If you want to get ahead at work, make sure you are seen. It is not important whether you are working or doing the crossword, just make sure you get some of that “face time”.
It is an unfortunate fact that we are judged as more dedicated and hard-working if we are under the direct gazes of our managers. We may be “killing it” when working from home, or from a client’s office, but a manager who doesn’t see it, won’t believe it.
That is the conclusion of research out of the University of California and the London Business School – but it is only telling us what we already know.
Why else do we come into the office earlier and earlier, trying to impress our managers? Especially when we know there is no real need to be there and that we would be more productive doing our work elsewhere.
This is precisely the reason that poor managers get so much of the blame for Australia’s productivity malaise. They reward unproductive behaviours.
Rather than looking at what works, they rely on convention and “gut instinct”, which is often wrong.
Writing in the MIT Sloan Review , researchers Kimberly Elsbach, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis, and Daniel Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School, explain their research.
“Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office – even if they work just as hard and just as long,” they say.
“The difference is what we call passive face time. By that, we are not referring to active interactions with co-workers or clients, but merely to being seen in the workplace. To be credited with passive face time, you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it.
“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time.”
As an example of management thinking, the researchers quote Jack and Suzy Welch (Jack Welch is a former CEO of General Electric and Suzy Welch is a former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review).
The Welches wrote in 2007: “Companies rarely promote people into leadership roles who haven’t been consistently seen and measured. It’s a familiarity thing, and it’s a trust thing. We’re not saying that the people who get promoted are stars during every ‘crucible’ moment at the office, but at least they’re present and accounted for. And their presence says: Work is my top priority. I’m committed to this company. I want to lead. And I can”.
And, of course, it is that sort of thinking that has excluded women from leadership roles and created generations of absent fathers.
Researchers Elsbach and Cable define two kinds of “passive face time”: There’s being seen at work during normal business hours (expected face time); and then there is being seen at work outside expected hours (extracurricular face time).
If you do the expected face time, you are seen as “responsible” and “dependable”.
“Just being seen at work, without any information about what you’re actually doing, leads people to think more highly of you,” Elsbach and Cable say.
If you go the whole hog with extracurricular face time, you can get upgraded to “committed” and “dedicated”.
The researchers find that managers are unaware they are making decisions based on face time.
Elsbach and Cable recommend managers:
Don’t use trait-based evaluations. “Growing evidence from research on performance appraisal suggests that these evaluations are flawed in a number of ways, including not being linked to companies’ strategies or objective outputs and not helping employees understand what to change.”
As much as possible, use objective output measures. “Managers who implement telecommuting and flexible hours should revise their performance appraisals to measure mostly objective outputs, such as number and type of projects completed or expert evaluations of project quality.” And consider work arrangements when using peer feedback.
■ For employees, there are a number of tactics that could be useful:
■ Make regular phone or e-mail status reports. Used by 83 per cent of remote workers.
■ Be extra visible when in the office. Used by 35 per cent of remote workers.
■ Be immediately available at home. Used by 26 per cent of remote workers.
■ Get others to talk you up (say hello when you are in the office and talk about what you are working on). Used by 22 per cent of remote workers.
■ E-mail or voice mail early or late in the day, so they understand you are hard at work. Used by 20 per cent of remote workers.
Workplace affairs writer Fiona Smith blogs on the HR and career issues that make Australian companies tick at BRW magazine. This article was first published on the BRW magazine website.