The Renaissance of Performance Appraisal: Engaging Public Employees Through Perceived Developmental Purpose and Justice

Published date01 December 2023
AuthorFrancesco Vidè,Lorenza Micacchi,Marta Barbieri,Giovanni Valotti
Date01 December 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2023, Vol. 43(4) 623 –651
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X221116584
The Renaissance
of Performance
Appraisal: Engaging
Public Employees Through
Perceived Developmental
Purpose and Justice
Francesco Vidè1, Lorenza Micacchi1,
Marta Barbieri1, and Giovanni Valotti2
Performance appraisal is recognized as a powerful human resource management
(HRM) practice. However, its effectiveness depends on how public employees
perceive appraisal systems. Based on the Social Exchange Theory, this study aims
to empirically explore the impact of the perceived developmental purpose of
performance appraisal on a relevant and critical individual attitude in public HRM
literature, such as work engagement. Additionally, the study investigates perceived
performance appraisal justice as a potential mediator of such a relationship. The
analysis of an online survey administered to 1,482 Italian civil servants through a
structural equation model shows that perceived developmental appraisal has a
positive impact on the work engagement of public employees. This relationship is
partially mediated by interactional performance appraisal justice perceptions, while
distributive and procedural justice do not significantly affect work engagement. This
contribution addresses specific research gaps in the public sector HRM literature.
Our results suggest that public organizations can enhance engagement through
perceived developmental, interactional, and fair performance appraisal systems.
performance appraisal, organizational justice, work engagement, developmental
purpose, human resource management, public sector
1SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy
2Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
Corresponding Author:
Francesco Vidè, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Via Fratelli Rizzardi, 45, 20151 Milan, Italy.
1116584ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X221116584Review of Public Personnel AdministrationVidè et al.
624 Review of Public Personnel Administration 43(4)
Performance appraisal is defined as the process by which the organization measures,
monitors, and evaluates individual results and behaviors (Banner & Cooke, 1984). It
is generally recognized as one of the most powerful human resource management
(HRM) practices (Boswell & Boudreau, 2002), as it aligns individual contributions
with broader organizational strategies (Dusterhoff et al., 2014), as well as fosters
employee development (Kuvaas, 2008). Performance appraisal is critical for govern-
ment organizations, since increasing service demands and citizen pressure on public
accountability for results (Battaglio, 2017) have required appraisal systems “as a tech-
nique to influence and control employee behavior and hopefully increase productiv-
ity” (Huber, 1983, p. 258).
However, the effectiveness of performance appraisal in the public sector has long
been debated since it might be linked to potential unexpected consequences in terms
of individual outcomes (de Schrijver et al., 2010). For instance, several academic con-
tributions highlight the crowding-out effect of pay-for-performance systems on public
employees’ intrinsic motivation (Jacobsen et al., 2014). Moreover, other studies sug-
gest a positive correlation with employee stress, demotivation, and burnout (Kellough
& Nigro, 2002). Consequently, as long as it is tied to the distribution of pay and
rewards, performance appraisal has failed to “deliver its promises” (Perry et al., 2009)
regarding enhancing positive public employees’ attitudes and increasing the quality of
public services (Wenzel et al., 2019).
In the light of the diffused skepticism on the success of performance appraisal in the
public sector (Gabris & Ihrke, 2001), the academic literature has started to explore two
research streams aimed at effectively implementing appraisal systems within public
organizations (Kim & Holzer, 2016).
First, public HRM literature has affirmed the need to consider the beneficial effects
of a developmental purpose for appraisal as “an antidote to a deadly disease” (Roberts,
1995). While traditional appraisal systems might not represent an effective drive for
increased public employee engagement and performance improvement (Conway
et al., 2016), a “developmental variant” of appraisal systems is more consistent with
public sector specificities (Hajnal & Staronova, 2021). In this respect, developmental
performance appraisal can positively influence public employee perceptions of the
organizational resources devoted to their personal growth by identifying civil servants’
strengths, weaknesses, and training needs (Roberts, 1995) which in turn results in
employees’ willingness to reciprocate through higher engagement. Second, scholars
suggest that designing a technically sound appraisal system might not be sufficient for
guaranteeing its effectiveness (Daley, 1992). This largely depends on how employees
react and perceive performance appraisal (Cho & Sai, 2013). Thus, understanding
individual perceptions is pivotal to explain employee resistance to well-designed per-
formance appraisal systems, leading to negative individual outcomes (Gabris & Ihrke,
In the light of these premises, the present contribution bridges these two research
streams, focusing on public employee perceptions of the developmental purpose of

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