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Would effective performance appraisals reduce apathetic employee behaviour?

Recently it appears as if there is an all out war on employees’ performance as indicated by the various negative comments in the media. When one consultant is not criticising the level of qualifications that employees achieve in relation to their performance, the other person is calling them lazy.

Yes, the latter has publicly apologised with the suggestion that he did not mean his own employees, but it begs the question: If not them, then who?

I believe this outburst came about as a result of frustration about decreased productivity and the prevailing economic conditions. If this is so, how is it that employees are still receiving very good performance evaluations?

I do agree with the writer who suggested that managers and supervisors should shoulder some of the blame for “lazy employees”. The article this week is about effective performance appraisals and how they can be used to reduce apathetic employee behaviour and increase productivity.

Before I go further, let me state that performance evaluation, performance management and performance appraisal is being used in this article interchangeably. Now, anyone who is au fait with the function of performance evaluations knows that the sole purpose of performance appraisals is to “encourage and guide improved employee performance” (Lathan & Wexley, 1994).

In order for this to be successful, all stakeholders must understand the purpose of the exercise. Managers should all familiarise themselves with the Employment Rights Act and the need to keep ample records about their personnel. This includes an employee’s job description which should be written down in clear and precise terms and be used to support performance evaluations.

It is therefore the responsibility of management to ensure that an employee is conversant with his/her job and responsibilities. Having said that, one must recognise that it is also the responsibility of the employee to become familiar with his job and responsibilities as well. The problem comes when these roles are imprecise and both management and the employees seem unclear about the requirements of the position.

There are many claims that employees seem dissatisfied with the phrase “other duties assigned” that appears on their job descriptions. They have argued that unfair supervisors will use this phrase to justify favouritism. Then when the performance appraisals are being discussed later on the supervisor suddenly acquires amnesia and hence does not (or refuses to) remember to reward the employees for their hard work.

It is true that managers must ensure that they are as unbiased as possible when carrying out their duties. Yet more often than not, they may fail to realise that when employees experience unfair treatment whether personally or vicariously it will diminish their performance, undermine confidence and damage relationships.

Actually, some management specialists have argued that when employees perceive procedural unfairness it can have the adverse affect of reduced organisational citizenship, low job satisfaction and trust and of course, poor performance (Heslin & Walle, 2009).

Moreover, it is argued that unfair performance appraisals can be so destructive that it has been linked to work related stress, workplace bullying and myriads of other work related issues (Heslin & Walle, 2009).

At this stage, it becomes easy to accuse employees of being indolent (laziness) but if one would take the time to look at the underlying issues they would realise that their observations are merely symptoms of a deeper problem. Now, I am not saying that all laziness is a result of poor performance management systems.

However, the problem seems to be so ubiquitous that one must agree with the management specialists who argue that if such systems are poorly administered, it can result in perceived procedural injustice and negative behaviour. Of course this may be challenging for managers to identify, since it is their role to ensure that procedural justice is carried out in organisations.

The difficulty is exacerbated when supervisors are also blind to the problem, then there is the ‘domino effect’ and the problem is perpetuated. Allow me to digress a little and explain a bit about procedural justice.

According to Colquitt & Greenberg, (2003), procedural justice is described as “perceived fairness of the procedures used to make decisions” about employees. Procedural justice has several elements the first one is voice, where employees has a chance to voice their opinion about matters that affect them.

The next one is biased suppression where management makes a conscious effort to stop making decisions that are based on preconceived ideas. The third element is accuracy where management examines every possible form of information before making a decision.

The final element in procedural justice is correctability where management obtains input from employees and other stakeholders, and is willing to adjust/change any errors in judgement before forming a conclusion.

In relation to performance management, procedural justice can be examined in the context of the fairness of measures used to evaluate employees. You see, if managers keep detailed records that reflect reasoned and fair employee performance then the element of accuracy would be reflected in the performance evaluation (Greenberg, 1987).

In other words, when conducting performance appraisals the outcome should reflect logical and fair behaviour of the employee. This cannot be the case in our organisations today, since they are too many complaints about unfair treatment and too many statements like “I must like him or her to work with them”.

What both managers and employees should realise is that it is virtually impossible to like every colleague. However, professionalism dictates that you treat everyone with courtesy, respect and fairness and organisational policies and procedures should underpin this statement.

Furthermore, I cannot over emphasise the obvious need for relevant management guidance in many Barbadian organisations. I say this because not a day goes by without one person or the other recalling some experience with lazy or indifferent employees.

So why is this problem so pervasive? It begs the question, where are the managers/supervisors? These individuals must be held accountable for such behaviour, unless the “tail is wagging the dog”.

The fact remains that managers of organisations can implement procedures where performance standards are well documented and clearly communicated during the recruitment and selection stage. Together with fair and transparent performance evaluations, these policies would reduce obnoxious and apathetic behaviour of employees.

Therefore, before calling names let us look closely at our behaviour and ask the question “has our injustice regarding employees’ performance evaluations both past and present come back to bite us in the …?” It is not too late.

Management must put their heads together and create novel ways to reduce procedural injustice within organisations by performing fair performance appraisals in order to ensure increased productivity. In the meantime, flagrant criticism by management will only undermine the already fragile performance of some employees. Instead, let us try to coach and develop employees through unbiased performance evaluations.

I close with this quote from Heslin and Walle (2009) “a good leader can bolster a bad policy, (while) a bad leader can harm a good policy.”

Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Psychology and Management Consultant

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