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Supervisors' Personality Traits Can Have an Outsized Influence on Job Performance Appraisal

A new FAU study found agreeable bosses give the best reviews, but they may not be accurate.

by Florida Atlantic University
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BOCA RATON, Fla. (September 15, 2014)  – For employees across the country, their managers’ personality traits may influence job performance reviews, which are often tied to raises and promotions. A new study by Michael B. Harari, an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business, found that supervisors with agreeable personalities rate employees higher on job reviews. While employees may like the higher ratings, they would not reflect an accurate picture of employees’ performance, which can skew an organization’s or business’ assessment of its overall performance.

The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology  today published the study, “Does Rater Personality Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Rater Big Five-Performance Rating Relationships.” 

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“Performance ratings in an organization are influential and important not just for the organization itself, but also for all workers being rated,” Harari said. “The study’s findings can have implications for administrative decision making within organizations and for each employee’s career prospects from promotions and terminations to developmental feedback.”

The study looked at five personality traits: openness, consciousness, extroversion, agreeableness and emotional stability. Harari and his collaborators also took into account the context in which the job rating is conducted, such as the setting, the purpose of the appraisal and if the raters are held accountable in some form. They found that agreeableness had the most influence on performance reviews.

 “An agreeable person may want to foster a positive outcome by giving a higher performance rating than justified,” Harari said.

The analysis found that consciousness and openness had no effect on job performance reviews. Supervisors with those personality traits probably give the most accurate appraisals of how employees are doing on the job. Extroverted supervisors also gave high ratings, but that personality trait didn’t have the same level of influence as agreeableness. Those with low emotional stability scored employees the worst.

Organizations can mitigate how much managers’ personality traits influence job reviews so they can have a more accurate picture of the overall performance by taking steps to hold them accountable for those reviews. When managers have to justify the ratings that they give, personality had much less influence on the outcome of the job reviews, the study found.