6 Common Mistakes to Avoid During Employee Evaluations

Employee evaluation remains as popular as ever, even today. But to conduct them well, you absolutely have to avoid these 6 mistakes!

People Strategy
Employee Experience

Marie-Christine Drolet


Sunday, November 08, 2015


Whether you prefer once-in-a-trimester one-on-ones, yearly meetings or 360-degree feedback sessions, employee evaluations are ever-present in companies nowadays. It is therefore important to remain vigilant and conscious of certain types of mistakes that can sneak in and become a bias in the appraisal of the staff.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes that could occur during employee assessments. Consider yourself warned!

1. The Halo Effect

An assessment is influenced by the halo effect when the person who conducts it generalizes an employee’s trait and allows it to taint the whole evaluation, which could occur either because it is a very perceptible element or because it is seems important to him or her.

For example, a certain employee always exceeds their sales objectives and wins all the internal sales contests. During the evaluation, the assessor’s judgement could become clouded by this aspect and lead them to rank the employee as excellent in their entire performance.

In order to dissipate the “halo”, it is advisable to develop an employee performance evaluation grid that is as precise as possible, which then allows you to rate observable and measurable facts and don’t leave much space to the interpretation or subjectivity of the appraiser.

It is also best to precisely define every section of the grid before judging the global performance.

2. The Recency Effect

The person conducting the evaluation can be so captivated by the fact that the employee lost a client last week that they could suddenly forget that this individual has successfully dealt with several complex situations previously.

Be they positive or negative, events closely preceding the assessment can take up disproportionate space in the mind of the appraiser. They may forget to consider previous occurrences, even if they are worthy of attention.

To avoid falling into this trap, the assessor could jot down all the pertinent information as it occurs.

Reviewing these notes at the time of the evaluation helps paint a more realistic and precise picture of the employee.

3. The Central Tendency Effect

When the time for the evaluation comes, some managers end up giving almost everybody the middle grade in each and every category.

This mistake can occur because they lack experience in personnel evaluation, or because they do not spend enough time in reflection, though it is necessary in order to assess an employee’s performance. It could also be that they do not know their employees very well, and they believe that a middle grade would satisfy everybody.

People who have a hard time making decisions could benefit from a scale that does not have a middle (neutral) grade.

Instead of using a numbered scale, they could choose to use an evaluation grid listing different behaviours that would have been prepared in advance, and that would take into account the company’s objectives.

4. The Leniency Effect

In employee assessments, one of the most common mistakes is to give the highest grade to every single person.

People who think like this may believe this is a way to show their gratitude to the employees, or that they hope to be perceived as a “nice” employer. What this bias does instead is show that they are not comfortable in their evaluating role, they have a hard time taking a stand, and they are trying hard to avoid causing any trouble.

Being aware of their management style could help them understand whether or not they have a hard time giving retroaction or defending their position. This type of individual generally benefits from remembering that, most of the time, employees try to perform well and they would appreciate knowing which aspects they could improve upon.

Touching base with them on these elements (based on facts and not mere perceptions) could be the push they need in order to reach excellence.

5. The Severity Effect

At the opposite side of the spectrum from the leniency effect lies the severity effect, which causes some evaluators to give some or many of their employees very low grades.

Some linger more naturally towards the negative aspects of situations and others have very high standards, which makes them more critical than average. There are also those who are hard on others, which might lead them to believe that an excessively positive rating would reduce the workers’ productivity – and therefore, logically, a more severe approach would motivate them.

It is important to understand that such an approach does not encourage anyone to improve.

A conflict could also arise between those who give and receive the assessment due to personality differences. It could prove very interesting to rate the level of complementarity between these individuals in order to find ways to fix these errors in perception.

6. The Mirror Effect

Whether during selection interviews or employee evaluations, people tend to favour those who resemble them.

It is completely natural to have a stronger connection with people who share our values, our interests or who have similar personality dimensions.

Then again, this kind of relationship between a manager and an employee could cause the latter to rate the former in a more positive light (or even in a more negative one, if they are concerned about gossip).

If the evaluator feels that they are in a position that prevents them from impartially judging some of their employees, they could delegate this task to a colleague. Also, other forms of employee assessment could be used; for instance, the 360-degree evaluation (which includes different sources like colleagues, superiors, subordinates and self-rating) could be very efficient in this instance.

How Can I Make my Employee Assessment as Fair as Possible?

A biased assessment can cause employee disengagement or give rise to frustration in the individuals who are being scrutinized. In order for an evaluation to prove beneficial, it is essential that the employees feel that they are being rated fairly and that the evaluation is based on criteria that are just, observable and quantifiable, and not on the evaluator’s opinion and perception of them. An impartial evaluation that is based on facts is an acknowledgement of the employees’ qualities and will encourage them to better themselves!

How do you conduct your employee assessments? Did you ever experience any of the situations described in the article? Let’s get the discussion going in the comments’ section below!

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