Blog·Performance Management

December 11, 2019

Bias in Performance Appraisal: An Employee and Manager Perspective

Bias in performance appraisals can cause inadequate review of employee and negatively affect their motivation. Find out more about common biases to avoid them.

One of the main problems with rating or evaluating anybody is having the ability to disregard context and history and isolate the specific task or time period being measured. Here are some of the main biases found in performance appraisals.

Employees’ contextual performance has a large positive effect on job performance ratings

Contextual performance, otherwise known as organizational citizenship behavior, extra-role performance or non-job-specific performance, as an additional dimension of performance referring to any behaviors in which employees go beyond their formal job requirements, such as taking on extra tasks, showing initiative or helping colleagues. Several controlled studies and meta-analyses have demonstrated that these behaviors influence the perception of employees’ overall job performance by their managers and, as a result, boosts performance ratings. Employees who voluntarily help others with work-related problems, make constructive suggestions to improve the efficiency of work processes or co-operate with others to serve the interests of the organization, therefore, tend to receive substantially higher performance ratings.

Managers’ implicit person theory regarding the malleability of personal attributes has a large effect on how they rate their employees

Implicit person theory (IPT) defines a person’s implicit beliefs about the malleability of personal attributes. It refers to the extent to which an individual believes that personal assets such as ability or talent are fixed or, rather, can change or develop over time. A blank, randomized study finds that managers that believe the former, tend to give lower ratings for good performance when their employees have previously been given a negative performance rating. This suggests that such managers tend to pay less attention to the actual performance of an employee once they have already formed an impression.

On the other end of the spectrum, managers who inherently believe that people can change and improve tend to give higher ratings for good performance when their employees have previously been given a negative performance rating, suggesting that they base the grading on a more conscientious consideration of the performance instead of their initial impression.

The more powerful the rater, the more critical

A meta-analysis of 46 studies indicates that as a manager’s power level grows, their evaluation of others becomes increasingly negative, and their self-evaluation concurrently improves. This finding suggests that performance evaluations by supervisors should be considered in light of their hierarchical position and power level.

Rater training has medium to large positive effects on rating accuracy

The halo effect describes when a manager forms a favorable, unfavorable or average impression or a specific employee based on one aspect of them and allows that impression to determine any future judgements of that person. For example, a manager may assume that because an employee is physically attractive, they are also helpful.

A meta-analysis of 29 studies demonstrates that rater-error training and performance-dimension training both reduce halo error slightly but are less effective with respect to leniency (the tendency to evaluate all employees as outstanding and to give inflated ratings rather than true assessments of performance). Frame-of-reference training and behavioral-observation training on the other hand, seem to be the most effective.

Male employees who experience a conflict between family and work receive lower performance ratings

A randomized controlled study demonstrated that men who have conflict at home in their family lives, that result in an absence from the workplace receive lower overall performance ratings and lower reward recommendations than men who do not, whereas ratings of women are unaffected. This was the case from both female and male raters.

The outcome of managers’ own performance appraisal has a large effect on the way in which they evaluate their employees

bias in performance appraisal

A combination of studies demonstrated that managers who receive positive feedback about their performance subsequently rate their employees significantly higher than managers who receive negative feedback. This effect even occurred when managers knew their own evaluation was inaccurate.

Introverted employees evaluate their extroverted and disagreeable colleagues’ performance substantially lower

Research suggests that introverted employees consistently evaluate extroverted and disagreeable colleagues’ performance as lower. Extroverts or employees that create conflict at work should be aware that their personality-related behavior may have a profoundly negative impact on how they are perceived by their introverted colleagues, which, as a result, may lead to a reduced rating of their performance or collective achievements.

Research indicates that managers are more likely to rate an employee higher if they themselves hired or selected them

Personality traits such as agreeableness, extroversion, and emotional stability are associated with slightly higher ratings and highly agreeable managers especially, are known to be more lenient on poor performance, particularly when they anticipate working with them in the future. On the other side, highly conscientious individuals are more likely to give lower ratings for performance. Cumulatively, raters’ personality traits account for between 6% and 22% of the variance in performance ratings.

Women are more likely to be rated negatively than men

Kieran Snyder’s collected performance reviews from women and men working in the tech industry and found that women were significantly more likely to receive critical feedback. When analyzing the feedback further she found that women were more likely to receive feedback based on personality traits that were often contradictory to those received by men. For example, while men may be considered confident and assertive, the same behavior in a female peer may be considered abrasive.


Performance appraisals are far from impartial, but if you invest in formal leadership training, ideally, frame-of-reference training or behavioral-observation training, management will be fully equipped to give constructive feedback to your workforce.

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