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Face Time

When I was a boy the span of my lifetime seemed infinite. I’d think nothing of sitting around with my friends arguing for hours about anything, like who was the greatest guitarist of all time (Hendrix, of course), or the best pitcher (Tom Seaver) or greatest center (Wilt, although strong arguments were made for Kareem and Russell).  With age has come an increasing awareness of the finiteness of one’s time on earth.  In fact, unlike money or even health, time squandered cannot be retrieved or rebuilt.  It is literally gone for good.

With that in mind, it was very painful to hear a friend recently tell my wife and I about how her job precludes her from finding the time to workout and thus care for her health, and how she returns home typically around 7:30 PM with barely enough time to see her two young children before they are off to bed.  When my wife prodded her to explain further, she said that her company places a high premium on “face time,” which was a phrase that my South American born wife Marisol had never heard of before. Our friend patiently explained that regardless of efficiency or productivity, she and others at her company were expected to be in the office for as long as possible, and that this “face time” was prized and rewarded with better promotion and compensation prospects.

I explained to Marisol that this was not a concept unique to our friend’s company, but that it was quite pervasive in corporate America.  Mari was somewhat shocked.  This concept seemed bizarre and anti-human.  Our friend is not wealthy, nor is she a very high-income earner.  She is a devoted mother who because of her boss’s misguided value system and complete lack of caring for his employees’ lives is being forced to sacrifice many of the joys and responsibilities of motherhood, not to mention see herself aging less gracefully than she would like as a result of her inability to find time to exercise.

I write this all because I find this whole “face time” thing to be among the most repulsive elements of our society. There is little worse than squandering time. Forcing, or inspiring one to squander it is tantamount to theft on the highest level, bordering on slavery.

Now, a reasonable question to ask is:  How does a company become a “face time” company?  I've given some thought to this recently as I advise my son, who’s about to graduate college and looks to enter the world of work.  I believe that it comes from a lack of specific goal setting.  If a business sets specific goals for productivity then achieving or failing to achieve those goals becomes the benchmark for compensation and promotion.  Imagine a salesman not achieving his sales goals and responding to his manager “But I was in the office 12 hours per day!”  That would never happen.  He’d be too embarrassed to even utter such ridiculousness.  However, if specific goals were not set then soft things like face time become all that managers have to value their employees.  So, I believe that it is an absence of specific and measurable goals that lead a company down the slippery slope of unproductivity that is then reinforced by a corporate culture that repels the best producers.

Productivity must be the name of the game at work, and this all must begin with identifying what it means to be productive, and then rewarding that.  Facilitating, or at least allowing for a balanced and fulfilled life for those who work for us will probably facilitate enhanced productivity over the long haul. The concept of “face time,” is the enemy of productivity.  Let’s do our best to eliminate it once and for all.

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