The Only Black Guy in The Office

Employee Performance Reviews Are Bullshit

Whatever business books say, they’re wrong — these things are a recipe for gaslighting

The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Published in
5 min readMar 19, 2020

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Illustration: Richard A. Chance

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting LEVELMAN.com.

When it comes to working in corporate settings, there’s just about nothing I despise more than employee performance reviews. They’re right up there with forced cheeriness, meetings that could’ve been emails, and emails that should’ve remained drafts. Performance reviews are some weird gumbo of patronizing, self-importance, and debate — and when you’re Black, they can have an especially shitty aftertaste.

In theory, they make sense: reviews give the company and its employees a means to assess successes and areas for improvement on an individual level. But the problem begins with the initial self-assessment, which is often composed of ambiguous, open-ended questions that all but beg for disparities between your sense of your performance and your manager’s. It’s the perfect opportunity for shady or just plain incompetent supervisors to gaslight their subordinates.

At my last job, we’d do these performance pit stops quarterly. Four times a year, I’d log onto a drab online HR portal and pull up a list of generalized questions about my work for the company in the past three months. My former manager, Dean, would complete the same form. We’d each get the other person’s notes, then sit down at this long-ass table in a conference room — just the two of us — to compare and discuss the takes. What could go wrong, right?

Ever speak with an older White manager who doesn’t have many Black friends, and it shows? That was Dean. And as a result, you could just hear the uneasiness in his voice when he spoke to me, which made these conversations all the more awkward. Meanwhile, I’d be anxious too; no one enjoys being judged right to their face, especially when the fate of your job or salary could be on the line.

My manager would complete the same form. We’d each get the other person’s notes, then sit down at this long-ass table in a…

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The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Writer for

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.