While objective metrics are usually used to determine how well employees are performing, many businesses base part or all of their performance evaluations on subjective measures. This replaces a focus on numbers with a more nuanced view of an employee’s value. It gives you more control over how employees are rewarded, but care must also be taken to avoid charges of bias.


A subjective performance evaluation is a way of evaluating a worker that isn’t based on quantifiable numbers. You’re rating your employees based on your perception of how they’re doing and the value they bring to the business. This could be because they’re providing a role that is difficult to measure numerically but essential to operations, such as excellent customer service or a critical role as a mediator between you and a difficult customer.

Why Be Subjective?

A performance evaluation reflects what you think of an employee’s work. While objective measures are useful tools to corroborate insights, you ultimately have to make a decision about how well your workers are performing. Someone might have hit her sales goals through unethical tactics, excessive discounting or behaviors that hurt your long-term interests; she looks good on paper but not in practice. Others may have missed their numbers because of events outside of their control or because they were pulled away to help in other areas. To evaluate based purely on metrics can reward those who are inferior workers but merely better at manipulating the data in their favor.

Correcting Pay Scale

Another benefit of a subjective performance evaluation is that it allows you to mitigate weaknesses in compensation plans and bonus structures. This can be important if relying solely on quantitative measures would cause you to lose valued employees. It’s particularly critical if you’re unsure of your metrics and suspect that you’re evaluating employees on qualities that aren't the best measurement of their effectiveness. Numbers are just numbers; it’s your job to give them the weight you feel they should have while also considering other factors.

Risky Business

Subjective performance evaluations are risky, though, and many business owners find that making hiring decisions on gut instinct doesn’t work as well as they hoped. Employees often feel that subjective evaluations lead to special treatment of co-workers, especially if those considered lower performing by the metrics are the ones getting the big raises and promotions. Subjectivity also leaves you open to charges of bias if these evaluations are perceived to favor some classes of workers over others. You have to consider the possibility that poor numbers might be a more accurate reflection of the employee’s worth than your own perceptions. Even in a subjective evaluation, it’s important to look at the numbers and have a good reason for giving the metrics less weight. You’re guaranteed to get the people you want into the right positions via subjective evaluations, but if your perceptions are wrong, you might not like the results down the line.