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Guidelines for employee files

By Paul Clark

As the middle of the summer approaches, I’m planning to do some catch-up work on personnel files.  I don’t know about you, but the larger the staff gets, the easier it is to allow employee personnel files to get outdated.  Job descriptions change, performance reviews need updating, etc.

The summer months are a great time to be sure that your employee records are current.  Make sure each one contains the basics: a copy of the employee’s job description, job application and résumé. Files might also contain relevant performance issues, both positive and negative.  Not that relevant issues should wait until the next PR- I’m a big fan of timely coaching. But use these six guidelines to record observations you want to have handy when the PR comes around:

1. Include positive and negative behaviors. Recording only negative incidents will unfairly bias your evaluation, and most employees exhibit both positive and negative behaviors at some point in the year. If outstanding performance is observable, be sure it’s noted as well as problems or failures. Regular recording helps insure fair and balanced data.

2. Date each entry. Be sure log notes include data such as time, date and day of the week help identify patterns that may indicate an underlying problem before it becomes more serious.

3. Write only observations. Be careful about the language you use. Performance logs can end up being read publicly. Focus comments solely on behavior that you directly observe. Don’t make assumptions about the reasons for the behavior or make judgments about an employee’s character. Keep out any comments that are either personal or prejudicial. Courts give weight to performance logs that can clearly demonstrate a history of performance problems leading to a dismissal.

4. Watch your language. Any statement that would be inappropriate in conversation is also inappropriate in an employee log. Don’t suggest reasons for employee actions or make connections between events without direct evidence.

5. Be brief, but complete. Log entries should use specific examples rather than general comments. Instead of saying, “John is an excellent custodian,” say “John has reduced our need for custodial supplies by finding more effective and efficient ways to clean.”

6. Track trends. Use logs to tie similar incidents together. After you’ve defined a specific problem or trend, discuss your observations with the employee.

Employee files take some work to maintain, but in many employment situations, they can be a great friend.

Paul Clark is executive pastor of operations at Fairhaven Church, Centerville, OH. [www.fairhavenchurch.org]

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