Why Showing Your Face at Work Shouldn’t Matter

Showing ones face is the best way to get a promotion…

A colleague sent me a link to an article on the MIT website, ‘Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters’ and, frankly, it has really got up my nose!

The basic premise of the article is that, if you want to do well at work or in your career, then you need to put in some passive face-time (their emphasis!). Passive face-time is describe as just being in the office, not necessarily in a meeting. They go further and quote remote workers who do some, frankly, ridiculous stuff in order to be noted as having virtual face-time (my emphasis), that is, sending emails in the middle of the night, replying instantly to emails so it doesn’t look like you’re sunbathing at home, making regular email or phone updates, being ‘extra visible’ in the office and, my favourite, getting others to talk you up by being in peoples faces and forcing people to remember you (probably as the annoying one who can’t keep their nose out … whatever).

This is ridiculous! Why are these people wasting time on doing things that aren’t getting them closer to their goals or the company objectives? Surely, this is the opposite of what they should be doing, which is working on valuable stuff, ensure their boss understands what they’re doing and how they’re going to measure it and get evaluated on that?

The article also goes further and states that research suggests that those in supervisory or line-management roles will evaluate people differently based on this idea of passive face-time, they won’t, however, realise they are doing it (K. D. Elsbach, D. M. Cable and J. W. Sherman, “How Passive ‘Face Time’ Affects Perceptions of Employees: Evidence of Spontaneous Trait Inference,” Human Relations 63, no. 6 (June 2010): 735-760.). This reminds of that ridiculous “truism” – “Perception is reality” and something that needs to be rooted out, dragged into the street and shot.

MIT have studied this for a decade and settled upon two types of passive face-time; expected and extracurricular and, whichever version you engage in, changes how people evaluate you. Those who put the expected business hours in are called ‘responsible’ and ‘dependable’ and those who put in the extra face-time are ‘committed’ and ‘dedicated’.  They conducted a few experiments on this (they were a bit flaky: getting people to read descriptions of workers, then evaluating them – these being workers they had never met or interacted with) and managed to turn their hypothesis into a theory, which is useful, but I’d like to see it backed up with WHY do supervisors do this and help them eliminate this harmful practise.

They sum up by saying:

“The bottom line is that employees should be wary of work arrangements that reduce their office face time, and supervisors should be wary of using trait-based performance measures, especially when evaluating remote workers.”

Which is what annoys me the most. It shouldn’t be for the employee to ‘be wary’ of having a more flexible way of working, it should be for the employee to enlighten their boss and say ‘Hey, measure me on WHAT I DO, not how often I am in the office/making a nuisance/sending emails.”. The onus is entirely on the bosses of the world to be proactive, take a holistic view of their department or team and think “How do we contribute to the success of this company?”, then build goals, objectives and visions around the answer to that question, then measure your employees on that. Then, supervisors wouldn’t need to be ‘wary’ of making trait-based evaluations, because they’ll have something tangible to measure.

Stop measuring perception and start measuring reality, it’s really the only metric worth pursuing.

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