Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Richard C. Elling


This study examines the utilization of employee performance appraisal in a sample of 59 Detroit-area suburban communities. Despite the emphasis placed on employee performance appraisal in the literature, over half of the communities do not possess formal systems of employee appraisal. Also two variables help explain performance appraisal usage: form of government and extent of unionization.

Importantly, respondents in non-utilizing communities often acknowledge the benefits of systems of performance appraisal but they cite various reasons for not having such systems in place, with the opposition of municipal unions being cited most often. This was true even though many jurisdictions with high levels of unionization did have appraisal systems in place, even for their unionized workers. The jurisdictions with appraisal systems appeared to be doing a reasonably good job in following best practices in performance appraisal and management. At the same time, like their counterparts in non-utilizing communities, respondents cite a number of obstacles and challenges associated with the process including: subjectivity, ratings inflation, employees experiencing anxiety, and supervisors being uncomfortable with the appraisal process and lacking adequate training in how to do a good performance appraisal. The majority of the respondents believe in the potential value of evaluating the performance of their workforce. But they worry that such systems in practice often fail to work as hoped. These concerns echo those often raised in the debate over merit-pay. The study concludes with suggestions for implementing performance appraisal in highly-unionized work settings.