Face Time Gives Employees a Valuable Edge
DAVIS, Calif.–(Business Wire)–
Working from home has many advantages. By cutting out the commute, employees can
save money, boost productivity and reduce their carbon footprint.
But there is one significant drawback, University of California, Davis,
Professors Kimberly Elsbach and Jeffrey Sherman have discovered: Telecommuting
can be hazardous to your career.
In a pair of studies-one involving in-depth interviews with office workers and
another using a behavioral experiment-the researchers found that being present
in a workplace gives an employee an important edge. When bosses and co-workers
see an employee at work, they tend to think more highly of that person. And
their evaluation is even more favorable if the sighting is after normal business
“Merely being seen-often from a distance and without any interaction or real
understanding of what a person is doing-that in itself has value,” Elsbach says.
Elsbach, of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, and Sherman, of the UC
Davis Department of Psychology, teamed with University of North Carolina
management professor Dan Cable on the first-ever academic study of “passive”
face time-when workers are simply seen in the office without any interpersonal
Their findings were published in the June issue of the journal Human Relations.
To understand the implications for at-home workers and their employers, the
research team conducted hour-long, open-ended interviews with 39 managers,
inquiring about their understanding of face time and how it functions in their
The managers tended to ascribe positive attributes to people who were seen at
“If you were there in normal hours, you were viewed as dependable and reliable,”
Elsbach says. “If you were seen outside of normal working hours, you were viewed
as committed and dedicated.”
The researchers then presented 60 working professionals with a written
description of a scenario in which an office worker was present and observed by
others. Later, participants in the experiment were asked to identify traits of
the person in the scenario. The respondents tended to ascribe positive
attributes to the person getting the face time.
Sometimes people are aware they use face time to evaluate employees, but most
often the process is probably unconscious.
“Our study showed that inferences are likely to be made spontaneously, without
deliberate thinking or awareness,” Elsbach says.
In light of these findings, Elsbach offers advice for managers: Be aware of
face-time dynamics when conducting performance appraisals. She also recommends
eliminating the widely-used “trait-based” reviews in which employees are gauged
on whether they are a “team player,” “good leader” or other vague
characteristic. Workers who have recorded a lot of face time will tend to score
better in this type of evaluation, according to Elsbach.
“And not being at the workplace will lead to attributions that are the opposite
of those positive traits,” she says.
Many flex-time workers are aware of their disadvantage and use various
strategies to compensate, the researchers found. Some stay glued to their
computers and respond immediately to e-mails to give the impression that they
are always present at work. Others send e-mails late at night to appear to be
working after business hours.
Meanwhile, anxieties over job security are driving a curious trend: many
employees feel there is more pressure than usual to be in the office, according
to recent media reports. Although companies are offering employees more chances
than ever to work outside the office, fewer workers are accepting the offers for
a more convenient schedule. Blame it on the recession, work-life experts say.
Elsbach advises telecommuters to document their tangible accomplishments, and to
capitalize on days when they do come into the office.
“When you’re there, make sure you spend your time interacting with people,” she
says. “Be sure to get face time when you can.”
About the UC Davis Graduate School of Management
Established in 1981, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management provides
management education to 120 full-time MBA and more than 450 Working Professional
MBA students on the UC Davis campus, in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay
Area. For 15 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked UC Davis
among the top 10 percent of MBA programs in the nation. Only 35 business schools
share this track record. The Financial Times, The Economist and the Aspen
Institute’s Center for Business Education rank the UC Davis MBA program among
the best in the world. www.gsm.ucdavis.edu
UC Davis Graduate School of Management
Kim Elsbach, 530-752-0910
Tim Akin, 530-752-7362
UC Davis News Service
Jim Sweeney, 530-752-6101
Copyright Business Wire 2010