Performance Reviews

30 Negative Performance Review Phrases You Should Not Use

By on March 21, 2023

Performance reviews are an essential and unavoidable part of the employee-manager relationship. Done right, a performance review serves as an opportunity to set goals, recognize achievements, and provide feedback. However, performance reviews can become awkward, uncomfortable, and unproductive without the right words.

The language used in performance reviews can significantly impact an employee’s future performance and morale. It is important to stay away from demoralizing, condescending & patronizing phrases to ensure that the performance review achieves the desired outcome. Here are 30 negative performance review phrases you shouldn’t use in performance reviews and why. The goal of these performance review phrases is to help the employee grow and develop their skills, rather than demotivating them.

30 negative performance review phrases

1. You always’ or ‘You never’

Coming from an authority figure such as a manager, absolute language can come across as accusatory. Use this opportunity to focus on specific examples instead of phrases that include ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘forever,’ ‘hardly,’ etc. 

For example, instead of saying, ‘You always miss deadlines,’ you could rephrase it as “I noticed that you missed the deadline for the last two projects. Can you tell me what might have caused that and how we can prevent the recurrence?”

2. ‘You’re lucky to have a job….’

An employee’s performance should not be equated with their self-worth. Condescending and dismissive phrases like this can create a sense of fear and job insecurity. It can also instill a sense of dread and job uncertainty, which can harm their motivation and productivity.

Instead, help them see the improvement areas and coach them to elevate their performance in those areas. 

For example, ‘I think customer communication is an area of improvement for you. With your current skillset it may not be possible to get maximum value out of customer interactions. Can you plan to complete our internal trainings for customer communication?’

3. ‘That’s just the way we have always done things

Resistance to change is a red flag for any employee. It suggests that an employee’s ideas or suggestions are not valued or heard. Not allowing employees to think creatively or not trusting them with their decisions is a surefire way to make them feel uninspired. An employee may not feel safe or willing to talk about any difficulties they may face at their job, fearing rejection.

Instead, be open to new ideas and encourage employees to share their thoughts and suggestions to improve processes or procedures. This creates a safe space for your employees to talk about their difficulties/bright ideas. 

For example, “I appreciate your suggestion for a new approach. Let’s discuss it further and see if it could improve our current processes.” 

4. ‘I don’t have time for this….’

A performance review can be time-consuming, and most managers must maintain strict review times. Dismissing an employee’s concern or problem makes you seem unapproachable. If you do not have time to address the issue immediately, schedule a follow-up meeting to address their concerns.

For example, “I understand your concerns, and I want to make sure that we address them. Can we schedule some time to discuss this in detail tomorrow?” This shows that you value the employee’s input and are committed to finding a solution.

5. ‘You’re not a team player.’

Don’t be vague and unhelpful with another absolute statement. Instead, provide specific examples of how the employee’s behavior impacts the team and offer suggestions for improvement. 

For example, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been participating in team meetings or offering suggestions for improving our processes. It would be helpful if you could share your thoughts and ideas with the team so we can work together more effectively.”

6. ‘I don’t think you’re cut out for this job….’

Providing overly harsh feedback can demotivate employees, potentially leading to a reluctance to push themselves further. It is important to approach feedback in a constructive and supportive manner to inspire employees to continue developing and growing within their roles. 

For example, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been struggling with {specific task}. Let’s develop a plan to improve your skills in this area.”

7. ‘You’re not meeting expectations….’

Instead of being vague with your review and using negative performance review phrase, provide specific instances where the employee is underperforming and can do better.

For example, “I’ve noticed that you are not able to finish your daily tasks. Can we work on identifying the challenges? ‘

8. ‘You’re not living up to your potential….’

As a manager, it is essential to motivate employees to perform better. Highlight the places where the employee is falling behind or can improve. 

For example, “I’ve noticed that you have a lot of great ideas, but I haven’t seen you take the initiative to implement them.”

9. ‘You need to work harder.

‘Work harder’ is a mantra that becomes ingrained once you mention it. Employees can put in 100% of their effort toward a task, but if are unsure what they are doing, their effort and time are not well-spent. Instead, be specific in your review.

For example, “I’ve noticed that your productivity has been lower than expected. Can we work together to identify any obstacles you are facing and develop a plan to address them?”

10. “You’re not as good as {colleague’s name}….”

Healthy competition is good for boosting employee morale. However, comparing employees can lead to resentment between employees. Instead, focus on the employee’s strengths and areas for improvement and provide feedback tailored to their performance.

For example, “While {colleague’s name} has strengths in {specific area}, I’ve noticed that you excel in {another specific area}. Let’s work together to leverage your strengths and continue to improve in areas where you may need more development.” This acknowledges the employee’s strengths and areas for improvement while avoiding a direct comparison to their colleague.

11. ‘I’m disappointed in your performance.’

Performance reviews are not an opportunity for a manager to express their personal feelings toward an employee. Words like disappointment and other emotional expressions must be avoided. Rephrase your points to express where the employee falls short. Make sure you do not use negative performance review phrase.

For example, instead of saying, ‘I’m disappointed in your performance,’ you could say, ‘I have noticed a dip in your productivity. Are there any concerns you would like to discuss while we are here?’

12. ‘Your work is sloppy.’

Whether a project is finished in a hurry or your employee needs to catch up on a detail in a report, calling anyone’s work sloppy is in poor taste. Instead, try to identify what is the reason why their work looks unfinished. 

For example, “I’ve noticed some errors in your reports. Can we put together a checklist to capture all the necessary information?”

13. “You’re not taking ownership of your work….”

Discuss the importance of taking ownership of their work and explain how this will help the employee to develop professionally and increase their job satisfaction. Rather than telling employees that they are not taking ownership of their work, it is best to discuss why. Ask the employee what challenges they face and how you can support them in tackling them. 

Make sure to provide feedback on what is working well and areas for improvement. Show your employee that you have faith in their abilities and that you are there to help them succeed. 

14. ‘You need to show more initiative…’

Is the employee holding back due to the company culture, or do they need to be more confident to show initiative? Understanding the basis of your employee’s behavior would help you provide better feedback. 

For example, instead of saying, ‘you don’t show enough initiative,’ one can say, ‘This project is good for you. I would like to see you step up and take the initiative for a couple of tasks. ‘

15. ‘You’re not being proactive….’

It is important to teach employees how to be proactive in their jobs. You can do this by explaining what being proactive means in the context of their job role. Ask the employee to tell you how they think you can be more helpful and areas where they would like to jump in to help and assess if any additional training or tools would be required to be more effective.

16. ‘You’re too emotional…’ or ‘you’re too sensitive

An emotional outburst is generally the cause of underlying issues that may have gone unnoticed. Getting called too emotional or sensitive is usually followed by the statement, “you need to develop a thicker skin.” Pointing out someone’s insecurities is a surefire way of making them feel unwelcomed and unheard. You can start by understanding their triggers and if there is a way to overcome those challenges. 

17. ‘Do more.’

A common problem for managers is having too much to do and needing more time to do it all. Although it may seem like a simple solution to having your employees do more, it is not helpful for anyone to have a constant workload increase leading them in the direction of burnout. Instead, find ways to optimize the employee’s workload and find others to help.

18. ‘Your attitude needs to improve….’

A positive attitude is beneficial in many areas of life, including at work. If an employee’s attitude negatively affects their workgroup, you may need to address it. Instead of a blanket statement, make the employee understand where her attitude interferes with her work or how it impacts others around her. 

19. ‘You’re not a good fit for the company….’

Most of the time, an employee’s work style may differ from your company’s. Or it could be that the employee needs some time to adjust to the new work environment. Understand the issue and see if anything can be done about it.

For example, “I’ve noticed that your work style and values don’t seem to align with the company culture. Let’s work together to identify areas of concern and find ways to integrate you into the company better.”

20. ‘You’re not a good fit for this team….’

Working together in a group can be challenging for some employees. While it is a necessary skill, individual attitudes, work timings, or even working style can interfere with how a person interacts in a team. Highlight why the individual may need to be a better fit and identify areas of improvement.

For example, “I’ve noticed your communication style doesn’t match the team’s collaborative approach. Let’s work on a few team-building exercises to help you communicate effectively with the team.’

21. ‘You’re not qualified for this position….’

If a person struggles to attain their goals, it could be due to a skill gap. Identify areas of improvement, suggest training modules to up-skill or cross-skill the employee, and understand what is preventing them from achieving their goals. 

For example, “I’ve noticed that you don’t have the specific skills and experience required for this position. Let’s work together to identify areas where you can improve and find ways to prepare you for this role better.”

22. ‘You’re not ready for a promotion.’

Similar to the above phrase, there are better ways to conduct a performance review than demotivating an employee. Instead, identify specific skills required for them to get promoted, such as communication, people management, time management, etc.

For example, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t demonstrated the leadership skills required for promotion. Let’s work together to identify areas where you can improve and find ways to prepare you for the next role better.”

23. ‘You need to improve your communication skills….’

Clear and effective communication is the foundation for the efficient operations of any team. As a manager, it is essential to emphasize how your employee’s communication skills can impact the team without being rude or curt.

For example, “I’ve noticed you tend to interrupt others during team meetings. Let’s work together to identify strategies for active listening and effective communication.”

24. ‘You need to be more organized….’

Organizational skills are important for any employee to add structure to their day, boost productivity, and understand what tasks require to be prioritized. A disorganized employee would find it difficult to focus and could also easily get overwhelmed. Help your employee by stating where they may need to be organized.

For example, ‘You seemed to have trouble getting organized this week. Let’s look at breaking down your tasks for better time management.’

25. ‘You need to be more detail-oriented

Attention to detail is a skill that requires observation and focus. It is an essential skill that shows a keenness toward their work. Talk about how their lack of attention to detail hinders their work and overall performance.

For example, “I’ve noticed some errors in your reports. Would a second pair of eyes help you complete the project error-free?”

26. ‘You need to be more assertive…’

Being assertive at work is a delicate balance between voicing your ideas and bulldozing your way through a conversation. For an employee, it’s essential to practice assertiveness to communicate firmly and resolve any disagreements.

For example, “I’ve noticed that you tend to defer to others during meetings. Try to practice assertive communication in our next stand-up meeting.”

27. ‘You need to be more flexible…’

Some employees may have specific responsibilities apart from work that are important to them. For example, they may care about being able to spend time with their children before school or daycare opens. Others may need fixed schedules to care for an elderly parent. Talk with these employees and see if you can help them be more flexible while still performing their job well. They can be flexible sometimes, and you will cover them when they cannot be flexible. Be creative and open to new ideas. 

28. ‘You need to be more focused….’

This phrase can be vague and unhelpful. Instead, provide specific feedback around instances where you think the employee’s lack of focus resulted in a sub-par delivery. 

For example, “I’ve noticed that there were quite a few typos in the last two presentations that we shared with the client. What can we do to keep the quality of delivery in focus?”

29. ‘You need to be more strategic…’

Strategic thinking is an acquired skill, whether it comes to work or life. Most employees look up to their managers to understand the nitty-gritty of the business and find creative solutions. Help your employees be more strategic by pointing them in the right direction.

For example, “I’ve noticed that you tend to focus on short-term goals. Let’s look at your long-term goals and devise a plan to achieve them.”

30. ‘Do what you think is best.’

This is another common phrase often said in conjunction with the phrase above. When an employee makes a recommendation that goes against what you believe is the best option, you may be tempted to let the employee decide without your input. However, by saying “do what you think is best,” you’re leaving the employee with the idea that their job is to find ways to avoid responsibility, which will soon become a recurring pattern. Instead, try to give a better answer, such as “let’s look at both options, and then you can decide.”

Remember, performance reviews should be constructive and helpful, not hurtful or harmful. Hence you need to avoid these negative performance review phrases. Use specific examples and focus on actionable feedback to help employees improve their performance. Performance Review Questions.

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