How Does Recency Bias Affect Performance Reviews

Image of two different perspectives good and bad

Performance reviews are plagued with biases. It’s one of those inescapable facts, mainly because a lot of these biases are due to the fact that we are human beings.

As humans, our view of people is coloured is by their most recent behaviour, or any affection/dislike we might have for them. It’s not a bad thing, to let human emotion motivate how you work, deal with and manage people. However, when it comes to performance reviews, it becomes something of a contradiction. Because performance reviews depend on the reviewer being as objective as possible.

I’ve covered the different kinds of performance rater biases that exist previously. In this article, I’m going to particularly look at  recency bias.

What is recency bias?

Recency bias occurs when a reviewer can remember the work a person has done recently when compared to the work a person has done a while ago.

This is an unconscious bias since part of the problem can be attributed to memory and the way the mind makes associations. But it is a dangerous bias all the same. Very simply, it is because recency bias can make or break a performance review.

How does it affect performance reviews?

Good reviews depend on the reviewer objectively reviewing an employee’s performance from from the beginning of the year to the end of the year ( of a 6 month period, or a 3 month period etc).

That means, the final review is a summation of all the work that has been done, both the good and the bad, and the in-between as well. This is how a good review works.

With recency bias however, the scenario is a little different. When reviewers suffer from recency bias, they tend to remember the most recent work the employee has done. And based on the quality of that work, they review performance.

If a low-performing employee suddenly starts performing better just before the review, then despite their previous low performance, they are going to get a good review.

On the other hand, if an employee performs well throughout the year, but before the review, their performance drops, then despite their previous good performance, they are going to get a bad review.

Recency bias penalises people based on factors out of their control and rewards people for momentary bursts of effort.

One way you can prevent recency bias (unless you have an exceptionally good memory, in which case you already won the jackpot) is to keep a track record of an employee performance. That means making notes of an employee’s work, making note of their skills, a record of feedback given and received, how they work with other people etc.

You can do this by hand, which might be slightly painstaking (or not depending on your view) or you can use a software to do this. Engagedly has two features that can specifically help with tracking performance, Feedback and Private Notes. You can request a demo to see how these features work, along with our Performance module!

It’s worth remember that recency bias cannot be completely eliminated. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do your best to be rid of it.


Engagedly’s performance module combines performance management with elements of employee engagement. To know more about how Engagedly can help you, request a demo from us today!

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