Employee management

Appraising the Appraiser - Biases in Performance Reviews

November 25, 2016

Organizations conduct regular performance reviews as a way of managing and improving employee and organizational performance. Performance reviews provide managers an opportunity to speak with their employees one-on-one about their individual performance, career goals, and future direction with the company. In the process, management can provide feedback, suggest improvements, make informed decisions, identify training needs, and validate personnel changes. However, despite their proven usefulness, both managers and employees are often apprehensive about performance appraisals.

The criticism garnered by performance appraisals is usually not because of the appraisals themselves, but rather, how they are conducted. Given that many managers are never trained on how to properly conduct performance appraisals, these reviews are often plagued by a host of problems, including common evaluation biases. Bias during evaluations is the tendency of an appraiser to give an unfair evaluation of the person being reviewed—either overly positive or overly critical. Unfortunately, this has led to a growing sentiment amongst employers and employees; performance reviews are perceived as not being able to adequately capture a person’s performance as it is designed to do.

No appraiser plans to fall into the trap of evaluation biases. Such pitfalls are usually subconscious or simply reflect a lack of training. However, biases can skew the results of performance appraisals. In order to increase the accuracy of any review, bias should be reduced, or eliminated entirely.

A performance review riddled with biases can be detrimental to the employer and employee relationship. The existence of bias can also result in distrust over whether a performance review is an effective evaluation method. However, it still remains that performance reviews have the potential to be beneficial to organizational success, provided the managers conducting the reviews receive proper training as to how to effectively administer the review. Employers and HR should ensure managers are adequately educated about the existence of bias in the workplace, and how it can negatively affect the review process. More importantly, managers must be taught how to spot the existence of bias both while conducting the review as well as in a post-mortem analysis.

While performance appraisals will always involve a degree of subjectivity, awareness of common biases and errors will go a long way towards minimizing their effects. Self-awareness is one of the most effective forms of prevention, since most appraisers are not even cognizant that their evaluation may be conducted with biases. Managers who are aware of their own biases have a better chance of reducing or eliminating bias from their reviews, which will improve the accuracy of the review. More importantly, by increasing the accuracy of the performance review, managers can combat the negative stigma attached to using these kinds of reviews in the workplace and improve the return on conducting said reviews.

Take a look at some of the recurring problems with performance appraisals and how to overcome them by downloading our Performance Appraisal Action Plan for managers.

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