Once a year, I have the pleasure of being a guest lecturer for an ethics and social leadership class at a local university. The class participants include master's students in nursing and healthcare informatics.

My topic is always the same: I am asked to demystify human resources. This year, the students' questions focused on the following: negotiating an offer, dealing with bureaucracy, performance reviews and terminations.

Performance reviews

Companies implement performance management systems to ensure employees receive the feedback they need — and perhaps want on their performance. It is intended to be a clear way to score and rank work production and can provide the foundational evidence to support a raise or promotion.

Employees and managers collect data throughout the year to support their version of the facts, and everyone meets to discuss what has happened using agreed-upon review language. It seems simple enough, but why are performance reviews more like annual exams than birthday presents?

The problem is actually on both sides of the conference room table. Employers are wrong for thinking that employees only need feedback once per year, or even once per quarter. Feedback works best when given close to the time the action or behavior was performed.

Imagine how silly it would seem if you honked your horn five minutes after the car ran the stop sign in front of you. What good would that do? Not only would the other driver have no idea, you could clearly expect no change in the behavior with such a delayed reaction.

The other problem with reviews is their importance. Some companies tie raises to reviews. Employees are often scored and then given a raise based on their score either directly or indirectly.

The problem is most raises are a percentage increase in pay that is actually quite minimal when divided by the 26 paychecks into which it is paid. So the intent to incentivize someone for their great performance is trivialized by the fact that it is a small amount.

If the employee does not make that much money in the first place and is given a percentage increase, the percentage will be proportionally small. That small amount is divided by 26 before having taxes removed. This leaves no real connection between doing a great job and earning a great reward.

Employees are part of the problem as well, though it is not necessarily their fault. Most employees are still under the assumption that reviews matter a lot. Do the math. If you work really hard and get all 5 out of 5 on your review, what are you expecting to get?

Make sure you know the highest possible budgeted raise. Then figure out if you got it, how much extra would you take home? Once you see the reality of the associated raise, try to embrace the true value of the performance review. And do not get discouraged that your performance is for nothing, just use this information to stress a little less about the review.

Talk to your supervisor about getting more frequent feedback and be realistic about your expectations when it comes to raises and promotions. If you can both get on the same page, you will have a much more positive work environment and a lot less tension around annual review time.