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Monday, January 11, 2010

when your manager values face time over results

A reader writes:

My wife just finished interviewing for a promotion within her company and was given some unusual career advice from the vice president of her division. My wife was told that even though her working hours are 8am to 4pm, that she should not be so quick to leave work at 4pm. She was told that she should stay late once and a while to give the impression that she's a "go-getter" even if all of her work is finished.

My wife responded along the lines of, "I do my work when I'm here (as opposed to screwing around) and the company should be happy that I don't waste valuable time chatting and taking smoke breaks during the day forcing me to stay later to finish my workload."


Why should my wife stay late if her work is finished? Why should someone who works diligently during the day, hitting her goals and getting excellent scores on her reviews, be forced to stay late just to impress on someone that she's a hard worker?


The advice of her VP got me thinking...has staying late at work become mandatory for career success?
Under that premise, wouldn't someone surmise that efficiency is not the key to recognition but rather dedicating more time to the job is the way to career success?

Has it become mandatory? No, of course not. But it might be unofficially mandatory at her particular company, which would be a sign that her particular company has a silly culture and/or that her manager isn't very good ... probably both, although it's possible that the manager is fine, but saddled with stupid expectations from above and is trying to clue her into those.

The best case scenario here is that the manager is trying to convey to her that she needs to find ways to make her results more evident to those who care about them. But it's more likely that your wife simply works at a company that focuses on face time over results.

If I had a manager tell me this, I'd do the following:

1. Say something like, "I have really high productivity. When I'm at work, I'm focused 100% on work and nothing else, and I'm churning out results because of it. In fact, you've commented in the past on how productive I am." (Obviously you have to tailor this to fit the situation; if you're not incredibly productive, this doesn't work as well.)

2. Then say, "Being that productive allows me to work a reasonable work week, and that's important to me. I'm not sure if you're telling me that you'd like to see higher productivity from me, or if you're more concerned about perceptions from other people. If it's just perception, let's figure out how to make perceptions match the reality of the situation."

3. If the manager then told me that she agreed I was kicking ass, but "the company" expects people to put in longer hours, then I'd say: "Has the company considered the retention implications of valuing hours worked over actual results on the job?"

4. And then I'd consider whether I wanted to stay there.

Not everything stupid or annoying is worth quitting over, of course. Finding another job is a pain, and it comes with its own risks -- the new employer might be reasonable on this issue but even more frustrating in some other area. Plus, there might be enough your wife likes about her current job (the work, the pay, the coworkers, the benefits, whatever) that that stuff trumps this.

So ultimately, your wife needs to take the results of this conversation with her manager and, if she didn't find it satisfying, decide whether she wants to (a) suck it up and put in some extra hours on occasion, even though it's ridiculous, (b) not put in those extra hours on principle and deal with whatever consequences that has for how she's perceived, including possible impact on future raises and advancement, or (c) leave. Any of those are legitimate decisions.

34 comments:

Rosezilla said...

something else occurred to me while reading this, and it may be that your wife isn't participating in any of the happy hour/water cooler/what have you socializing in the office. if she's in sales or on track to management, it could be a valid concern. If she writes code in some corner cubicle, of course it's bull.

And while Ask A Manager's advice is spot on, if your wife decides that she likes working there, maybe it would be worth staying late or coming early once or twice a week and using the time to catch up on blogs, work on a certification course, write the all-American novel, or what have you;) "Face time" is painfully easy to accumulate, provided you're willing to give up your time.

Anonymous said...

Do your wife's colleagues generally work the same hours with the same level of productivity? Is she one of those 'go the extra mile' people and puts her hand up to be involved in other projects or tasks that could improve the team/business while keeping on top of her own normal workload? Or is she a 'solid citizen' who does the core job she's paid to do, does it well, but doesn't want to get involved with other stuff?

I've been part of teams where most people worked hard, but due to peaks and troughs (due to project stages or seasonal customer changes) individual workloads would vary from time to time. Valued employees were those that offered to help out their colleagues when they had a light patch - or prioritised their work if they saw someone else needed to get something done urgently - rather than focusing just on their own patch and getting out the door bang on time. I'd rather everyone pitch in and stay back 10 or 15 minutes to get the work done rather than one or two poor people putting in hours extra. That's part of teamwork and working for the greater good - and it's all swings and roundabouts.

As someone who worked in the recruitment team of a large company (where about 70% of my roles were filled internally), including leading a team of recruiters, when it comes to internal promotions, those that do their core role well, plus add value in other ways, have an edge. Maybe that's what your wife's VP meant (although if so, he said it in a clumsy way).

Of course if someone in the team is goofing off and wasting time, they can't grumble about having to work late to make up for it and they shouldn't expect their colleagues to help if they could have completed their work in the hours they're paid.

Anonymous said...

"The best case scenario here is that the manager is trying to convey to her that she needs to find ways to make her results more evident to those who care about them."

This is something I'd like to hear more about, since I'm particularly bad at it. I tend to work very long hours and to do a lot of work compared to co-workers, but my managers never seem to realize it. Or they don't care, or they're just happy to take advantage of the situation. In any case, I eventually stopped working quite so hard, since there didn't seem to be any benefit or even appreciation...

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous, what kind of work do you do?

LisaMeece said...

In my first job out of grad school, the owner of the company decided he wanted an "end of the day" voice mail from every member of the management team detailing their day's accomplishments. I was very productive at that job...but I also suspected he could care less about actual accomplishments and really just wanted to hear the time stamp...so I would routinely finish my work, go home, have dinner, do whatever I was going to do that evening and call him right before bed. Sadly, I gained a tremendous amount of credibility from that simple manipulation. I also left the job after a year because the owner was batsh...uh...really crazy.

Rosezilla's right, it's very easy to put in face time. It may very well be worth it in this economy. Or it may not.

a.e. said...

Your reply leaves me feeling cold as it smacks of either (2) a large entitlement factor, or (b) someone who has a ton of job security and thus is not able to give realistic advice. The fact of the matter is that if your superior makes a suggestion, its probably because other people have noticed a behavior that is not valued within the organization and she is suggesting that you change to fit the organization. Life isn't fair and neither is work. No one wants to stay at the office later than they have to, but in some places, it is what you have to do. I've been an investment banker which is a very face time oriented environment. You suck it up, get promoted, and then you have more flexibility with your time. It's that simple. But I do agree with you on one thing, if you don't like it, start looking for employment elsewhere. But who's to say the next place won't come with its own challenges. However, getting snitty with your boss for pointing out that your behavior is not meshing with the culture of the firm, I just am not sure I can get behind that kind of advice.

Ask a Manager said...

a.e., really? I'd say a manager who tells an employee that she needs to stay late even when all her work is done is a manager who gives the rest of us a bad name. I agree she's suggesting the employee change to fit the culture, but the question is whether that's a culture that the employee likes/wants to be part of. The best-run places don't ask their employees to stay late for no reason.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'd just say "thank you for the advice. I'll keep it in mind." And leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I'm the anon from above. I work in software engineering, data analytics, that sort of thing.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

All,
Ask a Manager's advice was great and I appreciate the feedback. It would be easy to see reasons for a manager to make such comments if an employee wasn't productive, however in this case, my wife has exemplified an outstanding employee both by goals set forth and in her reviews. A comment by rosezilla was made to the effect of my wife possibly stepping up the social aspect of the career, however she is the first one to try to organize outside events.

My personal opinion is that her supervisor (who is female) wasn't comfortable giving all praise and no criticism. A promotion is on the line and she needs firepower to back up her decision to possibly choose another candidate for the position. I see this a lot in my business, where a manager is threatened by someone's sucess and targets otherwise meaningless stuff just so the scale is balanced.

smith17 said...

Because I had a long commute, I always arrived early and left early. I was at my desk before 8am and left at 3.45pm. My manager was happy with this, but some co-workers (the ones who started work at 10am) seemed to think I was a part-timer! However, if there was a leaving party or similar, the rule was it could not start before 4pm - so I was never in a position to join in and network. Similarly, I rarely joined in if there was a party or meal after work. Commuting home late is more difficult, potentially dangerous and makes my working day too long. Plus I don't like late travelling when I may have had a couple of drinks (might fall asleep on the train!)
Could the lady in question perhaps start work later and finish later from time to time? She might then see that she is missing out on networking or informal meetings as everyone unwinds at the end of the day.
Incidentally, our boss used occasionally to let everyone leave work early. For those who didn't start until 10.30am, a 2pm finish was a bonus. For me, I'd done almost a day's work by 2pm - what a swizz!

Anonymous said...

What it boils down to is perception is reality. I had a manager that used that saying all the time and showed me ways to fudge numbers to stack the cards in my favor. It's unfair but there's more to work than a 9-5 job. Productivity is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest is learning to play the game to gain career success.

FrauTech said...

I wouldn't question the boss on giving that advice. In this case that's going to come off like you know better than the boss or are undermining his/her authority.

Just start staying 10 minutes later. I'll bet the person is leaving at 3:59 every day on the dot. That can be extremely annoying when other people are trying to get work done but so-and-so always leaves at 4 and they are there later trying to get stuff done. It can also come off like she's entitled and doesn't really care about her career only treats it like a job. Sounds like if that was the only criticism she got, and she DOES only care about her job, she's got nothing to worry about. But like others have said if she's in sales or management than she should consider working a later schedule or staying later every now and then.

Jane said...

I think FrauTech may have a point there--not that the OP's wife is necessarily doing anything wrong, just that her most visible role in the office is being the person who's out the door first every single day, and that nobody can recall a time when she's come in early or stayed late. That may mean that the superiors have asked themselves if the clock always overrides her commitment to a task or project, which could become a problem in some jobs--and maybe one of those jobs is the one she'd be promoted to.

If that's the case, then that's another reason she might want to talk to her supervisor, especially if she's genuinely interested in the promotion--she may be conceiving of it as a job that will always let her go at 4, and many exempt jobs just aren't like that even if they're still largely 40 hours a week jobs.

Unemployed Gal said...

My husband had a similar problem. He’s so great at his job that it threatened his bosses. Average employees (including his superiors) looked bad compared to his performance. He was always improving processes, increasing efficiency, making suggestions, and volunteering for and even creating special projects. The harder he worked, the more his bosses looked for anything to criticize. My husband took on a special assignment in conjunction with another department to support a new product single-handedly (and did a good job), and his boss spent his annual review bitching about one obscure incident during the project that no one else remembered. He went well beyond his normal duties, and it lowered his review rating.

Guess how many projects my husband volunteers for now? Yep, zero. He does the bare minimum effort required. He does his assignments well (and slowly), but does nothing more. He puts in his “face time” playing video games in his office. He “telecommutes” on slow days by turning on his cell phone and napping. Now he’s a drone like everyone else. And he receives more praise than ever before.

I think there’s a reason that the OP’s coworkers goof off all day and “look busy” for the boss. She should either spend her extra “face time” on Monster.com or buy a video game. Her productivity is only hurting her at this company.

Thebe said...

I can understand the VP's point of view. It wouldn't kill your wife to stay late once in a while. Yes, she's an excellent worker, but this is a political point, not a performance one.

In a perfect world this wouldn't be an issue. But people are human after all, and although rationally her coworkers know she arrives to work early, emotionally they can't help but respond negatively when they see her light out at 4 p.m. I'd say stay late an hour or two maybe twice a month just to show she's responsive.

Again, I'm not recommending she stay late every night or even once a week. That would be ridiculous. She's doing a great job. I recommend staying late once or twice a month to keep the peace.

BossLady said...

This post reminds me of a little piece of advice I picked up in some career book along the way. (Yes, I know many of these are rife with issues... but anyway.)

The advice was if you can, don't come in early and leave early, as people don't often notice how early you are coming in. Instead come in on-time and stay late. People notice that. It's stupid, and it certainly doesn't apply everywhere, but I think in many places where unconscious perceptions trump good and reasoned management it is sadly true.

That being said, I am wondering if the poster's wife has outside commitments that make leaving anytime after 4pm just not possible, such as children to pickup from school, her own continuing education or something along those lines? If so, perhaps this is really a conversation about work/life balance and the downright unfair bias against those who work hard and achieve much but are perceived as less than committed to their career because the also have commitments in their life outside of work.

Ask a Manager said...

I just can't buy into the idea that it's okay to do this for show only, or that it's okay for a manager to ask someone to (at least not without clear acknowledgement that she knows it's a silly thing to ask).

Yes, obviously, at some places this is needed, which I why I advised the person to figure out if it's worth it to her to just suck up and do or not. But that doesn't mean that we should see this as totally fine -- it's not. It's bad management.

Bohdan said...

First off please realize that a spouse is seldom an objective (or even balanced) judge of work performance. Hence nepotism rules.

Second 'face time' is not just about parading around with colorful feathers, it's about building trust. Can you build trust without it? Sure, but it's harder. Besides, it doesn't sound like the VP is asking simply for face time, but extra time.

Is the VP the direct manager? Is the promotion to another producer role or does it represent a complete change is scope (like with supervisory responsibilities)?

One possibility here is that the VP is trying to assess whether the person in question is willing to go 'above and beyond'. Doing your work well doesn't get you promoted, it gets you paid.

There are different ways to exceed your job description, and which ones relevant depend on the specific position.

Personally, if I wanted some coaching here and not just advice, I would ask whether it 'after hours' time was to build relationships or simply be seen.

I'm guessing that just hanging out 'till 4:30 would not significantly change anything.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is right who says this is a political issue, and for that reason I'm on the side of OP working the exact same hours as always. We, the employees, can _not_ continually back down and cave in to life-quality-damaging demands. Europeans already work months less every year than we do -where does it end? OP starts to stay later, then what? Next year, she's asked to stay later again. Next, she's in an office like mine where you're expected to log in again when you get home to work all evening, and put in Saturdays and Sundays as well. (Not the boss, of course, she's strictly 10 to 3.) We have to stand up to this.

Bohdan said...

The danger of a slippery slope is only relevant if there isn't an objective being accomplished.

Being there just to be there is silly. If there's something to accomplish then you can evaluate whether it's worth it to you or not.

It's not you versus them. Don't make it a fight. In that kind of framework your power becomes far more limited.

It doesn't sound like she's being told to spend more time to keep her current job, but to move to a new job, ostensibly with new expectations.

Anonymous said...

@Bohdan - very well said. Especially: "Doing your work well doesn't get you promoted, it gets you paid."

And those who are suggesting playing computer games, etc, to look busy - wow, how did you get so jaded?? Well, we know how Unemployed Gal got that way... but did you read Bohdan's first paragraph?

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous way up above wrote that he/she was interested in hearing more about how to make the results of your work more evident to others. Some of it is simply being more vocal about keeping your boss/others in the loop -- "hey, I cut our processing time on these down by 30% by doing ____" or "look at this cool feature I just created for our web site" or even just forwarding an email of praise from a grateful customer. If you watch your coworkers, some of them probably do this naturally, and some don't do it at all, often because it feels too much like bragging. But it's really not bragging -- it's just making your work known, since otherwise, in the rush of the day-to-day, it might not get focused in on.

Anonymous said...

Anon@4:53: "Well, we know how Unemployed Gal got that way," eh? What a lovely piece of sanctimonious judgment! I'm sure we all needed more of that in our lives today.

"How did you all get so jaded?" We saw that working hard and working well makes less difference at our jobs than politics and exploiting the loopholes in The System.

Anon 4:53 said...

@Anon 6.12. Perhaps you read sarcasm where none was intended. I meant that clearly Unemployed Gal's husband had a bad experience - although I still agree with Bohdan and that we only get one side of the story when we hear our partner's own perceptions of their performance.

"Substantial research shows that self is generally the worst judge of performance in management and professional jobs. Whether a person rates himself or herself high or low is unrelated to performance dimensions. On the other hand, the ratings of others (boss, peers, direct reports, customers) generally show significant relationships with actual performance. Self ratings are most accurate on strengths, least accurate on weaknesses, and least accurate on interpersonal skills and the impressions we leave on people (EQ)." - Source: 100 Things you need to know: Best people practices for Managers & HR, by RW Eichinger, MM Lombardo and D Ulrich. And their conclusion is also based on substantive studies and research conducted by others.

And I feel sorry for those whose experience has led them to the conclusion that "working hard and working well makes less difference at our jobs than politics and exploiting the loopholes in The System."

Anonymous said...

Yes, the face time focus is ridiculous, but it's true. I work in a small office, and almost every day my coworkers are commenting on who is out the door on the dot, and the managers notice too.

Every other week I stay 10 minutes late or so to finish up, and my boss always notices and comments with approval. It's such a busy place that this is the only way to catch her and talk about things other than important crisises of the day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice! I can see that I'm one of the people who doesn't like to brag, so that's something I need to work on. Thanks again! :)

Brian said...

To the Anonymous doing data analytics work asking about how to make results more evident - I used to have the same issue but have overcome it.

I have some great examples that should be very relevant since my work is similar to yours - feel free to e-mail me at brianbasden at hotmail dot com and I'll send them to you.

Anonymous said...

The VP asked her to be a ‘go-getter.’ A go-getter is naturally someone who goes beyond the minimum of his/her responsibilities, particularly if they have a goal in mind, such as a promotion. Perhaps the VP knew the employee’s day was full with her daily tasks and was telling her to put in some extra time to show she can add more value to the organization than just her current job. Perhaps the VP believes that in their company, like most good companies, promotions go to those that actively demonstrate a desire to move their career forward, take on new challenges, learn new aspects of the business, be part of the bigger picture.

As opposed to staying 15 minutes to play video games or shop, the employee should consider how best to use some extra time periodically to do what she really needs to do to succeed. If the promotion is in another department, get to know that team and what they do. If there are additional skills she would need, find someone who can mentor her. If there is a different supervisor, she can tell that supervisor she is interested in a new challenge and wants advice as to what she needs to do to move her career forward.

Playing video games is never a good idea at work, even after hours, since the perception is then that you are either a brown-noser or a slacker. This behavior will not help one get promoted, which is the employee’s ultimate goal. Instead, find ways to provide additional value to your organization – If you are recognized and rewarded, then stay; if not, consider a job change.

Anon 6:12 said...

Anon 4:53, I did read sarcasm. Sorry for the misunderstanding, and thanks for the clarification.

Re jadedness: I wish I could say I didn't believe my response, but I've only worked two places where it wasn't the case. One, luckily, is my current workplace. The other was actually a restaurant where I waited tables in high school.

Unemployed Gal said...

@Anon 12:57: If her VP actually expected her to do all those things (such as finding a mentor), it sounds like he failed to communicate that. His definition of a “go-getter” is someone who hangs around in the evening so the boss notices. This reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where George left his car at work, so his bosses assumed he was always the first to arrive and last to leave. What a go-getter!

I doubt she would have scoffed at the suggestion to find a mentor or collaborate with another department. It sounds more like her bosses judge employee contributions via a parking lot car count.

Anonymous said...

I’ve worked in a few different environments where “face time” seems to be valued more than “effective time” and I offer the following suggestions.
The point of every one is to point out the positive sacrifice you make by arriving early in opposition to the detriment suggested by your not working late.

1.) Rather than rush to send out emails before you run to the train at 4pm, save the ones that can wait until first thing in the morning. This is good for your customers/coworkers/boss because it gives you a last chance to review emails before you hit send. And it reminds people you put in your hours. In fact, if they get used to seeing your emails at the top of their morning’s arrivals, they are frequently reminded. And you stand to get the replies you seek before they get bogged down or distracted.

2.) Similarly, greet your boss and coworkers as they arrive with results. “I know you just got in, but I finished the TPS reports you asked for about 2 hours ago and wanted to get it to you asap.” This is simply demonstrating you are hard@work when they are at home; a perfect counter to the argument you are at home while others are (still) hard@work.

3.) Proactively refer to your work schedule and how you are not letting it interfere routinely. “Hey Barbara Boss (or Carla Coworker), I want to check in that my being an early bird at work and you arriving a little later isn’t interfering with our working well together. (Emphasis on them arriving late, not you leaving early.) What can I do to help minimize the impact, if you actually perceive any? Be sincere with this and not petty—otherwise, don’t do it.

4.) When it makes sense to do so, send meeting invitations or counter a suggested meeting time with 7:30AM. Reference how you feel it’s important to “take care of this important meeting first thing!” It’s only a half hour early for you and the spectre of coming in 90 minutes early earns you major “face time” credibility with bosses and coworkers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Anon @ 1:19, but that type of behavior is more likely to piss everyone off...

1) even if the e-mails CAN wait, the "time stamp" being alluded to is now one day later and may create the perception of not being as responsive.

2) the boss & coworkers will probably be angry if they're ambushed every morning as they walk in the door.

3) emphasizing the "lateness" of coworkers who arrive at the same time as everyone else is likely to cause additional friction.

4) even if it's "important and makes sense", if normal business hours begin at 8:30, a 7:30 (or 8:00) meeting is both rude and inconsiderate and is a great way to tick people off, ESPECIALLY if you're not their boss...

Anonymous said...

Call me jaded, then, because my experience is that coming in early and staying late is a neverending spiral that results in my donating time instead of being paid for my time. If I'm supposed to leave at 3:00 and I'm seen staying until 3:30 in order to get something wrapped up, then 3:30 becomes normal and and I'm expected to stay until 4:00 in order to appear as thought I'm going the extra mile. My workload increases accordingly. And now I'm DONATING an hour a day, or 5 hours a week, or 260 hours a year, or...the equivalent of 6.5 40-hour weeks. I've never encountered an employer who appreciated the donation, just employers who expect it. Who wouldn't want someone to work 6.5 weeks for free?