The gaming of performance management systems in British universities

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Performance management (PM) systems are intended to positively influence employee behaviour but do they also motivate significant gaming? This concern is increasingly noted in the literature yet research into gaming and how it arises has been very limited. Using data collected from 65 semi-structured interviews with academics working in 13 research intensive business schools/schools of management in the United Kingdom (UK), this paper demonstrates how PM systems can encourage employees to engage in a range of behaviours termed gaming in order to navigate PM systems. It categorises gaming behaviours into five types: gratuitous proliferation, hoarding performance, collusive alliances, playing safe and cooking the books. The paper then examines the distinctive features of each type and illustrates how it arises as a response to PM systems. Given the widespread use of PM systems and the close similarities in the way they are implemented in different public and private sector organisations, the derived categories are relevant to contexts beyond the university setting.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Early online date5 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • performance management systems
  • gaming
  • higher education
  • unintended outcomes

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