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According to Wikipedia, peer review is, “the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work.”  While typically used to evaluate scholarly work in academia, peers reviews have found their way into the employee evaluation process.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Here’s a typical situation: its time for your annual review. Your boss sends a peer review form to eight of your co-workers, collects the data and then shares the results during your evaluation. Six peers give positive feedback and perhaps some constructive, respectful suggestions for improvement. Then two peers use the peer review as an opportunity to ZINGyou! Nasty comment after nasty comment about things that happened years ago, leaving you in tears.
You’ve just been zinged by a covert bully’s deadliest weapon – the back stab. You see, some bullies aren’t brave enough to give you negative feedback to your face but put an anonymous peer review form in front of them and you give them an opportunity to weld their “knife” over and over again. The victim is left feeling paranoid and beat up. Forget about the evaluation, even if the boss says not to worry about one or two (or a dozen) negative comments by the bully, the victim spends the rest of their life obsessing over who zinged her.
Peer reviews shouldn’t be used in small groups.
Peer reviews are not meant to be used within departments, units, or within teams. It’s a cowards approach to giving feedback both positive and negative. If I have an issue with the way Amy always interrupts me during our monthly meetings, I need to approach Amy respectfully right after the meeting (“Amy. I’m not sure you realize this but every time I speak, you interrupt me….”) – not wait until it’s time for Amy’s annual review (“Amy is rude, abrasive, always interrupts and oh yeah….she’s has bad breath too!…..”).  
Instead, people who work within a department should learn the skill of giving real-time face-to-face feedback. How? It’s a skill that can be learned. How do I know? Because I and many others teach nurses/groups how to be open to feedback and how to give feedback respectfully.
When peer reviews should be used.
Peer reviews should be used when you are trying to get feedback across a larger customer base with people you don’t directly work with but need to interact with.
For example, I used to be a corporate director in a large health system. My “customers” where the CNOs, Directors of Education, and the Deans of the local schools of nursing. I developed programs involving student and new nurses and was responsible for the professional development of over 10,000 nurses. Sending a peer review to a sampling of my customers was appropriate. Why? Because I didn’t work when the CNOs and Deans everyday but did interact with them using a variety of channels – email, meetings, phone calls, etc.
It was important to get their feedback on my interactions over time using multiple channels. Their respectful feedback reinforced that I was a good communicator but also uncovered that I needed to ask for their input more often. I can live with that. Because I wasn’t directly working with them, using the peer review form was appropriate.
Okay. I know that just because I blogged my opinion about peer reviews doesn’t mean that peer reviews within departments will stop today (although I’m an optimist). So, if you get asked to review someone whom you work with every day, use the opportunity to respectfully give feedback – positive feedback. If you have “issues” with this person, have a conversation real time. Don’t wait until an annual review to tell him/her things that happened 10 months ago. Do the right thing – no matter what.
Thanks for reading. I welcome comments and would be interested in knowing about your experience with peer reviews!
Take care and stay connected
For more great tips, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying! 

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  1. Interesting position, Renee… though I do see your point. If we wait until the peer review to provide feedback- we are actually doing a disservice. To the work, to our co-worker, to the patients. I have always recognized that providing feedback in a timely manner that has the patient's well-being at heart was one that provided the best possible outcome. You are right- I am not sure we will see peer review go out the door… but glad you are being optimistic about the whole thing! Have a healthy day.

  2. Thanks Liz. I hadn't really thought about peer reviews in this way until I received an email from a nurse who felt beat up by her peer reviews. Got me thinking about when they are appropriate and when they are not.

    Yes. I call it "the 72 hour rule". Basically, you have 72 hours to address an issue with a peer. If you miss you window of opportunity, you've missed your window of opportunity!

    Warm regards

  3. Honestly..after 20yrs of nursing I take my reviews and throw them in the shredder. My evaluations were always good and the peers I look up to have always been willing to mentor weakness as I grew as nurse verbally face to face. I feel like nurses are pressured to fill them out quickly. When I was ask to review I always entered positive performance comments. Too many to times I have seen the " peer review" given to the bullies on purpose for self serving agendas. I agree with you…its fosters negativity without solution. The nurse who complains on a another nurses performance without addressing how she personally assisted in mentoring improvements should be addressed! I agree…- RN

  4. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. If nurses treated each other with respect, would always support and nurture each other, would go out of their way to help each other succeed….they would be able to give real, respectful and honest feedback real time – as the behavior occurs. Waiting around for a year to anonymously give feedback is not meaningful, productive or encourages a culture of transparency.
    Hoping to change that!


  5. Renee,

    This is an interesting concept. Personally the last time I did a peer review was on a college group project. Something just doesn't sit right about fellow nurses being able to decide if I decide a raise. I mean, what if they don't like me, which has been the case in the past.
    There is an interesting article about how a nurse is struggling with peer evaluations, but is using it in a good way. Have you read Nurse evaluations?

  6. THanks for sharing that article Brittney. I've been in that situation too when I was a manager and had to evaluate a nurse who just hovered under the radar. I would love to blow up how we currently evaluate nurses (or anyone for that matter). If you really want to influence behavior, waiting until the end of the year doesn't work. Needs to be real time. A nurse shouldn't have to wait until his/her annual performance review to find out how he/she is doing. And as for peer reviews…not appropriate within department. Especially if used to determine their raise!!

    Thanks much

  7. You cleverly leave out the guy who organizes the peer review to empower himself, don't you? That is always the tactics: point at the others such one does not look your way.
    The person who organizes the peer review is the top bully, and behind the veil of hypocrisy he thoroughly enjoys the collateral damage. The only purpose of peer review is crushing people under an iron heel.
    In science it is used to stifle the better scientist in favor of the mediocre ones. In US medicine it is used to eliminate the better doctors who are a menace for the mediocre ones, or who refuse to yield to blackmail of the bureaucracy.
    Secrecy is always synonym with dictatorship and all managers with their trickle-down philosophy lies are dictators.

  8. Interesting perspective. In general, I never recommend peer reviews..for many of the reasons you mention. I think we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable in giving and receiving feedback REAL TIME. Not once a year.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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