It’s an annual thing at your office: you’ve been called in for your performance appraisal. Over the past year, you’ve done a pretty good job with your duties at the workplace. You think your boss or superior will give you glowing marks (and maybe even a promotion) based on just your most recent work. Is that the right attitude to have as you go into your performance appraisal? Not often thanks to the spillover effect.
What is the spillover effect? The spillover effect is a type of performance bias. Your boss or superior determines that if you’ve done well in the past, you should continue to do well now. If you’ve done poorly in the past, then your superior assumes the same will continue.
While the spillover effect might fascinate you, it’s far from the only bias that slips into most workplace performance reviews. In this article, we’ll share all 15 types of biases that may affect you—for better or for worse—when you walk into the office for your yearly work appraisal.
According to Merriam-Webster, bias is defined as “an inclination of temperament or outlook” or “an instance of such prejudice.” Most of the time, when we talk about bias, it’s with good connotations. For instance, if a friend asked you who made a better steak, your spouse or a restaurant, you might reply that your spouse does. Of course, you’ll preface your answer by saying you’re biased.
Bias isn’t always a positive thing, though. It can just as easily go in the opposite direction depending on how you feel about a person.
That brings us to biases in the workplace. Everyone you met when you started your job formed an impression of you. Perhaps this was good or bad. Impressions change, though. The more you work with this person, the more they grow to like or dislike you.
When this same person sits down to conduct a performance review, will those personal feelings bleed in a bit? More than likely, yes. Professionals like human resources managers and supervisors have a certain bias for or against you, and they could fall back on these biases without even realizing it as they do a performance appraisal.
Now, if you’re a good employee, this isn’t often such a big deal. If you once didn’t take your job seriously and now do, though, those old biases that you’re a poor worker could haunt you.
Sadly, such biases might exist beyond the scope of whether people at your office like you or how hard you work. Things like gender and race definitely come into play. A Buffer article from 2018 notes that unfairness in the workplace often most affects those that identify as LGBTQ, African-Americans or other un-white races, and women.
In fact, when 28 companies did almost 250 performance reviews, women received harsher criticism than men, says Buffer. Women got such feedback at a rate of 88 percent. For men, it was only 59 percent.
Okay, so now we’re certain that bias exists in the workplace, whether we want it to or not. We also know that some biases can benefit us and others hinder us. Sadly, those biases can originate from factors we cannot change, such as our race.
That brings us back to a bias known as the spillover effect. We touched on it in the intro, but let’s cover it again here. It’s one of 15 types of biases that show up again and again in employee performance appraisals.
With the spillover effect, your superior looks at your past work as the predictor of what kind of work you’ll do now and in the future. If you’ve always worked exceptionally well and done great at your job, then the spillover effect works to your advantage. Your boss might only skim over your current work because they know how good of a job you generally do. They thus assume you’ll continue to maintain the same level of work.
Earlier in this article, when talking about biases, we mentioned that some employees start off doing poor work but then shape up and do better. In such a situation, the spillover effect hurts you. If you once did bad work, then with the spillover effect, your boss will continue to assume you’ll do more bad work. Yes, even if you’ve made vast improvements between now and then.
The spillover effect can result in sometimes unwarranted high marks and unfair low marks on a performance appraisal.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As we mentioned, there’s 15 types of performance biases. Let’s talk about the other 14 now.
With identity bias, your superior or HR manager views you through the lens of the most basic parts of your identity. These include:
Now, you might say, none of those things have anything to do with your work performance. Why should you get judged on them? It might not make sense, but you have to know that most biases occur unintentionally and subconsciously. The HR manager or supervisor might not even necessarily know they’re doing it.
Before, we talked about the impressions you make on those you work with. With the alienation bias, those impressions matter quite a bit. If your supervisor or HR manager feels like they don’t share as much common ground with you, then you’d get lower marks on your performance appraisal.
Consider the affinity bias the other side of the alienation bias, then. If a supervisor feels like they have more in common with you, then they might give you higher marks on your performance appraisal per the affinity bias.
What’s your personality like? How would your HR manager or supervisor describe your character? Both those traits get judged if your higher-ups have a dispositional basis. Those employees who your supervisor judges as nicer might get a better score on their performance appraisal versus those who are deemed harder to work with.
As the name might tell you, those with a situational bias will make their judgements based on situational characteristics. Sometimes, you have no freedom to change a situational bias and thus affect your performance score.
Do you always feel like you’re judged against the standards of another coworker? With comparative bias, it’s more than just a feeling. It’s reality. Your HR manager or supervisor will compare you to other employees to see who comes out “on top,” so to speak. This has less to do with performance and more to do with personal feelings.
Then there’s the opposite of the comparative bias. With a normative bias, everyone kind of gets the same blanket assessment. If someone stands out more than everyone else for the hard work they’ve put in, it doesn’t matter in this instance. Everybody mostly gets scored the same, probably just so the supervisor can put the performance appraisal behind them for the year.
It gets worse than a normative bias. With a severity bias, your HR manager or supervisor will actively decide to skew the scores low. This happens not just one year, but enough times that there’s a trend.
In some instances, the supervisor might feel generous. If so, instead of giving everyone a low score for no reason, they get high scores, again, for no reason. With the leniency basis, performance isn’t really taken into consideration.
If you think about the name refresh bias, it infers you get a fresh start each year for your performance appraisal. If an employee has done consistently bad work or even consistently good work, neither gets factored in.
With a recency bias, your most current work outshines everything else you ever did. If you’ve had a really good year, then that works out well for you. If, for several reasons, you didn’t do work up to the par you usually do, then a recency bias can really damage your performance appraisal score.
Not all HR managers or supervisors remember what’s happened most recently. Some cling to your behavior and performance from way early on when you first started. Each year, that performance becomes the measuring stick to which your current work gets compared to.
If you’re not a perfect employee, then the horns bias won’t help you. With this, your supervisor takes a single factor (sometimes more than one) and then judges you all across the board with it. If you have medical appointments once a month, for instance, then your supervisor might assume you’ll always look to leave work early.
Like several other biases, this can go both ways. The halo bias says that if you do one or more thing really well, that must mean you’re a great employee. As an example, if you dress nice for work every day, then you’re surely very professional. You know, even if you spent that last conference call scrolling through Facebook the whole time.
After reading the last section, you probably thought that many, many of these biases are quite unfair. You’re not wrong. It almost feels like you’re judged from the first second you walk into the office on your very first day. Everything you say and do, the way you dress, the people you befriend and those you don’t, all that would get factored into a performance appraisal.
Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if your work improves over time. Some HR managers and supervisors remember you as someone who did poorly at the beginning and that’s what they hold onto. In other instances, your score doesn’t even consider what you do as an individual. As with the severity bias, sometimes you just get a bad performance review because that’s the kind of mood your supervisor is in.
The problem becomes, with so many biases out there, you can never know for sure which one your supervisor will lean on when they review you and other employees. Thus, if you get a great score, you’re uncertain if it’s because you worked hard or because your supervisor just felt like giving everyone a great score. You can’t really ask anyone else at your office since your colleagues might feel private about their appraisals.
Performance appraisals are intended to give employees pointers for improvement from year to year. When biases cloud the purpose of these appraisals, then their effectiveness becomes muddled. Worse, the outcomes can negatively affect employees in a few ways.
Let’s say, for instance, you get a great score on your performance appraisal but you’re not a particularly hard worker. The score makes you feel like your quality of work suffices, while in reality, it could be a lot better. You don’t know that, though, so you kick back and coast for the next year.
If you got a bad score on your appraisal because of bias but you work very hard, one of two things will happen. You could work yourself into the ground trying to get a good score for the next year, but to no avail. Then you’ll burn out. You could also just stop caring. You might think that no matter what you do, it’s never enough for your boss, so why bother?
Both the scenarios of an okay worker getting a great score and a hard worker getting a bad score will kill office productivity.
The latter situation can also destroy office morale and leads to turnover. Good employees who do the work deserve to get recognition for it on their performance appraisal. When that doesn’t happen, they may stick around for a year to try to improve the situation, as mentioned. If they get yet anther poor review for no reason, then they’ll look for a different job. You thus lose a great employee over nothing more than bias.
Biases may be natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessary in performance appraisals. They can ruin morale and productivity, as we just talked about. Even positive biases have negative impacts if an okay worker gets complacent due to a good performance score.
There’s only one fair way to do a performance appraisal, and that’s to review each employee based on their quality of work. Not how they dress, not what they look like, not their gender or who they’re friendly with.
That’s a lot easier said than done, sure, but you have to do it anyway. To keep bias out of performance appraisals, you might invite a neutral third party to oversee the appraisals. They can interject when necessary.
You could also increase the scope of the appraisals. With 360-degree reviews, colleague opinions, manager reviews, and past data all get compiled into one appraisal. That makes it less likely for you to get a score based on biases, some of which you can’t always help.
If you suspect a bias has influenced your most recent performance appraisal, you might want to talk to an HR manager (provided they didn’t do the review) or another higher-up to see what you can do.
Are performance reviews necessary? In today’s ever-changing workplace environment, the opinions on the necessity of performance appraisals differ. Some believe appraisals are still the best way to review the performances of employees, but others call them useless and even insulting to workers.
According to this Forbes article from late 2016, the U.S. Army did the first performance reviews before World War I. The concept stuck around through the second World War and trickled down to workplaces in the years since.
While a workplace should certainly have some means of tracking growth and productivity among its employees, maybe performance appraisals aren’t the be-all end-all some companies think they are.
Do biases exist outside of performance appraisals? Absolutely. In our personal and professional lives, we carry with us our own set of biases. Most people make these judgments unconsciously, but they do matter in our day-to-day lives. They dictate which restaurant we go to or the people we befriend.
And yes, we have biases at work, too. Everyone has a manager they like better than another one or a group of coworker pals. Biases influence your feelings towards these people and the rest of the staff you work with. The problem becomes when a person’s bias can slip its way into a performance review. Our personal biases may hurt feelings if they become too apparent, but they don’t hinder promotions and even possibly contribute to employee turnover.
You must be logged in to post a comment.