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Get Noticed and Die Trying: Signals, Sacrifice, and the Production of Face Time in Distributed Work

Ioana C. Cristea () and Paul M. Leonardi ()
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Ioana C. Cristea: Technology Management Program, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-5129
Paul M. Leonardi: Technology Management Program, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-5129

Organization Science, 2019, vol. 30, issue 3, 552-572

Abstract: Research shows that displaying face time—being observed by others at work—leads to many positive outcomes for employees. Drawing on this prior work, we argue that face time helps employees to receive better work and leads to career advancement because it is a strong signal of their commitment to their job, their team, and their organization. But when employees are geographically distributed from managers who control the assignment of work, they are often unable to display face time. To compensate, employees must engage in other behaviors that signal commitment. Our study of two large, globally distributed, product-development companies demonstrates that employees who engage in certain behaviors can effectively signal their commitment to the organization and, as a consequence, will receive better work assignments. But because they operate in a competitive signaling environment, they have to continually engage in the behaviors that produce desired signals to the point where they often feel that they are sacrificing their personal lives for their job. We induct a model from our data that explains why simple behaviors that signal commitment eventually turn into feelings of sacrifice and why employees at headquarters who have the power to assign better work fail to notice the sacrifice behind the signals. We discuss the implications of this model and the signal misalignment it explains for theories of distributed work and signaling in organizations.

Keywords: distributed work; signaling; face time; commitment; better work; sacrifice (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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