Service of What Were They Hoping For: Legitimizing Tattletales?

March 10th, 2016

Categories: Bad behavior, Employees, Envy, Jealousy, Reviews

Meg Halverson, a management consultant, wrote an article, “Cruel, Not Constructive, Criticism,” about 360 review feedback in the workplace for the Sunday New York Times Business Section. The reviews “which consist of anonymous feedback from subordinates, peers and supervisors,” she explained, usually happen when an employee is being considered for promotion or firing.

Wikipedia has other names for this type of review which it also calls 360-degree feedback, multi-rater feedback, multisource feedback or multi source assessment. The site attributes the German military in World War II as first to use the technique and next Esso Research and Engineering Company in the 1950s. The system, which has been used by companies all along, increased in popularity with the advent of online surveys that saved a lot of time and paper.

What Halverson described was no surprise: If you are given highlights of largely negative reviews after a mostly negative discussion about your performance, best type up your resume. On the other hand, watch out if you are in line for a promotion as “peers may be envious and wish to cause damage. Mangers may want to demonstrate their own superiority. And people who report to the person being reviewed may have an ax to grind.” She gave as an example that it could be payback time if the target of the review had refused the respondent’s request for vacation.

Halverson reported that much time is lost as the review recipient tries to spec out who wrote the negative comment. And this type of review also “damages team dynamic.”

Yet the impact isn’t uniformly negative, posited Halverson. In a collaborative corporate environment, “a 360 offers the opportunity to indicate support for a fellow employee’s approach to a difficult problem, or even an alternative accounting of what happened in a crisis. And in the case of an employee with a weak or misinformed manager, a review can sometimes provide protection.”

Nevertheless Halverson observed that in most cases bad behavior is the result. A review of high level executives “may be more of a commentary on executives’ popularity than on their effectiveness.” She concluded that this type of review is “seldom worth the investment” of time–three weeks to solicit and collate the reviews and for human resources staff to prep the person who delivers review results. In addition the anonymity and generic nature of the reviews don’t “make people better at their jobs,” she wrote.

Do you know people who have participated in or been the target of a 360 review? Does this method of assessing employee performance seem like a good idea to you?

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8 Responses to “Service of What Were They Hoping For: Legitimizing Tattletales?”

  1. ASK Said:

    The key word here is “anonymous,” which encourages nastiness, back-biting, and all sorts of bad behavior in supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues…one need only look to social media commentary to see how hurtful and destructive anonymity can be…

    I have never conducted a one-on-one performance review or been the subject of one that was a so-called “open forum” to discuss strengths and weaknesses without some degree of angst. Allowing anonymous comments just ups the quotient for stress. Employees and their supervisors need to be able to consider the source of the negativity-or praise-to make a fair assessment.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Perfectly said–far more succinct than my post and Ms. Halverson’s article and you’ve said it all. I am mystified at the longevity and popularity of this nasty technique. The ones who practice it must have never thought, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

  3. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna on Facebook: “Anonymous feedback” is merely giving people the opportunity to “avenge” slights, real or imagined, and gives the reviewee no opportunity to engage or learn from the experience. Big old “thumbs down” on this practice!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree. I think a company that practices this will collect frightened employees who take no risks and have few amazing successes.

  5. hb Said:

    I don’t recall having heard of 360 degree reviews by that name, but my work experience in large banks may be of some relevance to your subject.

    In 1972 I testified before a Grand Jury against a subordinate whom we had caught cheating in a very big way on his expense account to support a drug habit. The accused was the first and only Puerto Rican officer in the bank and was featured in that year’s annual report with a full page spread including a large photograph. A juror asked why we had waited so long (a year and a half) before reporting his crime. The bank’s attorney asked me. I told him the truth. “Because he was Puerto Rican,” and he told me you may not say that. I subsequently answered the question with a lie; the man was indicted for embezzlement; pleaded guilty; received a suspended sentence, and was given a job, at a better salary, working for the city.

    I had worked for the bank for 15 years before anybody bothered to review me, by which time I was already running a large division from a corner office. To comply with the law, I did receive a couple of reviews after that, but they were jokes.

    After President Lyndon Baines Johnson got his “Great Society” legislation through congress and into law, the principal function of a reviewing officer, wherever I worked, was to ensure that personnel files had nothing in them which could be used later by a labor lawyer suing the bank. The review had become a hypocritical travesty. It became far easier to “lateral arabesque” “rotten apples” out of the division or department than to go through the complex and time consuming process of documenting why they should be dismissed.

    Thanks to President Johnson and the courts, “people” matters eventually became something truthfully dealt with verbally by colleagues who trusted each other, and employers used periodic “Reductions in Force,” (RIFs), to “downsize.” It was much easier to eliminate jobs than it was to eliminate unsatisfactory workers. It was purely “accidental” if the eliminated jobs had unsatisfactory workers in them.

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    Haven’t heard of it and it’s a lousy idea. It provides ample room for giving defamatory information and getting away with it. The Day of the Snitch has dawned upon the land, and it’s to be hoped its creators are the first to get hurt.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are so many laws and rules that prevent people from giving truthful reviews. I’ve written before about an interior designer who was sued–and lost–because she told the prospective employer of a former employee that this woman had stolen from her company. You can’t say that because it prevents a person from getting another job. The best you can do is to repeat, “Yes, Mary X worked for me,” and hope this simple statement, without embellishment, is enough of a hint to warm someone off.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It’s hard enough for someone who works hard to be promoted and not to be resented and therefore left with one option: To take another job. This is NOT good for business. It’s alarming how often mediocrity rises to the top.

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