Q. I work for a small company, and my boss keeps a file on each employee. He puts things into the files and uses the information when doing reviews. Should the employees be notified when something derogatory goes into their file? Do we have the right to see what it contains? The boss says the information is confidential and for his use only. But at review time we are sometimes asked to discuss the stuff, which may have happened the year before.
A. The most flagrant drawback of his impersonal system is that he notes your mistakes but waits up to a year before giving you a chance to respond.
"Employees do better when they get regular, ongoing feedback, both positive and negative, rather than hearing about everything they did once a year," said Kate Wendleton, president of a career-counseling group.
On the other hand, your boss' recordkeeping gives you the perfect opportunity to ask for a change in his scorekeeping.
"Because your boss is regularly putting notes into his file, you could regularly ask for feedback - both positive and negative - about how you are doing," Wendleton said. "Just say to your boss, 'I'd like to do better in my job. I was wondering if you had any feedback on my performance.' "
Wendleton said you might also add: "Rumor has it that you keep a file on each of us. It's a little unnerving if we don't get that feedback as we go along. We'd all do better if we had regular feedback. What do you think are the chances of letting us each know as we go along?"
By taking the initiative, you could give a big assist to a boss whose odd filing system could reflect poor interpersonal skills, Wendleton said. Your suggestion could provide options that never occurred to him.
Former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch elicited feedback with a simple question he asked often: "How'm I doing?"
"And he asked it all the time," Wendleton said. "He wanted regular feedback, and so do you."
Don't be afraid to toot your own horn, because you can't depend on someone like your boss to notice your good work, Wendleton said.
"Another advantage of pointing out your accomplishments is that your boss is less likely to mess with you," Wendleton said. "He knows you're paying attention to what you're doing."
Don't be afraid to temper your approach with humor, she said. For example, she said, "Just say, half-jokingly, 'Did you notice that I finished that 100-page report in record time?'"
And why should your boss be the only keeper of the files? You should keep a record of your accomplishments, Wendleton said.
You're better at it, anyway.
Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.