Recency Bias Definition

What Is Recency Bias

Performance reviews are such an integral part of the whole performance management system, but they are often met with hesitation because many people believe that they are laced with biases. There are several different types of biases that adversely impact the performance review process, one of which is called recency bias.

As the name suggests, this type of bias focuses on an employee’s performance in a recent time period instead of considering the total time period.

Understanding Recency Bias

When managers or supervisors evaluate and review employee performance and progress, they often end up focusing on all that has happened lately, or in other words, the recent events. A major reason behind that is it’s quite easier and more convenient to remember and recall events that have occurred recently.

As human beings, a lot of the time, our views and opinions of others are colored something that they have done recently. So, for instance, if an employee completely messed up their last presentation or alternatively, if an employee secured a great deal with a customer, the recent act or performance is likely to be at the top of the list in their manager’s or supervisor’s mind. Naturally, this ends up creating a serious bias in that employee’s performance review, which also further leads to contradictions.

The core foundation of any performance review or appraisal system is objectivity, where managers and supervisors are required to be as objective as possible.

Recency bias also alters the results because the bigger picture is ignored here, creating a biased, untrue representation of an employee’s work and performance. It can make or break the entire performance review process. An issue with recency bias is that it brings in unconscious bias since it can actually be hard to recollect information from the past, and the unfairness can be attributed to a person’s memory as well.

Recency bias can impact performance reviews both in a good and a bad way.

If an employee generally has a low average performance and happens to perform really well right before the appraisal process, they are likely to get a good review from their manager despite their previous low, unsatisfactory performance. Similarly, if an employee has had really good progress throughout the year but experiences a drop in their performance before the review due to any reason, they will end up with a bad review from their manager.

In a nutshell, recency bias has the tendency to reward employees for their momentary good efforts as well penalize other employees on the basis of factors that might just be out of their control.

It is crucial for managers and supervisors to work towards eliminating recency bias from performance reviews and appraisals in order to reward each employee in a fair and just manner.

There are many ways through which recency bias can be reduced, such as:

  • Writing down goals and expectations – if a manager suffers from memory issues, it is essential that they write down expectations and goals in order to reduce bias and conduct a fair performance review. This will also help track employee progress in real-time, thereby creating a more open, objective perspective about an employee’s performance.
  • Frequently communicating with employees – recency bias generally occurs when managers rely on annual performance reviews. In such instances, an ideal approach to reduce recency bias is meeting with employees frequently, discussing goals and objectives, and interacting with them on a regular basis so that managers can receive regular updates about employee performance in order to paint a clearer, more detailed and true picture.
  • Gain insight from other employees – oftentimes, managers have busy schedules due to which they might not be able to interact with employees as regularly or consistently as the coworkers. In such situations, it would be a great idea for managers to gain insight and information from other employees and coworkers in order to stay updated on employee performance and progress.

It is important to reduce recency bias from performance reviews as much as possible, and while it can’t be eliminated completely, it can surely be reduced to a great extent.

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