Are people generally more contented at work these days? What can companies do to ensure that their employees are happier? And is communication in the workplace a neglected resource?

One way to address these questions is through more structured company appraisals, but it seems that employers and employees alike underestimate the value of regular reviews. In fact, many appear to dread them.

Yet if you are feeling that you don't get enough recognition for your efforts, or that your job title does not reflect your responsibilities, you should be encouraging regular appraisals as a way of discussing your problems.

A common misconception is that appraisals are simply about assessing past performance and seeing whether you deserve a pay rise. This can be part of the process, but in recent years, greater emphasis has been placed on discussing the future of the staff member in terms of development needs.

A recent Joslin Rowe survey polled 200 individuals working within the insurance industry to ask their opinion of salaries, benefits, reviews, training and the future of insurance. The survey uncovered some worrying trends.

A full 38% described morale in the workplace as "poor." This response often came from individuals whose company was in the process of making redundancies. A further 48% said morale was "average," and only 14% described it as "good" or "very good."

Likewise, 35% said they felt unappreciated at work. Yet if people are unhappy, why aren't they talking about it? The silence could be linked to the fact that the majority of employees in the insurance industry (60%) receive appraisals only annually, whereas other industry sectors are moving towards more regular reviews – generally at quarterly intervals.

Even more alarming was the revelation that 34% of the individuals questioned never receive appraisals.

Dissatisfaction with a job breeds resentment. The more opportunities you have to discuss problems with your employer, the greater your chances of resolving grievances.

The questionnaire further revealed that one of the most usual complaints is disatisfaction with present salary. Fully 36% of the 200 survey respondents described their current salary as "below average," while 48% described it as "average." Only 16% admitted that their current rate of pay could be described as "competitive." Again, the majority (95%) receive a pay review only once a year.

If you feel you deserve a better salary, then say so. Appraisals are a very good time to bring up the subject – even if the emphasis of the discussion is not on remuneration. Salary is often a taboo word, but it really shouldn't have to be. Go to your review prepared with a list of everything you have achieved – both qualitative and quantitative. In particular, emphasise the things you have done which were not in your original job description, and use them to justify your value.

To get a good idea of your current market value, keep an eye on job advertisements for positions similar to your own. It is also worth looking at salary surveys, which are now widely available on the internet and often featured in the trade press.

There certainly seems to be a move, across all industries, towards developing more in-depth appraisal systems and applying them more regularly. The DTI recently announced that a growing skill shortage is the single biggest threat to the financial services industry. Training and education have been denounced as less able to deliver the workforce needed in the future.

This, combined with the growing trend for employees to move from job to job more frequently, means that employers are having to make extra efforts to hang on to their most valued workers. Appraisals will surely have a big part to play in staff retention over the coming years.

There are a few simple steps to a ensuring you have a productive appraisal. Make make sure the following things are covered:

  • You should have plenty of warning about when it will take place, so that you can prepare your own objectives for the meeting.
  • Your performance must be discussed with examples to illustrate your strengths and weaknesses.
  • You should come to an agreement about your future training requirements and your career aspirations.
  • Specific job-related goals should be identified.
  • You should have plenty of opportunities to put your view across.

  • Topics