Seen and Heard

by | May 23, 2023 | Aggie Life, Spring/Summer 2023

Can being frequently seen by someone in the workplace give one an advantage in being promoted or liked by an employer? Professor Emerita Kimberly D. Elsbach studies the perceptions that people have of one another and of their organizations, including how “face-time bias” affects impressions of creativity, trustworthiness and legitimacy.

What is face-time bias?

Elsbach defines face-time bias as favorable perceptions of those who are seen frequently at work. This concept suggests that employees you see more often at work will be viewed more positively than those you see less often. Elsbach’s research suggests that these biased perceptions may lead to better performance evaluations and more promotions for people who are visible in the workplace. With the rise of COVID-19 in the past years, many organizations have offered hybrid and remote alternatives for employees, creating an issue for employees who choose to attend work remotely. 

Two types of face time

Elsbach’s research revealed two types of work-related face time: expected face time (being visible during normal working hours) and extracurricular face time (being visible outside of normal working hours, such as late at night or on the weekends). People who exhibited expected face time were viewed as more dependent and reliable than those who didn’t, while those who exhibited extracurricular face time were viewed as more committed and dedicated. These perceptions were made unconsciously (without explicit intent or knowledge) by observers. Both of these perceptions were found to be commonly measured in performance evaluations and to play a role in promotions and raises.

How to combat the negative effects of face-time bias

Because facetime bias puts those who work remotely at a higher disadvantage, because they won’t be viewed as reliable or committed as those who work in the office, it is important for supervisors to minimize its effects, Elsbach said.

She suggested that employers could use more “objective” performance measures (turning in satisfactory work on time), rather than “subjective” measures (supervisor ratings of an employee’s “leadership potential”) in evaluations of remote workers. These objective measures are less likely to be unfairly influenced by face-time bias and may give remote workers the best chance of succeeding in today’s workplace.