One reader writes:

I work at a university where the staff is more or less divided into professional or technical / commercial. I have been a technical / commercial employee for many years, which means that I am in the union. I have no real feelings for my connection in one way or another – I see both the good and the bad. One of the things I have as a union member is that I never get bonuses; we receive annual salary increases in accordance with the terms of the contract. It also means that I have no way of staying in the union and getting promoted. I’m both at the top of my salary scale / level and the highest grade I can get (jobs are rated AE, with A being the best entry level, E not applicable in my case)

Every year or so the university gets into an uproar over self-assessments and every time it comes up I refuse. Nobody claims that this is mandatory, but the HR department sends out pseudo-naughty emails that are for YOUR USE but nobody will say what exactly will happen to the information once the form has been submitted. Professional staff are also expected to fill these out, which I understand. They have bonuses and annual salary increases and self-assessment makes a difference to them as they have measurable goals / expectations and sitting with their manager plays a role in their bonus.

Since there is no benefit at all for me personally (and frankly no benefit for any union member), am I wrong if I refuse? I have been in my position for a very, very long time, I am good at my job, I am (so I was told) seen as extremely competent and helpful, well beyond my grade. I deserve a generous salary. In all honesty, I find it a bit offensive to be asked to fill it out, not only because I don’t have an advantage in my position, but because I’m not confident enough to know my weaknesses and that I wouldn’t take my own steps to work on these weaknesses.

I’m pretty sure I’m overreacting, but I think I just needed a reality check. What is the point of self-assessment in my situation? You know?

In theory, the point of self-assessments is that it is useful to take the time to reflect on your work, what is going well, what could be doing better, and the work goals for the year ahead, and it is useful for managers and employees to themselves to make sure you are both on the same page for these things. If I am your supervisor and I have concerns about your work in Area X and your self-assessment is glowing about X, then we clearly have a breakup and it is useful for both of us to know so that we can try to figure out why we are see things so differently. (This is not code for “so your manager can tell you you’re wrong.” It is possible that you have information that your manager does not and that sharing that information changes your perspective. In fact, this is common. )

This stuff is valuable even if it isn’t tied to a raise, bonus, or promotion. It’s about your work and how you do it, and even when they Knowing that you are regularly reflecting on these things for yourself is part of the value in doing so in combination with your manager.

That’s theoretical. In reality, many self-assessment and screening processes are generally poorly performed and of limited value. Often this is because they are focusing on the wrong things. You should focus on what you achieved, how you achieved it (because achieving Goal X isn’t that great if you do it by alienating all of your co-workers, for example), what you want to achieve next, wherever where you and / or your supervisor would like to see improvement / growth and what support you need from your supervisor. Too often, however, they focus on goals that don’t reflect what your focus really needed to be in the time in question, or goals that no one has ever told you about, or they’re not really weighted and just a box – bureaucratic hassle check or are mostly fluffy and / or are never discussed with your supervisor and thus seem to go nowhere.

If this is the case with you, I can understand why you see no value in doing it. And hey, if you can turn it down with no consequences, I’m not going to tell you to do it. (It’s also really fascinating that you just didn’t do them and no one said anything.)

But for you, I want to make sure that there really are no consequences. Yes, you weren’t fired or disciplined for not doing it – but does that make you look hostile or is it difficult to work with? Does it make your boss conclude that you are not eligible for higher responsibilities or promotions, and if so, is that important to you? Does it add to the overall feel that you are kind of a pain in the ass (and therefore makes it more likely that you are the one who will someday need to be cut)?

Perhaps you know for sure that none of this happens. As far as I know, you may be widely hailed as the division’s rock star, in which case you have more power! Or you just don’t care about this stuff; not everyone does.

But that’s a pretty little hill to take a stand on when it’s there are any consequences.

Since most of your objections to a self-assessment seem to be, “What for?” … why don’t you ask your boss? Tell her you don’t know how to use them or how to make them valuable and see what she says. If you are not satisfied with her answer, so be it. But since you are somehow taking a stand here, it is at least worth having this discussion and hearing the answer.

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