For many employees, annual performance reviews are an unavoidable part of the job—and, often, a major source of stress. But new research shows that these assessments aren’t necessarily something workers should dread. As Money reports, most employees were found to score above average on their yearly reviews.

A study published by the The National Bureau of Economic Research, which looked at several years' worth of performance review data from a large U.S. company, found that workers tended to receive above-average ratings more often than not. “Excellent” scores, however, were slightly harder to come by; these were slightly outnumbered by assessments that received below-average scores.

This may sound like good news for anyone looking to get a raise. After all, it seems logical that above-average work would be the fastest route to a higher paycheck. But the researchers found that this isn’t exactly the case. Instead of rewarding workers with a pay increase after one good year of work, employers were more likely to grant raises to the employees who improved upon their performances over multiple years. The study also showed that playing the long game doesn’t always pay off: Performance review scores from one year were a poor indicator of how workers scored in the next.

Waiting around for your pay to increase can end up costing you big money over the course of your career. If you’re not willing to switch jobs every two years to keep your salary climbing, use your annual performance review as an opportunity to negotiate.

Start by doing your research. Looking into average salaries for your region and occupation should give you an idea of what pay range is appropriate to ask for. When it comes time to make your case, outline the value you’ve brought to the company by citing your major accomplishments from the past year. And always aim higher than what you expect to receive when giving an actual number, as you’ll likely get offered less than what you're asking.

If you happen to be in the minority of workers who score below average in your next review, don't be too discouraged: According to the study, one bad assessment usually isn't enough to get you fired.

[h/t Money]

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