mental health

Writing letters of recommendation should be a supplement to the annual review format

The last four weeks have been a series of crazy events for me during which I have had to also think of the great attributes of my colleagues of friends as I have been asked to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. It seems to be quite an honor to be asked; or so I believe. As such I take them very seriously not only for my colleagues’ sake but also for my own. By focusing on the great attributes I get to learn a lot as well as to what I value and what I deem to be integral to a good working environment.  And for that I am grateful to have been asked to write these letters of recommendation. I have yet to say no to such a request for there is always something that can be highlighted and acknowledged.

Every employee should be valued as a whole being. When I write letters of recommendation, I never just focus on the tasks that the individual accomplished.  I like to also note their passion and what zest they bring to the workplace.  I handed to a past employee the letter of recommendation I wrote on his behalf and he came back to me and said “I didn’t realize how good I was.”  He noted that while he did well in his annual review, he didn’t get a true sense of himself as a colleague and as a human being. Annual reviews are broken down into sections and tasks as if one is just a cog in the machine.  Sure strengths are often noted.  Sure, one captures areas for improvement. Those few bullets of strengths  and areas for improvement don’t capture the whole individual.   In those annual reviews, we are often seen as just workers. Obviously, that is why we are in a workplace- to work. However, we are more than that.

In order to truly be part of a workplace and be as productive as possible, we do need to be seen in our entirety. That is why the letter of recommendation is a nice supplement. I try to diligently capture how an individual brings their many facets to the workplace. Although, I must admit, one can never get too personal. That is just unprofessional. I was recently asked during a call in which I was serving as a reference, if I could expand on the personal aspects of the individual. I balked a bit at that. There is no way, I can talk about heath or marital status. I can talk about how a person brings a sense of calm to a team meeting as well as perspective. It is always a fine line one walks.

While one is at it, one may wish to also consider writing “letters of recommendation” for friends just to do so. Meaning, writing letters for why this person is a friend. By writing such a letter, you get to remember why this person is your friend and you get to reflect in what they bring to this world. Wouldn’t it be nice to also just get such feedback randomly?

Letters of recommendation could just be the new “it” thing to do.

3 replies »

  1. In my cynicism re jobs and careers, just today I pooh-poohed the value of cover letters on the blog of a much younger person than you (I think) and I (I know). I believe she is in her mid 20’s and not very far along at all in a career, let alone in what I believe is her chosen career field. That lucky young lady will be starting a master’s program in NYC shortly during which I expect she’ll meet people who will be helpful along her career path.

    I do believe, though, that in fields like yours, and especially for people who are farther along their career paths, letters of recommendation can probably be very helpful and beneficial. In addition if, as you say, you have an excellent reputation within your field, I am sure such a letter from you is especially valuable! I’m sure you’d agree that, more often than not, it’s not what you know but who you know that is important, no matter how unfair this truth may be.

    I’m glad that you look at this exercise as more of a blessing than a burden as it indicates that you like and value the colleagues for whom you take it on. I also like the idea of doing something similar re friends. Definitely food for thought on life’s journeys, wherever they may take us!


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