How staff evaluations may promote workplace lies

Employees may misrepresent the number of hours worked if HR measures performance this way, warns one leading business professor

Evaluating job performance can be subjective especially when looking as aspects such as levels of commitment, problem solving abilities or team work.
As none of these things are easy to measure, management may be tempted to look at quantitative data such as the time staff spend working at their desks. The downside of taking this approach is that it is pretty easy to game the system, said one business expert.
In 2015, a study by Erin Reid – a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business – found that many male employees at a leading consulting firm were just pretending to work the required 80-hour working weeks.
“Many men found unobtrusive, under-the-radar ways to alter the structure of their work (such as cultivating mostly local clients, or building alliances with other colleagues),” Reid wrote in a Harvard Business Review article.
This excessive number of hours was deemed necessary to become the “ideal employee” – one who was always available for the job while being free from personal responsibilities and interests which could interfere with work.
Reid calls this strategy ‘passing’ – when employees give the impression that they are really working while finding ways to scale back their true hours in reality.
This tactic can manifest itself in extreme ways, she noted. One consultant she talked to was actually on a ski holiday while his manager thought he was at work.
“He told me: ‘I skied five days last week. I took calls in the morning and in the evening but I was able to be there for my son when he needed me to be, and I was able to ski five days in a row.’
“He clarified that these were work days, not vacation days: ‘No, no one knows where I am. Those boundaries are only practical with my local client base… Especially because we’re mobile, there are no boundaries’.”
In another article for the Harvard Business Review, Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, called for evaluating tangible results instead of hours worked.
“We propose that managers reduce the incentives for passing … by encouraging people to focus on achieving their goals and measuring actual results rather than hours invested,” they wrote.
Managers can praise staff for the quality of advice provided, they suggested. Alternatively, manager could look at and respond to the number of repeat engagements secured.
“Other policy changes can be made even more easily. One employee we interviewed remarked that her current boss differed from her old one because he believed late nights were a sign that she was working inefficiently, and he discouraged them.”
Another employee said that her manager had let her allocate deadlines for the tasks she was expected to complete. This higher level of autonomy can encourage high-performing workers who may have passed on a particular task to follow through instead, Reid and Ramarajan said.


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