Predictors of Performance Appraisal Discomfort : A Preliminary Examination

By Smith, Wanda J.; Harrington, K. Vernard et al. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Predictors of Performance Appraisal Discomfort : A Preliminary Examination


Smith, Wanda J., Harrington, K. Vernard, Houghton, Jeffery D., Public Personnel Management


In this study, one hundred and eight state and federal employees responded to a questionnaire concerning their feelings of discomfort during performance appraisal. It was hypothesized that performance appraisal discomfort (PAD) would be positively related to beliefs concerning the importance of performance appraisal. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that, controlling for age and experience, communication reticence would be positively related to PAD. Finally, it was hypothesized that, controlling for communication reticence, length of rater-ratee relationship would be negatively related to PAD. Regression analysis demonstrated a significant relationship between beliefs about performance appraisals and PAD, as well as between communication reticence and PAD. Contrary to predictions, length of rater-ratee relationship did not have a significant impact on PAD.

According to Deming, the performance appraisal process leaves employees embittered, dejected, and unfit for 'productive' work for many weeks after the rating.[1] Not surprisingly, several researchers have found that if given the option, many supervisors would chose to not give performance feedback to their subordinates, especially if the subordinate has performed poorly.[2] Similarly, other researchers have demonstrated that even when performance appraisals are conducted, supervisors frequently avoid potentially aversive situations by inflating the scores of their subordinates,[3,4,5] particularly when they will be required to give face-to-face feedback.[6]

Although these findings suggest that the performance appraisal process is uncomfortable for many raters, little is known about the nature of performance appraisal discomfort (PAD). To date, only the consequences of PAD have been empirically examined. Using a questionnaire specifically designed to measure feelings of discomfort in performance appraisal situations, Villanova, Bernardin, Dahmus and Sims found that raters reporting higher levels of PAD tended to give more lenient ratings than raters reporting lower levels of discomfort.[7] Unfortunately, no study has yet attempted to identify those individuals likely to experience higher levels of PAD. Furthermore, no empirical efforts have been made to identify the potential causes of PAD or to isolate potentially problematic performance appraisal situations. With an estimated 90 percent of Fortune 1000 firms engaged in some form of multi-source performance assessment (e.g. 360-degree feedback),[8] the issue of PAD is both timely and critical in today's organizations. Given the widespread usage of these types of assessment systems, a greater understanding of the PAD phenomenon is imperative. In this paper we will attempt to take a first step toward a better insight into PAD through an examination of some of the possible predictors of PAD. We will first present a brief overview of some common techniques for the measurement of PAD, before discussing the objectives and rationale of the present study.

The Measurement of Performance Appraisal Discomfort

Relying on Bandura's theory of self-efficacy,[9] Abbott and Bernardin designed a 27-item questionnaire reflecting a variety of performance feedback situations.[10] Each item, measured on a five point scale, assessed the respondent's (rater's) degree of discomfort in a variety of performance appraisal situations. The raters' level of discomfort in each type of situation was believed to reflect their feelings of self-efficacy when giving performance feedback.

Disappointingly, no reliability or validity data is yet available for this instrument. Nevertheless, practical use of the scale has been recommended by Bernardin and Beatty,[11] who suggested using scores on the scale to determine what (if any) training is necessary for each rater. It has been suggested that low rater self-efficacy (i.e. high discomfort) and the resulting defensive behaviors occurring in certain performance appraisal situations could be effectively reduced with adequate training and mastery. …

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Predictors of Performance Appraisal Discomfort : A Preliminary Examination
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