Rating the Raters: When Managers Drop the Ball with Employee Evaluations

Posted on December 05, 2018
Rating the Raters: When Managers Drop the Ball with Employee Evaluations

We don’t like being judged. As it turns out, not many of us like to do the judging, either! Research has shown that most supervisors and managers are uncomfortable making objective evaluations of their co-workers. Too often, employee evaluation is not taken seriously enough. Still, conducting performance reviews is a necessary organizational function.

Employee evaluation documents can impact a worker’s eligibility for promotion and identify gaps in training. For long-term employees, regular performance reviews can chart their positive progress over time or a decline in work quality. An evaluation is a formal document that may be needed to support the termination of an employee for poor work performance.

A few basic problems with the performance review process have been identified by researchers. One of the most common is the Leniency Error. Supervisors often give an inordinate number of employees an “oustanding” rating. This defeats the main purpose of the review – to help identify top performers. In rare cases managers show Stringency Error tendencies, where ratings are consistently in the low range.

Sometimes a worker is given high ratings based on First Impressions Error from when they were first hired, but the evaluation doesn’t reflect their slacking off over time.

Another error in evaluation is called Central Tendency, in which all employees are given an “average” rating. Managers avoid grading anyone too high or too low to avoid conflict, or because they want to be “nice” and are happy to maintain the status quo. This can also indicate a problem with management, who may be driving employees to the middle of the performance spectrum. It is important that the better and the less efficient workers be identified.

Sometimes a manager will rate an employee highly across all areas of evaluation, instead of identifying weakness in their performance, based on a personal liking for them. This is the Halo Effect. A personal dislike can lead to the Horn Effect, where the employee is given all low ratings.

Supervisors and managers need to appreciate that the performance review is not a mere formality. It is a necessary documentation of staff performance that is used by the organization. Evaluators need to be aware of objective measures for rating performance and trained in how to effectively document the work quality of employees. Also, managers need to communicate to staff the importance and function of the performance review, so it is officially recognized and taken seriously by all parties.


This material has been drawn in part from Schulich ExecEd’s upcoming program Certificate in Management Skills for Supervisors (starting Jan. 28, 2019).

This program is an outstanding 5-day certification program for new frontline managers, supervisors and team leaders, as well as those with experience looking to refresh their skills.