Performance Development Review (PDR) Second Survey Report

Performance Development Review Survey Report

Cardiff UCU has run a follow up survey to invite feedback on PDR now that most members of staff have experienced the process. This survey used specific questions with which respondents could rate their level of agreement and also invited free text comments. The survey opened in mid-September, and nearly 300 responses were received, including hundreds of free text comments.


The survey asked questions under five main headings that asked respondents to evaluate their impressions about: (i) aims of PDR; (ii) PDR’s enhancement of development and performance; (iii) the integration of personal and institutional objectives; (iv) equality and diversity aspects of the new procedure; (v) adequacy of training for the new process. The results of the survey are summarised in Table 1.

On the aims of PDR, responses could perhaps be interpreted as a glass half full. Just over 55% of those who took part in the survey agreed that the PDR process had allowed them to reflect on their needs in a supportive way, and 53% of respondents agreed that PDR has fostered honesty between reviewee and manager.

In contrast, there was strong agreement that PDR had unintended negative impacts and failed to enhance development and performance. Almost eighty percent of respondents felt that the process left them feeling monitored, and a similar number of respondents agreed that performance assessment was an anxiety-provoking part of PDR and that PDR was not about development but was about managing performance (87%).

With respect to E+D, 66% of respondents did not feel confident that reasonable adjustments would be available within the workload model (WLM), and 63% felt that PDR did not offer an opportunity to talk about wellbeing.

On training, over half of respondents agreed that training was timely (54%), but a majority did not agree that the training was adequate (58%).

Table 1: Quantitative Results

AIMS Fosters honesty and trust between reviewee and manager 46.6 53.4
Left me feeling monitored 79.2 20.2
Clear who would view documentation 30.9 69.1
Conducted supportively 76.4 23.6
Reflected on work objectives 57.4 42.6
Reflected on development needs 55.4 44.6
PERFORMANCE Motivated me to enhance aspirations 22.1 77.9
Reflect on job satisfaction 44.6 55.4
Identify clear and achievable objectives 46.0 54.0
Stated objectives lower than capabilities 45.5 55.5
Assessment of objectives left me feeling anxious 68 32
DEVELOPMENT Adversarial assessment of personal development 65.9 34.1
Rigid monitoring process 79.8 20.2
Managing performance rather than development 87.3 12.7
Performance assessment is anxiety provoking part of process 79.6 20.4
EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY Reasonable adjustments within WAM 33.6 66.4
Opportunity to discuss well-being and access support 38.4 62.7
TRAINING Adequate training 42.7 57.3
Timely training 45.7 54.3


There were 154 free text qualitative comments within the survey. These were coded according to the schema in Table 2 below which was iteratively developed. These were grouped into 5 themes on: process; workload/environment; negative impacts; assessment; and positive comments. These generated 160, 46, 77, 107 and 33 comments respectively – a total of approximately 420 overall.

The classifications that were most frequently cited included: the negative nature of the process as not supportive or indeed as adversarial (39); that the process was demotivating and/or demoralising (28); that the reviewer was supportive (28); there were concerns over the grading system (27) and the single assessment (20); that the process was anxiety/stress/illness inducing (25); and the objectives were unachievable or goals were unreasonable (21). Other notable classifications included working over contracted hours, issues with the workload allocation model, a lack of support for development, the bureaucratic and time-consuming nature of the system, and poor formulation of the PDR forms.

Examples for each of the five themes are provided below:


No clarity over who else (apart from my line manager) will look at my form, when, and with what agenda. I feel we were completely misled about the connection between PDR and workload.

My PDR was negative and demoralising. When I tried to complain I found that there was not procedure for this.

The timing was all wrong! Targets are set Jan-Dec but duties are allocated Sept-Aug.

 Every development opportunity requested was refused with no further discussion or negotiation allowed.

 My ideas for my development were not taken on board and I did not feel praised at all.

 It is an adversarial system that seems to be designed to get rid of staff via the ‘scoring’ mechanisms. The previous system of appraisal was sensible and a good way for academics to review their progress.

 Another bureaucratic exercise that eats up my time.

 The PDR document is too long and repetitive and needs reviewing.


It now feels like working in a factory and the WLM has perpetuated this.

 This process goes against the grain of any kind of team culture.

 Cardiff University’s work-life balance exists only on paper.

 It operates so as to ignore, rather than respond to, the problems relating to a wide crisis in staff workloads and ever growing expectations of what staff are expected to achieve. If the appraisal system attracted criticism it was because concerns expressed in appraisal forms as to low morale, high workloads, inability to find time to conduct research that should have compelled a school and university response were never responded to.

 We were consulted over the workload allocation but none of our concerns were taken on board…Many of us are working more than 35 hours a week… Many of us are at breaking point.


Comments with this classification emphasised

We are being forced to accept that “we will be SUCCESSFUL in obtaining (major) research funding” as an objective in the coming year, when of course this is outside our control. The whole system is nothing more than officially sanctioned bullying by Cardiff University.

PDR in my school comes across as systematic bullying. The stress associated has made me physically ill over the last few months.

I sometimes wonder of the underlying objective of Cardiff management is to completely demoralise and demotivate academic staff, and actually make it impossible for us to do our jobs effectively and with enthusiasm.

Morale is at an all-time low.

The PDR makes me feel inadequate and has affected my motivation.

I have trouble sleeping and feel sick with worry.

I have never felt so demoralised as I did after this year’s PDR.


 PDR tries to summarise the whole process into one category that I found very childish and unhelpful.

There is an issue with the categories your reviewer places you in at the end, with ‘meeting expectations’ viewed only as average.

The way PDR was run I got the impression that I needed to do it and demonstrate performance in order NOT to lose my job.

It is so painfully clear what the process is now targeting. Rather than the collaborative developmental approach of the older annual appraisal system, this one clearly is aimed at creating ‘sticks’ to act as leverage if there is a need to move people out of the organisation.

We were told that the top category of exceeding all objectives was impossible to get and that most people would be ‘meeting’ or ‘failing to meet most’ objectives. I feel this is a demotivational strategy.

Setting targets relating to grant income – which are outwith the control of individuals…will never strike over pay, I would however go on strike over the PDR and the setting of targets that are outwith staff control.

Concerned that citing a period of illness as the reason for lower ‘performance’ will be seen as even more negative than the lower performance.

I think that the grading system needs to be looked at again. More emphasis needs to put on the fact that to achieve the middle assessment is what we should all be aiming for – that we are doing a good job on a daily basis. As there are 2 higher options, it does tend to diminish your achievement on a daily basis.

Categories of meeting expectations/ahead of expectations is subjective and depends on the individual assessor.

As a reviewer I felt most uncomfortable about ticking the overall assessment box, I also felt that different reviewers have very different ‘yardsticks’ for what they call 1,2,3,4,5.


Only 5 of the 154 responses (3%) could be deemed to positively review the PDR process. These are detailed below:

PDRs (and other similar styles of assessment) are common across all sectors (in my experience) both public and private. It doesn’t seem any different to any other yearly review that I’ve ever done.

There was greater structure in the PDR which I feel, although time consuming initially, enabled a greater level of reflection and recording of achievements which will be useful as a record of progress but also for promotion etc.

Have been doing PDRs for 35 years I don’t find them a threat.

The process isn’t perfect – no process would be – but I don’t have any major problems with it.

I think it gives a clear sense of objectives and clarity over the extent to which individuals are contributed across all areas of University’s activity. It promotes fairness by ensuring that some individuals are not given the freedom to focus on one area (e.g. research) and use this as a means of avoiding their teaching or to gloss over poor teaching returns and/or lack of citizenship.

Whilst the reviewers were often deemed to be supportive, (the most commonly cited positive response), this was usually contrasted with a negative assessment of the process or nature of assessment. See the four quotes below as examples that encapsulate many of the concerns raised above:

I find PDRs to be a time-consuming and bureaucratic way of managing my work commitments. Researchers have enough pressures in the wider academic community to stay productive (i.e. pressure to publish) without this additional pressure from the university. The PDR process has not given me any additional opportunities to discuss concerns with my supervisor or foster an open relationship any more than what I already have. I have a good and open relationship with my supervisor so the PDR is redundant in this sense. Should the relationship change, I am not confident the PDR process would provide me with a ‘safe’ means of voicing my concerns.

I spent at least three hours preparing this. My meeting was around 1 hour. My reviewer was excellent – informed and supportive. In conclusion my experience was positive – but that was entirely down to the reviewer. The system itself is negative and counter-motivational.

I have been here for several years and have to say that for the first time I have felt demotivated and demoralised by changes occurring and in particular this process. On the practical side there was huge repetition in the form and it was too long (not to mention that in its initial form administration duties were totally omitted – revealing the rather naïve thinking about what we actually do!). The meeting was ok but that comes down to an understanding that the reviewers were just as dismayed with the process as the reviewees were and we worked with what we had. We are being performance measured now and the timing of implementation meant that we did not (and will not for the upcoming exercise in January) have 12 months to meet objectives. This cannot surely be fair? Scholarship is an issue – what is it? It appears now that it takes the form of research publications – but T&S staff are non-research active aren’t they? There was a stealthy ‘consultation’ process then implementation anyway. Post event successive managers ‘scored’ us on a 1 to 5 scale (how insulting). Also post event, our views were sought by individuals in the school which led to ABSOLUTELY SCATHING feedback from numerous staff – this too, it seems, has been ignored. In addition to this, the new Workload Model (feeding in to the PDR) has revealed that several of us will work more than 1,500hours per year – this needs investigation. All round some very unhappy individuals (if they haven’t left) and morale at an all-time low.

Much depends on the spirit in which it is conducted. We made a conscious effort to be collaborative and supportive. But the process itself is not really oriented in that direction, especially given the classificatory mechanisms. I am afraid that this is yet another example of micro-management endemic to UK academia which is presently causing me to think seriously about retirement even though I am well under retirement age.

Table 2: Qualitative Analysis

Development not supported 17
Concern over performance related pay 6
PDR timing 4
Concerns over targets not met/what they are used for 9
Process is negative/not supportive/adversarial 39
Time-consuming 16
Bureaucratic 17
Lack of opportunity for discussion 11
Appraisal form/process was better 10
Poor forms 17
No complaints procedure/unable to challenge 4
Subjective opinion and bias mean system is flawed 7
Training was poor 3
Workload allocation model 15
Work over hours/work pressures 19
Additional pressure 3
University doesn’t listen to feedback or concerns 9
Monitoring and evaluation 13
Demotivating/demoralising 28
Anxiety/stress/illness inducing 25
Questioning academic future as a result 6
Bullying 5
Objectives not achievable/ Unreasonable goals 21
Grading system 27
Concern over single assessment 20
Score/form/objectives altered after meeting 8
Equality 4
No incentive for collegiality 3
Must perform in order to not lose job 8
Concern that circumstances/context not taken into account if objectives not met 6
Publication/outputs focus 3
Not encouraging ambition/set low objectives 9
Supportive manager/good relationship 28
Other 5
Total number of classifications 420


The primary conclusions that can be drawn from analysis of the discursive and numerical data from the survey is that employees have not been persuaded that the new PDR system is better that the appraisal system, nor that it is primarily about development. Many respondents feel demoralised by the rating system and are anxious about the implications or outcomes of poor ratings. While there is a range of opinion on other themes, especially those contingent upon personal relationships and the negative impacts of the process, as outlined above, demoralisation is a key concern identified from the most recent survey.

Finally, many of the comments that do not address poor morale, stress, anxiety, and bullying have to do with the disconnection between PDR and workload modelling, and the impression that the plan to fuse the two systems has, if anything, made the achievement of a reasonable work-life balance more difficult rather than easier. Independently of the references to PDR, many of the comments express concern about a culture of overwork, presentee-ism, and fear.

If Cardiff UCU is to represent members’ views accurately and fairly, it seems incumbent on the branch to continue to be critical of the process. We would encourage changes to the PDR system that include removing the rating/grading system, provision of clear guidance to reviewees about what to do in the case of disagreement between reviewers and reviewees, and provision of assurances that the contents of discussions within the PDR process are not linked to any capability or disciplinary procedures. On the basis of evidence reported within this survey (and other discussions between members and the union) we feel these changes would allow UCU to support the PDR process and allow members and staff to have confidence to aspire to achieve and openly discuss concerns and development needs without fear of repercussions.