How Would You Rate This Writer? Punctual? Honest? Dependable? Cooperative?

Personnel experts like forms—especially annual reviews—to create a paper trail on each employee. As an editor I was introduced to annual performance reviews when the Washingtonian changed hands in 1979. We went from Laughlin Phillips, who had started the magazine in 1965  and cared nothing about management practices, to Philip Merrill, who already owned a successful newspaper that had what amounted to vice presidents for editorial, production, advertising, finance, etc.

When the vice presidents descended on the magazine, I was instructed that all employees would now get a written annual performance review.

I think I did it for a year, apologizing to each editor and writer about making them sign off on my rating of them on the usual personnel stuff: Works to full potential, quality of work, work consistency, punctuality, attendance, honesty, etc. After a year I was secure enough with Phil Merrill that I stopped doing it. Accounting would ask where’s the annual review on so-and-so and I ignored them. I suspect they went to Phil to complain and he said the magazine is doing well, don’t sweat it.

The employee rating stuff was brought to mind by a talk with a young editor who has a little girl who will be one year old later this month. The girl, since the age of three months, has been in a top-rated day care center. (In 50 years in  Washington I’ve seen little kids go from staying home with Mom until they’re old enough for kindergarten to Mom going to work and a nanny coming to the house until it’s time for kindergarten to today’s day-care centers, which will take care of your kids almost from birth to kindergarten age.)

This editor with the one-year-old, let’s call her Ava, showed me the “Infant Daily Report” she gets every evening  from the day care center when she picks up Ava after work. First are the Morning Notes where the day care center rates each kid:

Mood: Happy, Quiet, Fussy, Fragile, Lively, Shy.
Play: Active, Low Key, Social, Independent, Busy.
Activities: Toys, Books, Music, Blocks, Puzzles, Movement.
Outside: Social, Exploring, Gross Motor, Observant, Sand, Water.

Then a report on snacks, bottles, and naps, followed by the Afternoon Notes, similar to the Morning Notes. And then comments about how little Ava did today.

Reading the notes I felt a deep empathy for the day care person who every afternoon has to fill out the “Infant Daily Report” on Ava and probably a half dozen other kids not even a year old.

Okay, I understand the day care center m.o. Parents are paying $25,000 or $30,000 a year for us to take care of their kids and they want to be reassured every evening that their little ones are getting a pre-Harvard education.

That day care center person can’t say, look, I can’t really rate one-year-olds every day on all this stuff. Give me a break.

I felt the same way about rating editorial people, especially those occasionally happy, sometimes dependable, often fragile writers.

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