How Passive ‘Face Time’ Affects Perceptions of Employees: Evidence of Spontaneous Trait Inference
Human Relations, 2010

In this study, Professor Kimberly Elsbach and co-authors Jeffrey W. Sherman, UC Davis Professor of Psychology, and Dan M. Cable from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill examine how passive ‘face time’ (i.e. the amount of time one is passively observed, without interaction) affects how one is perceived at work.

Findings from a qualitative study of professional office workers suggest that passive face time exists in two forms: 1) being seen at work during normal business hours – or expected face time, and 2) being seen at work outside of normal business hours – or extracurricular face time. These two forms of passive face time appear to lead observers to make trait inferences (i.e. they lead observers to perceive employees as either ‘dependable’ or ‘committed’, depending on the form of passive face time).

Findings from an experimental study confirm the study’s qualitative findings and suggest that trait inferences are made spontaneously (i.e. without intent or knowledge of doing so). We discuss the implications of our findings for theories of person perception and the practice of performance appraisal.

This paper won the 2010 Paper of the Year Award from Human Relations.