U.S. federal government supervisors’ perceptions of problems in performance appraisal:
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Employee perceptions of performance appraisal processes have received considerable attention in the public management literature, but the views of supervisors who actually conduct the appraisals have received relatively little consideration. This paper addresses that gap in the literature by examining supervisors’ perceptions of individual employee performance appraisal in the U.S. federal service in an attempt to identify substantive and procedural problems associated with that system as viewed by those who are responsible for making it work. Five research questions are examined in this study: (1) To what extent do supervisors perceive the performance process as problematic? (2) What aspects of performance appraisal do supervisors in federal agencies see as being most problematic? (3) What factors can explain variation in supervisors’ perceptions of the problematic nature of performance appraisal? (4) Are there differences in the aspects of performance appraisal seen as most problematic across agencies? (5) Do agencies where supervisors see performance appraisal as more problematic have employees who have more negative views on performance appraisal? Data are drawn from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Merit Principles Survey from 2005 which contained a section asking supervisors to evaluate nine potential problems associated with the process of evaluation employee performance. Responses indicated that inflated ratings, flawed standards, and a lack of support were the most problematic aspects of the appraisal process. Performance system designs, working locations, positions, age, race, and education levels were significantly associated with supervisors’ perception of problems. Supervisors’ perceptions of managerial problems and rating standards problems were better than the perceptions of administrative problems and the distributive problems to predict employees’ perceptions. The findings suggested that solely improving the design of performance appraisal was not sufficient when the implementation and management of the process were neglected. Authority and support from top management to give supervisors flexibility in the process is crucial to improve implementation and management in the performance appraisal process. Training is necessary when supervisors are granted more flexibility.