores of 5 would be accepted at all. We do evaluations/assessments jointly with our direct supervisors. You can imagine how deflated that made everyone feel, especially some of my colleagues who truly are rock stars in certain areas and deserve a 6 out of 5 on those particular scores! And how it made everyone put in the minimum effort on the evaluation process.

    1. MassMatt*

      I absolutely loathe this approach to evaluations where arbitrary bell curves are established for everyone ahead of time. If this is the approach, why not just assign everyone scores to begin with and dispense with the theater of pretending anyone’s actual performance has any bearing on their assessment?

      Ditto with the way the ubiquitous 5-point scale is typically used. If a 1 is someone with major problems who should be on their way out, and 2 is either someone brand new or on a PIP, and getting a 5 is impossible and 4 is arbitrarily rare, that doesn’t leave much actual room for evaluation. I’ve had more than one manager shrug and assign everyone 3’s across the board because they were lazy and there wasn’t much alternative anyway.

      It burnt my toast when I got a major industry certification, out-produced all of my peers, and created some major initiatives, all to be told my performance was OK, the same as my slacker coworker who’d just coasted along. If your review process demoralizes high achievers you’re doing it wrong.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        I’ve seen bell curves imposed where there was a perception that managers in one district rated their average employees as exceeding expectations, knowing that wouldn’t affect their raises, but other managers tried to be at least a little more nuanced in their appraisals.

        The scores were taken into account for promotions, so low performers in a district with a lazy manager could have a competitive advantage over more effective workers in a district with a more conscientious manager. Of course, the division directors could also have been a little more proactive in managing the managers who reported to them, but that work wasn’t as much fun as the bureaucratic infighting in the central office to jockey for influence with the Board in order to try to get more favorable (either easier or more prestigious) assignments at the division level, or promotion to one of the higher positions.

        A rational appraisal system should involve ongoing communication up and down the chain, documenting successes and struggles, identifying training needs and opportunities, as well as opportunities to improve processes and adjust plans and goals. But that would entail more actual, you know, thought and work on the part of the managers.

  17. turquoisecow*

    I mean, if it’s really not hurting you then go ahead and continue not doing them. But someone who pushes back on simple things like this is not likely to be seen as a team player or someone the company or bosses view favorably. I’m sure we’ve all worked with the employee who complains about simple things that aren’t likely to change and the negativity was draining. Not that management wants nothing but sycophants, but it doesn’t look good if an employee doesn’t play the game, so to speak.

    OP, are you asked to do a lot of stupid bureaucratic stuff, and this is just one where you feel you have the power to refuse? Because otherwise this seems like a minor hill to die on.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      are you asked to do a lot of stupid bureaucratic stuff

      LW works at a university, and academia is different to business. I’ve always seen that academia includes by default a lot of purely bureaucratic stuff, and this self-assessment is just one more of them. I agree with you—this just may be the one they have power to push back on by going into Bartleby mode.

  18. Blarg*

    What I read here is frustration from OP that it doesn’t matter what they do — there is no moving up, no more steps, no more raises but COLA if the union negotiates it.

    I don’t know of many universities where it would be possible to jump from the admin/tech side to the professional side with few exceptions. And OP says they are at the top grade and top step. So … I get the “why bother?”

    To me, the reason I’d do it in these circumstances is more a “pick your battles” thing. Since this can be pro forma cause it doesn’t matter, put something bland. Check the box. And bend/fight the rules where there’s more of a direct benefit to you. This is just doing some dumb paperwork during working hours. And heck, throw in something ludicrous in the middle to see if anyone reads it. (Goals for FY22: become a space tourist).

    1. Charlotte*

      Oh, I know plenty of people at my large university who have switched from union to non-union! Think “development coordinator” —> “development officer,” “admissions assistant” —> “admissions counselor”, etc. Not to mention people who work on a degree and get qualified for something else!

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I tried, but no dice, the union wouldn’t let me out. They have catch-22’d promotions. They won’t let you move above your level, they say you’d be equivalent to a non-union position but won’t let you go into that one either. One of my bosses tried and they literally just ignored him.

        I kind of hate my union except for the raises. Otherwise they have been shitty to me personally.

        1. Charlotte*

          I guess I don’t understand how they don’t let you out? They can’t…block you from quitting, right?

          Maybe we are talking about different scenarios. My example is: development coordinator (union) with several years experience works in a department with several frontline fundraisers (non-union). One of the frontline fundraisers quits or retires. The coordinator gets the fundraiser job and the department hires a new coordinator.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I’m not sure it even is a battle if it’s mainly HR bringing it up with no consequences. It seems possible to just ignore it.

  19. Abogado Avocado*

    OP: another way you can use self-assessments is to document, for the record, the fine work you’ve been doing. This will go into your employment file and serve as contemporaneous proof that you are, as you write, “extremely knowledgeable and helpful well above and beyond my grade.” That way, if fortunes at your employer change and you are assigned the boss from hell, you will have information in your file that shows your longtime value to the organization.

    1. Lisa*

      yep, I use my self-assessments as an opportunity to update my resume. I actually advise the people I manage to do the same. It can be a daunting task to update your resume 3 years into a new job, but if you keep a running list of all your accomplishments it becomes much easier.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I was unionized and now manage unionized staff. This is part of the value I see in self-assessments. A running list of accomplishments and areas where you have improved over the years can be a valuable CYA tool.

  20. Goldenrod*

    Personally, I would do it in this situation even if it’s not technically “required.”

    Yes, they are stupid and pointless in terms of getting a manager to appreciate your work. But I have an abusive manager and I’ve enjoyed writing down my accomplishments every year, whether or not she understands my value.

    I’ve recently decided to apply for other jobs, and a great source of “accomplishments” for my interviews has been re-reading my previous self-assessments! I have details about work accomplishments written in them that I would have completely forgot had I not written them down.

  21. Anon for this*

    A few years ago, I switched to a new boss who I knew was a bit over the top when it came to yearly assessments and goal setting. I asked for an example of what she was looking for and she provided an ex-employee’s last list. It included (I so wish I was kidding) 15+ goals including things like “Be more proactive in reaching your goals” – added of course by the boss. This was consistent with this boss’s management techniques which didn’t really mesh well with my working style. I resigned within a month.

    1. BubbleTea*

      This seems like a to-do list where the first item is “make to-do list” and the second is “tick off completed tasks”.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        No, the second is “begin ticking off completed tasks.” From there, the odd numbers are additional tasks, and the even numbers are “continue documenting completion of preceding tasks.” The penultimate task should be “review list to ensure all tasks are completed” and the final task is “Certify completion and file list.”

  22. blink14*

    I work at a university and we are required to do self-assessments every year. Everyone hates it, but they are required for merit increases, bonuses, promotions, etc. I believe hourly staff – which can cover anything from clerical to groundskeeping – are required to do it as well. In our case, a large part of the assessment process is developing goals for each year and then being reviewed on the progress of those goals. That information is largely kept within the department, while the self-assessment is responded to by your direct supervisor, who also does an assessment, and that plus the self-assessment are submitted up the chain and then to HR.

    I would ask your boss – it’s probably just a matter of form that everyone has to do it, no matter what. And honestly, since it’s a once a year thing, I’d just do it and get it over with. Everyone at my university has to do it, from the most entry level position up through high level directors.

    1. University admin (from home)*

      I also work as staff at a university, and we are required to do a self-assessment every year. It irks me enormously, because it isn’t tied to raises, bonuses, or promotions at all; it’s just a box to tick off. At least when I worked in industry, there were at least COLAs, or real raises, promotions, etc.
      (Of note: in the 8 years I have worked there, the only times my pay rate has increased is when the institution has paid consultants to determine whether the pay for $Roles is too low – it always is – so I’ve gotten “market adjustments”, but no actual raise. I’ve gotten ratings of 5 (on a 5 point scale), and never once has there been the “thank you for doing good work, here, have some more cash” raise, just the “oops, we don’t pay enough for your role, so have a bit more so it’s not as low as it was”. It’s disheartening.)

      1. blink14*

        I think in our case it’s almost the opposite – unless you have a really bad review, you’re going to get a merit increase. I absolutely hate doing self-assessments, they are awful!

        I’ve gotten a merit increase every year for the past 5+ years, but only once did I receive a bonus which was this year, and effectively made up for merit increases not happening last year due to Covid. My boss has submitted multiple times for me to get a bonus in the past. Our merit and bonus structure is supposed to be changing for next year, we’ll see. The goals setting thing is such a waste of time and drives me nuts every year.

      2. Paige*

        This is also how my university operates. Once–ONCE–we got “merit” raises between .7% and 1.3%, depending on where our annual evaluations fell. Not exactly major incentive to try for anything over “meets expectations” when the difference is literally .3% We don’t even get COLA. So I’m honestly super envious of anyone who even gets COLA (theoretically I could get a different job in another city, but the commute would eat up any pay increase, and at least I have a good boss and a good grandboss here).

        I do the self-evals mainly because my boss has several reports and doesn’t actually always know everything I do in a given year; it’s my chance to remind them about extra projects I’ve taken on, etc. But they’re definitely my least favorite thing that I do all year.

  23. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “’I’ve been in my position for a very very long time”

    I’m not going to comment on the value or lack of value of self-assessments, but if you feel your job is secure and you don’t want to do something that is technically optional, don’t do it. And frankly, if you think it’s not helpful in general to other staff, I think it’s worth using your presumed political capital to actually say that. If you have a lot of job security, you should be a little vocal about things you think matter that less secure people might not be willing to take a stand on.

    That said, I’d also not emphasize the word “refuse.” You’re declining to waste time doing something optional. I don’t drink wine even though lots of people like it – so I decline it when offered. If someone tried to force it down my throat, yeah then I’d refuse. But I’m not being forced.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Adding, I was recently told to prepare for a different kind of assessment at my organization (a 360). I really don’t want to do it, but it’s required. So I’m doing it. I had to send a list of assessors to the person running the process, which I did and I also said I’m not happy doing this.

      I’m going to do it – it’s required and I don’t have the capital to refuse. But I am confident enough and feel obligated to tell the powers that I don’t like it and feel it’s a waste of my time and staff time.

      I think if you can afford to be blunt, be blunt. Speak up.

  24. Cora*

    Not to sound too flippant, because there is a point to assessments, but:
    Dude, there’s probably just some ancient, self-obsessed wealthy corporate guy on the university Board of Directors, who heard about the power of self-assessment in a Ted Talk and wants everyone to know that he’s Down With The Shizzle, Yo, and therefore insists the university do them.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      And sometimes that person isn’t even there any more. One of the things I do in process management is to get rid of things that don’t add value.

      “Why do we do TPS reports?”
      “Dave in accounting likes them.”
      “Dave Jones? Isn’t he in IT?”
      “No, not Dave Jones. Dave Smith.”
      “There’s no Dave Smith in accounting. Or anywhere in this company.”
      *checks notes*
      “Oh, it’s Dave Smith that retired in 1993.”

      Then you dig into it and nobody bothers to look at the TPS reports, but we do them simply because we’ve always done them. The reason for doing them has evaporated, but the process still remains.

      People would be surprised how often this happens.

      1. A Person*

        I’ve documented this process! “And then I write the info on an index card and put it on so-and-so’s desk.” So I check with so-and-so. “Oh yes, they just pile up until I throw them out every month or two.”

  25. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I work for a city where “you cannot get fired” and there are no raises other than cost of living raises.
    The self-assessments are so useless that our managers just stopped telling us about them.

    And we have no one-on-ones or even team meetings, they are just happy if we don’t bother them and have business as usual. So asking a manager how I’m doing or any variation is pretty useless here.

    1. Loremipsum*

      Same here, in state government. Any raises or retroactive raises are collectively bargained and there are incremental step increases, mostly cost of living. The departmental manager is trying to push for performance reviews or self assessments, but the union that we are in has blocked those since there wasn’t an agreement on the criteria for these.

      In my previous job in the nonprofit sector there were annual multi-question self assessments, to which you could answer very generally or write out in detail what you accomplished with tangible impact / advancement of the organization – and each year it would calculate to a “3” on a scale of 1 to 5, and the raise would then be given.

  26. McThrill*

    As someone who used to work in a university setting and also had to do a yearly self-assessment that seemed pointless, my manager did take the time to explain why she made such a big deal out of them: being able to prove that her staff had been tracking goals and meeting them year after year helped ensure that it would be harder to reduce funding for her department, which meant increased job security for us all. Not sure if your self assessments carry the same weight at your university, but having proof that your staff are meeting goals and improving weaknesses can be very politically important for the people who give you your paycheck.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      This, yeah.

      I’m lucky that in my department annual reports are pretty concrete: “taught X and Y with Z student-evaluation numbers; published Q and R; presented C and D at conferences; won P grant; served on A, B, and C committees…” This all feeds directly into the picture of the entire department that the division and the university have, and it definitely impacts departmental funding.

      YMMV, OP, but it may be worth asking which parts of the self-assessments y’all do feed upward in some way.

      In my shop, the annual reports also help the department chair tip off the Awards Committee about whom to nominate for university-level employee awards (which almost always come with one-time prize money attached). One more consideration, if it applies to your shop too.

  27. Eye roll*

    I no longer do my self-assessments. Management isn’t really “allowed” to give ratings that require an automatic bonus, so I’m going to remain at the 4.5/5 level forever, unless I go crazy or just stop working. I know which categories I will be dinged on – they will have to be the ones that are subjective rather than objective. (I had one review that had so many “sexist” buzzwords, we shared it around the office. One year, I was encouraged to be more nurturing; for another year, to avoid telling people they are wrong and to take a backseat and not lead so much, and for another, to not be so aggressive and volunteer for more things like fixing lunch.) I’m just not entertaining this anymore; it’s not worth my time.

  28. justsaynotoassessment!*

    Hi! I’m the OP, and I thank you Alison (and everyone) for your thoughtful replies. A few clarifications/additions. My manager was hired 4 (maybe? time is a blur) years ago, without prior knowledge she’d be dealing with administrative staff, had no managerial experience and was completely caught off guard. This isn’t in any way a dig, she learned as she went along and has been extremely helpful when new admins are hired. I bring this up because for me, there is no problem or situation where I’d go to her for support and in fact, the reverse has been the case more often than not – only because I’m more familiar with policies/procedures and where to get answers to questions.

    “This person probably has literally no incentive to do these. Even the layoffs one is likely off base — there is probably a collectively bargained for layoff process that is based on seniority.” This is 100 percent correct. If I’m laid off, (I’m not exactly positive of the details in the contract) I’ll still be paid for at least 18 months, as long as I interview for open positions for which I’m qualified.

    As far as asking about training, classes, conferences: they’re widely available, encouraged and promoted via the university itself.

    I think part of what’s gotten me in a (mild, mellow) tizzy about the whole situation is that I have a family member who works at the same university for a completely different department who has also, over the years, been given the self assessment to fill out, which he did. When it came up again, he called HR to see if he’d be able to look at a copy of what he’d previously filled out and they were 100 percent perplexed by the question because they don’t want or ask for them to be submitted, which means they live in some netherworld in a manager’s desk or more likely, they’re thrown out.

    As far as being promoted–I’m actually in the process (this process has been ongoing for at least a year, because of COVID, but it’s going to be soon, I FEEL it!!!) of being promoted (out of the union) and so will need to suck it up and fill out an assessment eventually. Honestly, it’s difficult. The union doesn’t want to lose a position to management so they fight bitterly against it.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      which means they live in some netherworld in a manager’s desk or more likely, they’re thrown out

      One thing I’ve found from having worked in public education is that there is a great deal of attachment to processes, rather than outcomes. TYNT™ (this year’s new thing) will soon be LYNT™ (last year’s new thing). I think a lot of this comes from the public and legislative pressure to always be improving things, which gets quickly corrupted to always be changing things. I might take this more seriously in industry than in education, but still, a lot of times they are fluff exercises.

      Thanks for responding to the feedback here. Good luck on your promotion!

    2. Ruth*

      I also work in public education. Your situation actually sounds slightly better than I imagined. I figured you had a) no manager b) no boss and c) self assessments were thrown out. Bonus if d) you are acting as the manager without a title or proper pay.

      I wouldn’t do them either. I have to do one and submit it for my evaluation but I’m 110% sure no one reads it.

  29. Richard Hershberger*

    Like everything, self-assessments can be done well or done badly, and like everything, they can be used for good or for evil. There is vast potential for them to be weaponized, like mandatory Maoist self-criticism sessions. I have been in jobs where I would never dream of putting anything other than the most anodyne responses possible.

  30. Distracted Librarian*

    In addition to the reasons others have mentioned: doing a self-assessment that highlights your achievements during the review period can help your manager give you a better review. Even if you and your manager are meeting regularly, and your manager is paying attention to you and your work, it’s easy for someone who supervises 10 people to forget the details of a project that happened 8 months ago. When your review includes that project and explains your role in it and the results, it’s a lot more likely that your manager will mention it in your performance review–and maybe even rank you higher because of it.

  31. PT*

    Where I worked we were only allowed to give ourselves 3s, so there was almost no point in filling it out…because we were not allowed to say we did good work if we did. If you did, you’d get in trouble, even if you objectively did do better work than someone else. That person would also get a 3. Unless they did very poor work, in which case they might get a 2. You may get a 4, if you had prior approval from a boss, to get a 4 in 2 categories where you’d been outstanding.

    The sorts of people who got 2s were the sorts of people who didn’t show up for work and went missing for days. The sorts of people who got 3s were the sorts of people who did their job but were OK at it. The sorts of people who wanted 4s but got told they couldn’t have them were people who had higher level subject area knowledge that wasn’t “approved” of by their supervisor in advanced and thus they were supposed to pretend they had a lower level job knowledge so as to not offend anyone…so they got a 3.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Sounds like you worked at Harrison Bergeron, Inc.

      Ugh, what’s the point of having a 1-5 system if you can’t actually use all 5 digits? Just code it as pass/fail and be done with it.

  32. Ozzie*

    I’m definitely on Team Vendetta Against Self-Assessments. Or the review at all. It has always felt like a “check all the boxes” activity that’s put off until the last minute. Every time I have tried to make it a productive conversation, I’ve received push back – as if that wasn’t the purpose at all. I just wish more managers could take advice on how to make them worth everyone’s time… and do away with a number-rating system. I find it very strange to be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 how well I get along with my coworkers…

    1. Nanani*

      I’ve never actually encountered a self-assessment and most of the time, including here, they sound like weirdly childish “report cards” for grown ups. /shrug
      I’m sure they can be Not That when done well but ehhh.

      If they’re useless to LW then they’re useless and they can keep ignoring it.

        1. Ozzie*

          Agreed. I’ve always treated them as A Thing That Needs to be Done, but that’s it at this point. I’d like to see them done well though, since it seems like they COULD be valuable.

          At the same job though, I de recall one review season, we had to do a self-assessment, as well as an assessment of our boss, for review season. Everyone was so unbelievably critical of said boss (I was, and I know 2 of my coworkers were as well without hearsay), that part of the review did not make a return appearance the following year. Which was pretty much my final erosion of faith in the process.

  33. SometimesALurker*

    It’s likely that phoning it in will be more to your benefit than skipping it, even though it will take slightly more time.

  34. Lost in the Archives*

    I’m professional staff at a University and the last few years with my manager (of 6 years) have included – never read my self-assessment, never did my annual review, never input review documents into the HR system (over three years!). He’s never been called on the carpet for these lapses – and I say that with confidence because though we had a very brief annual review this year, he still hasn’t completed any of the online administrative work that entails and we’re well past the deadline. Since this behavior well predates the pandemic, I don’t see any change coming down the pike any time soon. He’s just not good at administrative functions, despite being the head of a high profile department with a lot of key responsibilities. Oh well.

  35. CW*

    I am not a fan of self-assessments either. I am not against them, but I just don’t like writing about myself or rating myself. I don’t want to sound like an egomaniac, or do the opposite by putting myself down. I would rather hear feedback and assessments from other people. That way I can understand better and what is expected of me. Because what works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another; we are all different.

  36. Bunny*

    I work in the only union shop (and that is a story) in a large corporation, and our unit is excluded from things like self assessments and formal reviews. It’s glorious.

  37. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Why the hell would you pick this hill to die on? The task might be a dumb waste of time, but you’re better off taking a stand and using up capital on something more consequential.

  38. Eether, Either*

    I dislike them as well but, where I work–a very large corporation, the main reason we do them (they are mandatory) is for HR to CYA. So, it’s definitely in your best interest to complete one. No one wants any surprises if there are any “issues” on either side that are not addressed. It has less to do with your performance than you might think. Of course, where you work may not use them in this way, but I wouldn’t risk it. I’m an admin and think what could I possibly write? I am hyper-critical of myself, which does not help. But, there’s a lot of information out there on how to write an effective self-assessment. And also, I am sure, on this blog. Look at as an opportunity to share details of what a great job you are doing for the company!

  39. BBB*

    sounds like OP works for the same university as me
    at least at my university, there is a stark line and rules to move from a “support staff” union job to a salaried “professional” role. it’s possible to have all the seniority, skills and knowledge but not tick one of the requirement boxes to move into a salaried role aka it’s totally possible to max out in the pay scale with no possibility of being promoted or additional pay. and yes, it’s as infuriating as it sounds.

  40. Anne of Green Tables*

    The self-assessment form we have is boxes to fill out in an HR system. One year, I Google-translated one of my responses into Welsh and put that into the first box. The next box was wingdings. No one cared. I then discovered that a single period in each box would allow the system to mark the self-assessment as completed and went with that for the next decade. Big, for-profit company, no union. It seemed to me if I wasn’t a high performer all year and perceived as such, trying to convince others of my value once a year with prose in boxes wasn’t going to get me far.

  41. Seashells*

    We all do a yearly review which includes self-assessments. I’ve mentioned on here before that the forms we use are 9 pages long and actually repetitive. I’m in a position similar to OP- not in a union but to move up I’d need to move departments and I’m happy where I am. Every year, we go through this review and I really feel like it’s just a box on a checklist for someone because my manager has let me copy & paste my “goals” for the last few years and no one has noticed. So basically after my manager and I sit down and he says “doing great, keep doing great” and we sign, it goes to a file somewhere I guess. We don’t get merit raises or yearly COL raises and when raise time comes around, usually once every 3 to 5 years, everyone gets a raise no matter your title, accomplishments or length of employment. A person who had been here only 2 weeks got a raise the last time and they hadn’t even completed their training, so they thought it was a mistake and would need to pay it back.

    If your review/assessment is really just a box to check on a list, edit your list and remove that box. It doesn’t make sense to do this every year just for the sake of doing it. I raised that and was told “we’re doing it” so I guess I’ll just keep copying & pasting.

  42. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    I would recommend rating yourself top rating in all aspects. Keep it all positive. There is no point in rating yourself low. Then management can do the work of coming up with reasons if they feel you need to improve and change stuff up. I know someone who did this method and management didn’t bother to assess him and left it be. No reason to give them reasons if for example, you are not doing a task at the highest capacity. If you are not up to company standards, then they should be able to tell you without you telling on yourself .

  43. Rml*

    I agree with OP’s skepticism. I’ve been the union member and the direct supervisor in this scenario. Since there is no legitimate (change of pay/change of responsibility) use for this data under the union rules of employment…upper mgmt tends to force-find a use for it (“hey we have to do something with this data from the union folks”). Outcomes I’ve seen include using data to bash union officials (“30 percent of your people graded themselves only 4/5 on this criteria. Your union folks are losers”). Also beating up supervisors (your employees only rated themselves 4/5 for initiative “). Also sudden idiotic initiatives (“a union employee said they don’t think we train enough on office safety – let’s do 12 hours of office safety training this quarter and make everyone (including truck drivers) attend”). Note that “the union” often gets viewed as a homogenous entity (unlike professional staff, who if lumped, are generally lumped by department or role).

  44. AnonaLlama*

    This is such an interesting perspective for me to hear. I’ve been in a leadership role for a long time and I look forward to reading my direct reports’ self-assessments every year. I like to see how they remember the year, the things that were important to them, what they’re really proud of, where they wish things had gone differently, what they want to focus on next year, etc. I mean, we talk about these things all year but it’s a different perspective to hear them reflect back on the year as a whole and to look at themselves and their work-lives on a more holistic level.

    If one of my direct reports said “I refuse to fill this out” I would be really confused. OK….do you want to just talk about the things that are on there then? It wouldn’t occur to me that someone would object to the exercise at-large.

    BTW, these are not tied in any direct way to pay or promotions; the work they do that I’m asking them to summarize and reflect on is what drives that.

    I guess if your manager is doing none of the above (sounds like she’s not) then it probably does feel silly, but I would lay the criticism at your manager’s feet for not using the information to drive a meaningful dialogue. It’s not the assessment, it’s your manager.

  45. LC*

    This is bringing up something that’s been bugging me lately (no particular reason on the timing). I’m really sick of “meeting expectations” being code for “meh.”

    I expect people to do good work. I expect myself to do good work. Meeting those expectations is a good thing. If someone is doing “meh” work, I wouldn’t consider them to be meeting expectations.

    I used to work somewhere that did the whole 1-5 rating, where 3 was meeting and 5 was super exceeding, and I was never allowed to give someone less than a 3. I had employees with meh-to-poor performance who would have hissy fits if they were told they were “only” meeting expectations. I would have employees with good performance who would have a hissy fit if they were “only” above expectations.

    These were not tied to raises or any other benefit. Everyone got whatever attempt at a COL increase they deemed acceptable (while calling it a “merit” raise, which infuriated me endlessly). No more, no less. We only looked at them when HR needed documentation on something (which these were fairly useless for) or when we were doing the follow year’s review. There was such a culture of “if it’s less than a 4, it means you completely suck and they hate you” that any one manager being honest would have done nothing but piss off their employees and exasperate their peers.

    This was at a fairly small (in-house, not contracted or outsourced) call center for a well known and slightly ritzy US retailer. In the context of call centers, it was overall pretty okay, but it still had a lot of the same problems that the rest of the company liked to pretend didn’t exist. I do not miss this job for a myriad of reasons, and I don’t plan on ever managing people again.

    If someone needs to exceed your expectations to be considered a good employee, maybe your expectations are too low.

  46. AnonymousGameDevProgrammer*

    At the last place I worked self-assessments were the worst. I was at a large video game developer as a programmer which is an important discipline, to be sure, but 3D artists, animators, designers, and other artists made up the bulk of the workforce and it really showed in the self-assessment forms.

    The two I found hardest – particularly at certain phases of the project – were “initiative” and “creativity”. Not because I don’t show these qualities, but for the last year of a major release you are largely polishing what’s there and fixing as many bugs as possible. For a programmer – particularly one who didn’t have anyone working underneath me – I never really worked out how to show these qualities. When the main goal of the project is to “fix [num] bugs per day” and there’s no other work to be done how do you show initiative beyond how you prioritise your bugs? (Unless you run out and start working on other people’s bug lists – which does occasionally happen). Once you’re at the point where there’s nothing new to be added (“feature complete” / “content complete”) it’s very difficult to show creativity on anything but the most evil of bugs. And even then a “creative solution” is often euphemism for “overly complicated”.

    In my last year there (and the last review I ever did with them) they also introduced a “values” section which I found utterly bizarre. They wanted specific examples of values which should, in my opinion, be an acceptable baseline deviations of which are notable. “Respect – I listen to others” was one (they were all like that) and I would be asked to write down a specific example of when I’d listened to someone. I pointed out in my exit interview that we should respect and listen to people all the time and the times we don’t do those things should be notable. Writing down specific examples of when you showed enthusiasm is hard when you’ve spent the last six months in semi-crunch, doing overtime and not working on exciting new shiny things. They did say many people had said this about the values section, but I’m gone now so who knows if it’s still there.

    1. AnonymousGameDevProgrammer*

      I should add that I did enjoy that job. The day-to-day was good and the work generally interesting. A bit of crunch time is expected in video games and we were far better about it there than many other places are. I worked with a good bunch of people I got on well with. It was really only the bi-annual reviews that I hated.

  47. SnappinTerrapin*

    The concept of a self-assessment, as part of a periodic formal appraisal, is a great idea. I’ve worked in organizations where there was little or no communication about performance other than the exceptional “attaboy” or big “oops.” I’ve also worked in organizations where there was a formal appraisal after six months in a new position, to come off probation to permanent status, and annual appraisals thereafter for “merit” raises.

    Frankly, I see a lot of room for improvement in the appraisal systems I’ve worked under. They literally became bureaucratic “check the box” exercises. Nobody thought about it until the last minute. The self-appraisal was frequently the lazt managers’ pretext for putting the paperwork burden on the report. The “annual” appraisals tended to be colored by recollections of the most recent month’s performance. Although there were “officially” categories of “exceeds expectations” and “consistently exceeds,” which could justify increased step raises, the budget usually kept everyone at the “meets expectations” level of raises, no matter how glowing the review.

    I saw too many managers who never bothered to have routine 1:1 meetings to review the annual plan, assess progress, or adjust the plan. That would have been a lot more useful, in my opinion. I’ve advocated for modifications (in organizations I subsequently left), but inertia is hard to overcome.

    It’s amazing how people can convince themselves they are proactive and progressive while continuing to do things the same way they’ve always been done. Even while privately grumbling that the process is work that doesn’t meet the needs it was allegedly supposed to address. Cognitive dissonance is a very strong trait in humans.

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