Conducting reviews for a company is not always straight-forward. Regardless of the sheer numbers themselves, it can be difficult to go about rating someone’s job performance.

Complicating this is the fact that management often forms personal and positive working relationships with employees, making it difficult to be honest about the negatives. Due to this, it’s easy to fall into traps like the leniency bias, which is vital to avoid because it can harm the company overall.

What is Leniency Bias?

The leniency bias is an effect that many managers experience when it comes time to review their employees or peers. Essentially, it refers to an individual or groups of people that they tend to be more lenient with when compared to another, regardless of their actual performance.

Sometimes, it takes the form of leniency towards peers or with an individual employee due to a closer working relationship with them. This bias also occurs in situations other than employee rating. Some managers can be inordinately positive when reviewing performance, and not focus on areas that need improvement.

Needless to say, results are inaccurate when this occurs. The inflated ratings cannot be trusted due to the lack of a fair and objective system in place. Indications of areas for improvement tend to be overlooked in these cases, meaning that there’s no encouragement for growth. This can be detrimental to performance improvement.

What Causes This? – Employees

Personality plays a huge role in the leniency bias. Researchers have found that those who benefit most from the bias are individuals who are generally considered by others to be agreeable and extroverted in comparison to those who are not. The reasoning is simple: people who are well liked by others, and especially by their management, will receive more positive assessments than their peers who have equal output but are not as extroverted or agreeable.

Many people’s reviews are primarily affected by their disposition instead of their overall performance and contribution to the company.  For a more objective and fair evaluation of employees, it’s essential to be aware of this natural tendency to favor friends and agreeable people.

Another factor that contributes to the leniency bias is the fear of negative evaluations reflecting poorly on the evaluator. This is particularly the case when the direct management of the employees is conducting the evaluations. It comes from the idea that negative evaluations indicate poor leadership; and as a result, management is more likely to rate the employees of their department higher than deserved in order to make themselves appear more successful in their position.

What Causes This? – Self-Evaluations

One of the trickiest assessments for many to complete are self-evaluations. They’re something that everyone has experienced at some point in their life, whether through work or school. These create the dilemma of wanting a good review while also trying to be honest. Ideally, everyone responds honestly in their self-assessments, but it has been shown that even these are unreliable due to differences in personality and standards.

For instance, a confident and secure individual will genuinely believe in their work and skills, resulting in a positive rating. Alternately, someone lacking this confidence is more likely to give themselves a more negative review. Because the self-evaluators do not have a standard to measure against or other evaluations to compare with, the results of these assessments are arbitrary.

How to Avoid the Leniency Bias

The leniency bias can be difficult to avoid. After all, the more management likes or emphasizes with someone, the more likely they are to offer them leniency. The only way to avoid it is to look solely at performance which, unfortunately, is extremely difficult to do.

The good news is, there are digital programs available to assist in the evaluation process. Programs like 360 degree feedback look at the facts to help build objective reviews. They look at performance, productivity, and reliability, to name a few. This is a great tool to use when it comes to avoiding the leniency bias.

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Steffen Ploeger
Steffen Ploeger is bilingual (German/English) and is currently working as a Client Relationship Specialist. He likes to speak his mind and enjoys sharing his thoughts online through blogging and social media. One of his ambitions is to inspire readers to share their own opinions and experiences. Follow @steffenploeger on Twitter.

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