Toolkit for Interrupting Bias in Performance Appraisals
This toolkit is an inclusivity how-to created by the FAS EDI Committee in collaboration with HR Support Services (HRSS).
Research indicates that despite our best intentions, our performance appraisals of others can be imperfect and oftentimes biased. Biased performance appraisals can lead to inflation and deflation of employees’ ratings, resulting in an imbalance that can impact promotion, pay, and career prospects.
Research sheds light on these biases and provides tactics to interrupt bias. Financial and Administrative Services (FAS) has made a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion that includes common business practices like performance appraisals. This tool will help managers recognize and consciously reduce potential biases during performance appraisals Refer to these patterns as you think about and reflect on the performance of your team members.
Common Forms of Bias:
- Recency Bias is the tendency to weigh the most recent events in the past one or two months much more heavily than events that occurred earlier in the 12-month appraisal period. This can lead to the Halo/Horn Effect.
- Preventative Measure: Collect feedback on employees at various points throughout the year and conduct regular one-on-one conversations. Encourage employees to keep a personal achievement log, which can help with their self-evaluations. Considering more data points collected periodically throughout the year allows for a more comprehensive appraisal of achievements and areas for improvement.
- Halo/Horns Effect Bias occurs when one characteristic that a manager perceives as positive skews the entire evaluation as positive. Conversely, one negatively perceived trait can overly influence the evaluation as negative.
- Preventative Measure: Focus on factors that are truly related to job success; consider collecting evaluative feedback from multiple relevant stakeholders, customers, and coworkers to gain an inclusive view of employees’ performance and to help avoid having your own appraisal overshadowed by one positive or negative trait.
- Primacy Bias is the opposite of Recency Bias, in which people recall/remember the first pieces of information they received better than those encountered later. Overreliance on first impressions can affect the overall appraisal of an employee.
- Preventative Measure: To avoid this tendency, take an approach similar to that for preventing Recency Bias: keep a record of performance snapshots from different points in time over the review period so you have a record to consult when completing appraisals.
- Distance Bias, otherwise known as “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, is the tendency to favor and prioritize employees who have more visibility to the manager over those who might work in a different location or at different hours. This type of bias is particularly common in a hybrid/remote work environment and can create imbalance.
- Preventative Measure: Ensure that assignments and high-profile projects are fairly distributed and accessible across on-site, remote, and hybrid work sites. Provide clear criteria and expectations regardless of location and a transparent selection process for work assignments.
- Leniency/Severity Bias occurs when managers give favorable ratings despite notable room for improvement to be supportive or well-liked. Conversely, managers tend to rate employees lower than their performance warrants to motivate average performers to improve.
- Preventative Measure: Consider collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders to gain a balanced view and reassess a skewed evaluation.
- Centrality Bias is the tendency to rate most items in the middle of an appraisal scale to avoid differentiating among team members, particularly between low and high performers. An example of this bias is when a manager rates most of the team as “meets expectations” despite objectively acknowledging different levels of performance among team members.
- Preventative Measure: The appraisal for each employee is meant to be a complete view of their performance for that year, and evaluation feedback should include specific and job-relevant examples to support the rating. Reviewing the employee’s self-appraisal can also provide useful insight into their performance, as well as individual contributions or accomplishments from the past year.
- Identity Bias is the tendency to view and rate employee performance filtered through stereotypical assumptions about factors such as sex, race, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, educational background, age, disability, etc.
- Preventative Measure: The University of Texas at Austin, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. As members of the university community, we are all expected to make decisions in accordance with the principles of nondiscrimination and commit to not only ensuring compliance with the law, but also to accord respect and include all members of our community. Additional information can be found online.
- Parental Bias is the notion/assumption that employees who are caring for children, or for elderly family members, are somehow less productive as compared to those without any parental or family obligations. This affects parents and guardians, as well as employees without children.
- Preventative Measure: This bias can be easily overcome by focusing on factors that are truly related to job success and actual performance, and by providing clear expectations regardless of current personal situation. If expectations are met throughout the year, there should be no reason for evaluating any employee unfairly, which is true for all the biases listed above.
Additional Tips to Mitigate Bias:
Refer to Central HR’s performance appraisal guide when writing and reviewing performance evaluations of your team for a structured and consistent process
Provide clear and specific feedback using the STAR method (Situation-Task-Action-Result). This approach focuses on facts to explain and support your assessment.
Situation/Task: The situation or task you are discussing gives context for employees’ actions.
Action: Details of what was done/said in response to the situation.
Results: What was achieved by the action and the reason(s) it was effective or not.
Separate personality issues and potential from skillset and actual performance. There is a tendency for using a narrower range of behaviors that are often accepted from women and people of color. A series of studies found that women were 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback as opposed to either positive feedback or critical objective feedback.
- Level the playing field with respect to self-evaluation. There may be cross-cultural and gender differences in self-appraisals. Some groups may be reluctant to self-promote, including first-generation professionals, people of Asian descent, and women. Consider providing guidance on how to write an effective self-evaluation.
Request and provide evidence to support ratings for the evaluation period. This practice will help minimize the “Halo-Horn Effect”. Research shows that providing evidence and justification for ratings tends to reduce the degree of bias in this process from both the employee and supervisor.
Combat in-person favoritism. With the transition to remote/hybrid work models, be mindful that employees who have more in-person interaction aren’t inadvertently receiving higher rates on appraisals, larger compensations, and quicker promotions.
Unbiased appraisals have positive impacts on an organization. They...
Build a diverse leadership team comprising of the organization’s top performers.
Encourage diverse workgroups across the organization.
Develop and optimize talent.
Eliminate unfair inconsistencies in compensation and rewards and better reflect individual efforts and achievement.
Curb unfair dismissals with potential legal implications.
Promote engagement and reduce voluntary separations.