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Science Careers Blog

June 15, 2010

Being There Gives Employees An Edge with Management

Woody Allen famously said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up," and new research suggests he may be on to something. This new research suggests that your physical presence on the job, while maybe not 80% of your success, can add a few percentage points to your perceived value.

The findings are published in a paper in the June issue of the journal Human Relations. Kimberly Elsbach and Jeffrey Sherman of University of California at Davis, and Dan Cable of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill talked in-depth with 39 first-line or mid-level managers about the implications of workers being present in the workplace. The findings from these open-ended interviews suggest that employees seen at work during normal business hours are considered dependable, reliable, conscientious, and trustworthy. As one respondent remarked, "So if I see you there all the time, okay, good. You're hard working, a hard working, dependable individual."

Showing up was particularly important for workers doing work that was not easily quantified, such as creative or specialized tasks. Being physically on the job assured the managers the workers were working diligently, even if they weren't completely knowledgeable about their output.

And if staff were seen on the job outside of normal working hours, they more often were considered committed and dedicated, and thus even more valuable. Speaking of staff who put in the extra hours, one respondent told the authors, "I think it's seen as a higher level of commitment, and you get thought of as an overachiever because you're seen after hours." This extra effort, according to another respondent, is "definitely one of the tests of management material."

The researchers followed the interviews with more of a controlled experiment that suggests this attribution of positive traits to those who show up could be a spontaneous or unconscious process. The team gave 60 professional-level employees a written scenario describing the activities of an office worker who was on the scene and observed by others. The participants were then asked to identify traits of the person described in the scenario from a list of test words, in what was presented to the subjects as a test of memory. Four of the test terms -- Dependable, Committed, Dedicated, and Responsible -- were NOT used in scenario. Nonetheless these terms were identified by far more respondents than other non-occurring terms such as Creative, Friendly, Unproductive, and Lazy.

An interesting angle on this research is that the authors focused solely on fellow workers' or managers' impressions of employees based on the extent to which they were physically present in the workplace, what they call "passive face-time." They did not get into other factors, such as substantive interactions with employees or even the nature of the work they performed.

Thus, just showing up could make a difference in how managers and fellow workers think about your value to the organization. Telecommuting and virtual organizations can cut costs, save energy, and allow for more time with your family, but you need to be breathing the same air if you really want your colleagues to recognize the good that you do.

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