What you wish you knew about employees’ responses to performance reviews

Key points

  • Active participation in the performance review process may positively affect employees’ acceptance of the overall system.
  • Active participation is positively related to satisfaction with the evaluation system and sessions, perceived fairness and utility, and motivation to improve.
  • To let the employees share their views and make them feel heard seems to be the best way to improve their responses towards performance evaluations.

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How can we increase people’s acceptance of and positive responses to the performance evaluation process? – if you deal with employees’ performance reviews in your professional practice, you have probably faced this question. Performance reviews (also known as performance appraisals or evaluations) are an integral part of HR systems in most company. They are essential for career development and for administrative purposes such as employees’ training plan design or making decisions about pay rises. At the same time, people often dread this practice and respond badly to it. In some instances, evaluation can even do more harm than good, especially when employees play only a passive part in the process.

Is participation helpful for improving responses to performance reviews?

May active participation improve employees’ responses to their performance reviews? Cawley, Keeping and Levy (1998) tried to answer this question conducting a comprehensive meta-analysis. The research involved more than 30,000 observations of employee responses to performance reviews and its objective was to check the extent to which different types of participation in the performance appraisal are associated with employees’ response to this evaluation. Since the meta-analysis included only cross-sectional studies, the evidence is not strong enough to report causal relationships between participation and responses. However, we can confidently talk about the strength of this association. Results of the study provide a helpful guide for designing an effective performance evaluation process and raising employees’ satisfaction with evaluation sessions.

Which employees’ responses could improve through participation?

Cawley, Keeping and Levy confirmed that the level of employee participation and their positive responses towards evaluation are strongly related. Participation in the evaluation process was found to be strongly associated with satisfaction with the appraisal system and the sessions themselves – this was the strongest association that the researchers observed. In addition, employees who have the chance to play an active part in the evaluation process are prone to perceive it as fair and useful. They are also likely to be  more motivated to improve their performance, however, in this case the relationship was less strong. This may suggest there are other factors (e.g. setting SMART goals or receiving clear feedback) more important for employee motivation to improve than participation in assessments.

What is the best way to improve employees’ responses to performance reviews?

The researchers also wanted to know what the best way to improve employees’ responses to performance review is. They discovered that the type of participation that drew the most positive responses was “value expressive”. This refers to performance appraisals in which subordinates have the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas, they feel heard. It means that simply letting your subordinates express their opinion about their evaluation could influence their response towards this procedure, making it a more positive one. “Value expressive” participation not only may improve overall positive responses, but is also strongly associated with satisfaction with evaluation system and sessions and perceived process usefulness and fairness. Another type of participation linked to positive responses is “instrumental” – related to the influence on the evaluation that the participants have – for example, how involved participants are in setting goals alongside  their managers.

In general, the relationship between “value expressive” participation and employees’ positive response is stronger than in the case of “instrumental” participation. However, it’s interesting how these two forms of participation may influence satisfaction. While “value expressive” participation seems to affect satisfaction with the evaluation system and sessions equally, “instrumental” participation seems to be more related to the satisfaction with the system as a whole.

Takeaways for practice

Taking an active part in the performance review may benefit employees’ responses to this process. Let’s sum up all the findings and think about how you can apply them in different stages of the performance evaluation system in your organisation:


  • When designing performance evaluation systems, consider how the employees can take active part in it. Participation may have different forms – self-rating, control over the process and evaluation decisions, conversations about the results. Remember that probably the most powerful form of participation is “value expressive” – giving employees a chance to share their opinions and make them feel their voice is heard.
  • Consider involving employees in the design phase – for example, asking what could be the best way of evaluating their performance. If you decide to do so, be consistent – that’s one of the principles of procedural justice. If you create employees’ expectations of having control over the appraisal system that you then don’t meet, you may lose credibility and your personnel’s responses towards evaluation may get worse.
  • If your intention is to improve an existing evaluation system you may consider sending a survey to your staff before you start redesigning your system. Feedback on their responses to the current performance system may be helpful insight  on what you need to improve and how.


  • Pre-appraisal → Consider giving the employees some control over the evaluation, for example, -if possible- let them set goals together with their manager or decide deadlines. You can also include employee’s self-assessment in this phase.
  • During the evaluation conversation → Encourage managers to actively seek input, enabling employees to express their own views on their performance and on the appraisal system. A two-way conversation allowing a significant amount of time for employees to speak up should be the rule! As long as employees feel heard and have a chance to share their opinion, their responses toward the evaluation can improve.


  • After the evaluation conversation – Send a survey to employees to get their feedback on responses to the evaluation (satisfaction, fairness, utility, motivation to improve or other responses that may be an important outcome for your organisation).

Keep in mind that evaluation is not only the assessment conversation – encourage managers to have continual meetings, feedback, and input from employees on their performance.

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this summary. We found that the study design was moderately appropriate to demonstrate a causal relationship, such as effect or impact. Therefore, based on this evidence, we conclude that there’s an 80% chance that enhancing participation will improve employee responses.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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Cawley, B.D., Keeping, L., & Levy, P.E. (1998). Participation in the Performance Appraisal Process and Employee Reactions: A Meta-Analytic Review of Field Investigations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 615-633. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.83.4.615

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  1. Why not remove the performance ratings entirely – research from among others the Neuroleadership Institute show that the ratings actually decrease performance. There are better ways of making employees perform, it this is the goal. Check out instead what motivates each individual and give them what they need. This will boost performance like nothing else.

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  4. Great article. Performance review plays a major role for employee. It motivates them to do things more fast and with reducing non-added value time. Keep posting useful articles.

    • emiliawietrak

      Thank you for your comment Nathan! I’m happy to hear that you found the evidence summary helpful.

  5. Pingback: Performance Management 2.0: Improving Employee Motivation Strategy - Job Aspires