Skip to content

Mitigating Bias in Performance Reviews: 10 Strategies for Fair and Accurate Employee Feedback

Performance reviews are an essential component of many organizations’ human resource management processes. They provide employees with feedback on their performance, help identify opportunities for improvement, and inform decision-making around promotions, bonuses, and, in some cases, terminations.  

But performance reviews are not immune to bias; when left unchecked, bias can lead to unfair and inaccurate evaluations that can negatively impact both employee and employer.  

In this blog post, we will share how to identify different types of bias that might be present and explore some strategies for mitigating bias in performance reviews. 

Different Types of Bias 

Bias can take many forms, including gender, racial, anchor, and proximity bias. Here’s a brief overview on each: 

  • Gender bias is a form of bias that occurs when an individual’s gender is unfairly taken into account when making judgments or decisions.  
  • Racial bias occurs when people are treated differently or unfairly based on their race or ethnicity. 
  • Anchor bias occurs when someone uses an initial impression, or “anchor,” as a reference point for informing following behaviour.
  • Proximity bias is a form of bias that occurs when someone favours people who are physically closer to them or with whom they share common experiences or interest.

How Bias Can Impact Performance Reviews 

Bias can have a significant impact on performance reviews, often without us realizing it – that’s why it’s called unconscious bias. When left unchecked, our biases can affect the way we evaluate employees, leading to unfair and inaccurate assessments.   

Being aware of and actively working to mitigate bias in performance reviews is essential to ensuring that employees are evaluated based on their actual performance, rather than projections of our internal biases. 

Here’s how different types of bias can impact performance reviews:

Gender bias  

Gender bias impacts performance reviews in a number of ways. Recent research has shown that women often receive vague or less actionable feedback for the same behaviors or accomplishments as men. Additionally, gender stereotypes can influence the types of feedback that women receive, with women often receiving more feedback on their communication style or personality, rather than their actual job performance. Gender bias can also impact the way that job criteria and expectations are established, with women often being evaluated on different criteria altogether.  

Racial bias  

Racial stereotypes and unconscious biases can both impact performance reviews. Some managers may judge employees unfairly based on racial stereotypes, while others may give preferential treatment to employees that they find more relatable or likeable, leading to inaccurate assessments. Microaggressions (those subtle but harmful comments or actions) can also have a negative impact on evaluations. Additionally, according to one article, “research consistently finds that employees from minority racial groups are more often subject to the ‘prove it again’ mentality in their performance evaluations. Their mistakes are noticed more and remembered for longer by managers.”

Anchor bias

Anchor bias can significantly impact performance reviews by creating a baseline that influences subsequent evaluations. Managers’ initial perceptions of an employee’s performance can set the tone for all future evaluations, leading to consistently higher or lower ratings than warranted. This bias can be especially damaging if a manager’s initial impression is incorrect, as it can create an unfair and inaccurate picture of an employee’s performance over time. 

Proximity bias

Proximity bias impacts performance reviews when managers favour employees who work in the same location or who they see more frequently, while overlooking the contributions of remote employees, or ones they don’t collaborate with as often. This creates an unfair advantage for some employees and a disadvantage for others.  

10 Strategies for Fair and Accurate Performance Reviews 

Providing fair and accurate feedback in performance reviews is crucial for both employees and employers. It helps employees understand their performance, set goals for future growth, and feel valued! On the other hand, inaccurate feedback can lead to demotivation and reduced productivity. 

So, how can you mitigate the impacts of bias to provide fair and accurate feedback?

Consider these 10 strategies while conducting your next performance review: 

  1. Be specific: Define clear and measurable performance criteria to evaluate employees against. Regardless of the position, the performance criteria should be relevant, objective, and directly related to the job duties and responsibilities. 
  2. Be objective: Use objective data and metrics to evaluate performance whenever possible. 
  3. Use multiple evaluators: Involve multiple evaluators in the performance review to reduce the impact of individual biases. 
  4. Be clear: Ensure both yourself and the employee understand what is required of the employee to succeed in the role.  
  5. Understand the role: When evaluating employee performance, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the employee’s job role and responsibilities. Focus on how well the employee is performing their job, rather than comparing them to other employees or using irrelevant performance criteria. 
  6. Compare employees to themselves: Evaluate employees based on their own performance and growth rather than comparing them to others. 
  7. Use data: Use data to evaluate performance, rather than relying solely on subjective evaluations. 
  8. Use a variety of evaluation methods: Use multiple methods to evaluate employee performance, such as self-assessments, peer evaluations, and customer feedback. 
  9. Increase diversity: When using multiple evaluators, ensure they come from diverse backgrounds and have different perspectives to reduce the impact of individual biases. 
  10. Provide DEI and unconscious bias training: Providing training to your management team can help increase awareness and mitigate bias during performance reviews. 

Mitigating bias in performance reviews is crucial for creating a fair and inclusive workplace culture. The impacts of bias can be far-reaching, leading to inaccurate and unfair evaluations that can affect employee morale and productivity. By taking steps to identify and mitigate bias in performance reviews, employers can ensure that they are providing fair and accurate feedback to employees while also creating a workplace where everyone has equal opportunities for success. 

When You Prioritize DEI, Everyone Benefits 

When employers invest in fostering a company culture rooted in DEI, everyone benefits. If you’re not sure where to start, we can help! Our pragmatic approach to DEI and unconscious bias training provides leadership with the knowledge and tools they need to build a culture of inclusivity and support. 

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you establish a solid foundation for long-term success!