Behavior appraisal and trait appraisal are two distinct methods of assessing employee performance. Based on concepts of psychology and biological science, traits refers to innate characteristics and behavior refers to the employee’s actions. No matter which appraisal system is used, the accuracy of an employee’s rating can be improved by getting input from several people who supervise or work with the individual.

Basic Definitions

Behavior is about actions. It’s typically defined as the way in which a person acts or conducts himself, especially in relation to others. In science, behavior refers to actions an animal undertakes, especially in response to various stimuli.

A trait is an inherent characteristic of a person, and is generally considered to be innate and unable to be learned or taught. Traits may be physical, such as blue eyes, or behavioral, contributing to a type of personality. For example, a person described as “outgoing” would have a different personality trait than someone who is withdrawn or shy. In the natural world, traits are considered to be genetically determined, such as the shape of a flower petal or a bird’s nesting behavior.

Appraisal Methods

Traits and behaviors can both be used to help assess an employee’s performance. In trait appraisal, the manager would look at the degree to which an employee exhibits a desired trait in relation to the job. For example, a customer service rep might be rated on traits such as courtesy toward the customers.

Behavioral appraisal looks at specific actions related to the job. The desired parameters of the action should be defined in the job description or performance standard. An example might be, “Greets customers as soon as they approach the service counter.”

Pros and Cons

Trait appraisals are simple to develop and easy to score, but they are also highly subjective. Within a company or work group, trait appraisals tend to reward employees who are more outgoing, flexible and creative. This is advantageous for work that requires creativity and “people” skills, but it puts employees who lack these qualities while still offering much to the company at a disadvantage. Because traits are innate qualities, it’s difficult to use these appraisals to counsel the employee for improved performance. Trait appraisals are also less useful in determining which employees to reward and promote.

Behavior appraisals tend to be more objective, fair and accurate, if the appraisal standards are carefully developed. Behavior appraisal is especially useful for assessing performance on quantitative tasks. Given the focus on behaviors that can be measured, these appraisals are also more useful for employee counseling as well as rewards and promotions. However, developing the standards for behavior appraisal can be time consuming and costly. It may take many tries and retries before a company can develop a standard that supervisors and employees agree is fair.

A hybrid method, called a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale, combines the advantages of qualitative trait ratings with the accuracy of quantitative behavior ratings. This is especially useful for professional employees like nurses, who must perform quantitative tasks with a high degree of accuracy while also exhibiting such traits as caring and empathy toward patients.