How to Write a Review on a Difficult Employee

by Sharon O'Toole; Updated September 26, 2017

Writing an effective performance review requires preparation. Don't wait until a week before the review is due to start collecting information. Document both positive and negative information about the employee's performance. Focus on performance, not on personal attributes. Your review should include both results requirements (what you need the employee to accomplish) and behavior requirements (how you need the employee to behave in key situations).

The review for a difficult employee should contain content that addresses performance issues, but keep a sense of balance. It is important to include performance that needs improvement. But remember, even the most difficult employee is likely doing more right than wrong.

Items you will need

  • Your notes and observations, including any write-ups, for the current rating period
  • Input from the employee
  • Your company's rating forms, if any

Writing the Review

Step 1

Request input. Before you start writing, ask the employee to provide a list of accomplishments over the previous rating period. This will help you maintain balance and not overlook a contribution that the employee made. It also helps the employee to feel included in the process.

Step 2

Be specific. Throughout the review, cite specific behaviors and instances of performance that come from your observations over time. Remember that the goal of the review is performance improvement.

Avoid generalizations and exaggerations. Statements like "You never --" or "Your performance is terrible" are not helpful or defensible. Write the review in a way that you, the employee and any third party who might read it could make sense of it. Use complete sentences.

Step 3

Begin with the positive. Start your review with accomplishments and with your higher ratings. Be specific. Cite specific instances and behaviors and reinforce them with your approval.

Step 4

Address areas where performance needs improvement. Provide honest feedback. Stick to observable behaviors. For each behavior that you wish to improve, include a positive statement about what you wish to have happen. Statements like, "In the future you need to:" or "Please don't do that again" make your expectations clear. Cover the issues you believe to be the most important, but remember that criticism has a negative effect on performance. Don't create a long list of minor infractions.

Step 5

Create a performance plan. Keep it realistic. Set a few specific and measurable goals on which the employee can focus. These can involve developing competencies or improving performance relative to key responsibilities or projects. If the performance of the difficult employee is serious enough to warrant disciplinary action, document the future consequences of continued poor performance.

Be careful that you don't micro-plan. Create guidelines where they are needed, but don't overdo it. Be specific about expected results, but don't tell the employee how to take every simple step.

About the Author

Based in Boise Idaho, Sharon O’Toole has over 20 years experience writing for business and industry. She has worked in the areas of education, technology and publishing. She holds an editing certification, expert level, conferred by Expert Rating Global Certifications and a Master’s degree from Leicester University, UK.