Mining HR: What do people really think of performance reviews?


We asked the Australian mining industry its opinion on performance reviews. Here’s what nearly 600 people had to say.

Performance reviews in mining – do they justify the time and effort?

If you’ve worked in human resources in the Australian mining industry for a long time, you might be old enough to remember any of these:

  1. When a formal, structured, annual performance review was a relatively new idea and considered a leading edge human resources tool
  2. When the idea of annual, anonymous, 360-degree reviews became the new fad, or
  3. When annual reviews were deemed oldschool, too slow, redundant and boring and were replaced by regular, informal two-way “chats”.

Ideas of human resources best practice in mining have evolved over time, as you can see. Let’s take a look at today’s approach – and find out what our industry employees think about it.

HR in mining: the current state of play

If you believe the current writing on this topic, the whole idea of sitting down with anyone in any sort of scheduled formal setting is considered ineffective. Apparently, it’s not delivering what the modern worker wants.

We decided to test that theory. We wanted to find out how significant the use of performance reviews really are in the mining industry, and actually ask average mining employees what they think about them.

So last month’s poll, conducted by the MPi Polling and Media Centre, asked precisely that. We received just under 600 votes, with the following results:

Does your manager or supervisor conduct regular performance reviews with you?

Yes 452 76.74%
No 137 23.26%

It seems the use of reviews is quite widespread. I admit, though, to being surprised by the percentage not conducting them. At 23%, it was higher than I expected. 

As MPi often does, we separated out the responses from supervisors and managers. This produced a similar result.

Supervisor/managers who answered yes 73.25%
Non-supervisor/managers who answered yes 78.95%

To investigate frequency, we asked:

If you answered ‘yes’, how often are they done?

Every 1-3 months 19.24%
Every 3-6 months 21.64%
Every 6-12 months 45.69%
Ad hoc  13.43%

It seems six to 12 months is still the most commonly applied frequency. 

Mining industry worker, performance reviews.

How do performance reviews make people feel?

We then asked a series of tougher questions. We wanted subjective answers about the effectiveness of the process, particularly relating to its effect on performance and engagement.

Do performance reviews leave you feeling clear about how to be better at your job?

Yes 40.40%
No  47.60%
Not Sure 12.00%

Do performance reviews leave you feeling positive and optimistic?

Yes 47.65%
No  34.90%
Not Sure 17.45%

Almost half of these mining industry employees believe the performance review, at least in the format they’re being subjected to, is doing nothing to help them be better at their job. Together with the further 12% who are unsure, that gives us a total of nearly 60% of people who don’t see the value in the process. That is a large majority who believe the reviews are  not actually improving their performance.

When it comes to the question of optimism, the story is slightly different. A much lower percentage of people, 34.9%, said performance reviews did not leave them feeling positive. It’s possible this tells us that reviews add more value in terms of the connection between employees and a company — perhaps  simply because it is leaving them better informed. We will have more to say on this later, when we analyse the 50 or so comments we received alongside these answers.

RELATED READING: Are mining industry salaries consistent with employee expectations?

Are performance reviews necessary in the mining industry?

The final question we asked was a simple one:

Do you think performance reviews should be done at all?:

Yes 41.00%
No  44.35%
Not Sure 14.65%

However you look at these responses, there is a whopping proportion of people who are saying:

  • It doesn’t help me get better
  • It doesn’t make me any more optimistic, or
  • I don’t think they are worth doing.

That’s an awful lot of employee and management time being spent on a function that is probably, at best, wasting all of that time and, at worst, actually creating increased levels of disengagement.

Alarm clock, performance reviews.

Employee opinions of performance reviews: in their own words

As often happens with our surveys, we found that giving people the opportunity to make any comment they wish, in their words, provides far more interesting insights than the raw data. We did that again in this survey.

Fifty people took the trouble to write to us. If you are a HR practitioner or manager who is genuinely engaged, I recommend you review the analysis of these comments. It provides some terrific insights.

An initial analysis revealed that most of the people who commented were not supportive of the process so, obviously, their comments were negative. We’ll focus on these first.

There were just four themes overwhelmingly present in every comment:

  • The person conducting the review is critical to success or failure
    Direct supervisors of the person being reviewed were perceived to only be going through a box-ticking exercise that has been imposed on them. Senior managers also needed to be involved because of their (hopefully) better communication skills and ability to demonstrate leadership. Otherwise it is a box-ticking exercise. 
  • There are often personality differences between a direct supervisor and a worker
    The sense was this leaves people with the feeling that the review process is counterproductive for them.
  • KPIs, damn KPIs!
    There is a clear feeling too many reviews are focused on raw KPIs, including safety, with very little attempt to better understand people and to explain what they practically need to do, to see their careers develop.
  • Homogeny is providing little room for individual acknowledgment
    There are many positions on mine sites that require everyone to do the “same” job (be it truck driving, process plant operating, etc.) and to be paid the same, regardless of the quality of their work and how efficient they are at their job. There is a perception that if a review is overly positive, that implies a need to pay someone more, which isn’t possible given the restraints described above.

Stormtrooper, performance reviews. 

While this is all negative feedback, it was very consistent. For those enlightened people in HR and management positions, it should provide some “low-hanging fruit” to help get more out of the big investment of time and resources that performance reviews represent. 

To those who are perhaps less focused on creating a leading edge workplace culture, based on the comments and the votes one conclusion is that you might actually be better off ceasing your reviews altogether. As mentioned earlier, at least you’d save the considerable time being wasted and you might reduce the likelihood of alienating a big percentage of your workforce.

On the flip side: the positives of performance reviews

Now I know this will only be read by those who can really be bothered, so I’ve put it at the end.

For those who felt performance reviews were worthwhile, the themes were fewer in number and very clear:

  1. Have senior leaders involved, or don’t do them
  2. Use them as morale boosters – but ensure you deliver what you promise
  3. Do them regularly and informally (which means you probably need to institute some sort of structure to your informality).

To you, my very best wishes. There is clearly a massive opportunity here.  

Mining People International has 24 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies with their HR services. Find out more about our HR consulting services or get in touch today. 

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]