Recency bias plagues performance reviews. It’s one of those inescapable facts, mainly because a lot of biases are due to the fact that we are human beings.

As humans, our view of people is coloured by our most recent behaviour or any affection/dislike we might have for them. It’s not a bad thing, to let human emotions 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.

In this article, we will discuss about recency bias definition, its effects on performance appraisal, and a recency bias example in workplace.

What Is Recency Bias?

recency bias definition

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

Recency Effect In Performance Appraisal

Good reviews depend on the reviewer objectively reviewing an employee’s performance from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (for 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 their 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 outside of their control and rewards people for momentary bursts of effort.

Recency Bias Example In Workplace

Let us try to understand recency bias through an example. Daniel has been a consistent contributor to the sales team of xyz organization. In the last year, he has closed great deals with some major corporates. But since January 2022, he has delivered much, and his overall quarterly revenue growth is 70% less than the team’s average. During the performance appraisal process, Daniel’s manager, Sean, overlooked all of his achievements and focused only on the last three months where Daniel’s performance was not as per the company’s expected standards.

Due to this recency effect, Daniel did not get an appraisal, even though his annual average revenue growth was much higher. This led Daniel to face disengagement, decreased productivity, and dissatisfaction with his job.

From the discussed recency bias example, it is quite clear that it can severely impact organizational productivity, engagement, and growth prospects.

How To Avoid Recency Effect In Performance Appraisal

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

You can do this manually, which might be slightly painstaking (or not depending on your view), or you can use a performance management software to do this. Engagedly has two features that can specifically help with tracking performance: employee feedback and private notes. The exclusive features help in eliminating recency bias by providing a holistic view of an employee’s performance.

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


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