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What Is a Behavioral Observation Scale?

Daniel Liden
Updated May 16, 2024
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Behavioral observation is a method used to measure the behavior and value of employees whose job performance cannot be evaluated on the basis of productivity alone. Such measurements are usually made based on a behavioral observation scale that is used to evaluate everyone in a comparable manner. Such scales are generally used to record whether or not an employee engages in a certain type of behavior or action and, if so, how often. Each employee's result can be compared to other employees' results or to some objective baseline for expected behavior. Evaluation of this sort can be used to ensure that an employee is meeting expectation or to determine if disciplinary action is necessary.

Workers who can be evaluated based on productivity are seldom judged on a behavioral observation scale. This is because it is usually possible to quantify, or at least to have a general idea of, how much the worker produces compared to his co-workers and to expected standards. Many workers, particularly those with white-collar jobs that may not necessarily produce anything tangible, must be rated on this scale because there is generally no better way to evaluate their accomplishments.

A behavioral observation scale is generally presented as a questionnaire to be filled out by either the employee himself or his manager, or both. A variety of different questions may be included on such a questionnaire, and responses are usually given in the form of numbers on a scale. The questionnaire may include questions about how often an employee misses work, whether or not he takes excessively long breaks, how often mistakes appear in his work, and whether or not his work must be double-checked regularly. The numbers assigned to each of these and other questions may be evaluated individually or can be added together into a total score that can be compared to the scores of other workers.

Many employers use a scale to assess the performance of new employees in training. Poor performance on such assessments is generally unlikely to result in reprimand, as such evaluations are primarily intended to make the new employee aware of the expectations of his employer. Failure to demonstrate improvement over the course of a series of evaluations may, however, result in reprimand or termination of employment. Such failure to improve may represent an inherent incompatibility between the business and the new employee.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden , Former Writer
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.

Discussion Comments

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 22, 2012

@OeKc05 – He probably does remember your behavior, because he most likely has a file on you with notes about your performance. That is what my boss does, and he only manages me and two other people.

He writes everything down in that file. When we come up for review or consideration for raises, he goes back to the file and uses it to answer questions on a behavioral observation scale.

Think of the file as notes for an open book test. The boss can refer back to these notes at any time during the “test,” which is made up of questions on the scale, to bring to mind any ill or excellent behavior.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 22, 2012

I am a graphic designer, and my supervisor uses this scale to evaluate me and my coworker. Since we are the only two designers at the company, our results stacked side by side can speak pretty powerfully as to who is doing the best.

I have worked there for 6 years, and I am given the biggest workload. During my last evaluation, my supervisor told me that this is because he rarely has to double check my work. I almost never make errors, and I have a more creative way of designing ads than my coworker.

Conversely, he got a bad review. The boss even asked him if he was happy working there. The results of the scale's questions showed him to be lacking in several departments.

Sometimes, I wonder why my supervisor uses this scale. I could understand better if we were a large department, but since there are only two of us, couldn't he just remember our behavior?

By wavy58 — On Jan 21, 2012

@Oceana – A behavioral observation scale helps managers to remain objective. I manage an office of fifteen employees, and sometimes, I am tempted to side with whom I like the most. A scale with a cut and dry set of questions keeps me from doing that.

For example, there is one employee that just rubs me the wrong way. I can't pinpoint any specific thing that he does that I could fire him for, though every time employee evaluation time rolls around, I want to note my dislike for him in some way.

However, because I am using the scale, I cannot be biased against him. He has perfect attendance and does everything a good employee should. There is just something off-putting about his personality, but the scale won't let me hold that against him.

By Oceana — On Jan 21, 2012

I never knew that my boss had been using a behavioral observation scale to do employee evaluations until I got promoted to supervisor. Then, he let me in on how the company determines the value of an employee.

I had always assumed they just kept watch over us on a general basis and just noticed the good and the bad and kept them in mind. I was surprised to find that they had a predetermined set of questions they answered regarding every single employee.

Since I rarely missed work and was always available at my desk when needed, I got a good rating. This led to my promotion. I even got to look at my old evaluation, and I saw that I had fared well.

By honeybees — On Jan 20, 2012

I am familiar with behavioral observation scales, but in a different way. Some companies have been using something like this for years to get a good grasp on an employee's job performance.

An observation scale similar to this called the anorectic behavior observation scale is also used for parents who have children that may be anorexic.

The only way I know about this is my niece has been struggling with this for quite some time now. She has been getting help for this, but her parents filled out this form where they observed her eating habits and choices.

What is interesting about something like this, is the parents observations are usually quite accurate. When compared to the observations made by the girl struggling with anorexia, many of her observations were not as realistic.

This gives the parents and children another avenue to use that will hopefully give them some much needed guidance on how to deal with this difficult problem.

By sunshined — On Jan 20, 2012

Of all the jobs I have had, I have never had to complete behavioral observation forms like this. This is a totally new concept for me.

On one hand I can see how it could be beneficial for new employees. Many times when you start a new job, it can be overwhelming and you don't get much feedback on how you are doing.

If something like this was done a few months into the job, it would give you a better understanding of what the company's expectations were for you.

It would be better to find out how you were doing early on than to wait until it was time for a review and get a bad review.

If you are doing a great job and have a good handle on what is required for the job, it would be good to know that as well.

By andee — On Jan 19, 2012

I once worked for a company who required us to complete a behavioral observation scale performance appraisal once a year.

I always dreaded completing the forms and answering the questions. Not because I was a poor employee, but because I didn't like how the results were compared with everyone else.

Many of my co-workers were slackers, and I often felt like I was carrying the weight for some of their poor work ethic habits.

Each employee would answer the questions and these would be discussed with our supervisor, who had also completed the same questions regarding our work performance.

It was always interesting to see how my assessment compared with the one done by my supervisor.

This was the only place I have ever worked where I had to complete something like this. I don't know if this company still operates this way or not, and wonder how beneficial it really was for them.

At least one advantage for the company, was they weren't out much money to have this done for every employee.

By SteamLouis — On Jan 19, 2012

@anamur-- Yes, you're right. One thing to mention is that managers and supervisors are still part of the assessment process in BOS, as the article also mentioned. It's not like a third-party carries out the assessment. Some places even allow employees to assess themselves, although this is not the most recommended way of doing it.

The other advantages of the behavior assessment scale is that it doesn't cost much money to carry out and practically every institution can use it. It's also very objective because employees are ranked based on each other's performance. So employees don't "fail" or "pass," they're just compared to one another.

By serenesurface — On Jan 18, 2012

@fify-- I understand what you're saying but what do you think should be done to assess employee's performance then? Are you promoting a kind of individual assessment by managers?

I also think that managers and supervisors can best assess their employees and their work. But the issue with this is that it's not really possible in large institutions where there are hundreds of employees. There has to be a method of assessment which can be practically applied to many employees and which can then provide a measure to work from.

It's not enough to say, "okay, everyone is doing their job well." An institution or company also needs to know what the employees are doing to make that possible and how these expectations can be relayed to new employees.

In this sense, I think that behavior observation is the best way to do this. Not only does it consider factors aside from output, but it can also be measured and the information can be translated into new management techniques.

By fify — On Jan 18, 2012

I think the behavioral observation scale is a bit tricky to work with. I can think of multiple reasons why it might not accurately determine an employee's performance.

I think some of the questions that might be on a BOS questionnaire and which the article mentioned make a lot of sense. For example, it's important to know if an employee finishes tasks on time and without mistakes and if they are able to learn methods and new tasks well. But I don't really understand questions about break timings or days off work.

I've worked in several workplaces where we could do our work remotely from home and not being in the office or being on break didn't affect our work performance at all.

This kind of behavior observation scale probably worked really well several decades ago and it still will for jobs that require you to be in office all the time. But for desk jobs, these are not as important as they used to be. People have access to email and can reach one another anywhere and they can send their work along in the same way.

Daniel Liden

Daniel Liden

Former Writer

Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
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