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.

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