“Kissing Up” to the Boss can Increase Employees’ Bad Behavior

Office politics can frequently exhibit instances of certain employees “kissing up” to the boss. While it may be a successful strategy sometimes for an employee to gain advantages, it may also backfire.

“Kissing up to the boss,” can deplete an employee’s self-control resources, and result in bad behavior, according to a research study.

Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management in the College of Business at Oregon State University and the lead author of the paper says: “There’s a personal cost to ingratiating yourself with your boss,” said. He added, “When your energy is depleted, it may nudge you into slack-off territory.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Kissing up or ingratiation is just one of many behaviors employees might to establish their image and credibility in the workplace. This strategy, past research has shown, can have some benefits for employees, including career advancement. It’s all about impression management — wanted and needing to be liked and appear competent.

“Generally, impression management in the workplace is about wanting to be liked and appear competent says co-author Lawrence Houston III, an assistant professor of management in OSU’s College of Business.

Ingratiation behaviors include such things as flattery, following the boss’s directions without question, always agreeing with the boss and doing the boss personal favors.

The more employees engaged in ingratiation, the more their self-control resources were depleted by the end of the day the researchers found.

In addition, the researchers found that ingratiating employees were more likely to engage in workplace deviance such as skipping a meeting, incivility to a co-worker, wasting time at work.

“It’s also important to note that the depleting effects of ingratiation are immediate, but the workplace benefits of those acts tend to build over the long term,” Houston said.

The researchers also found that kissing up to the boss was less depleting for employees skilled at office politics.

The study’s findings suggest that employees should be mindful of the potential effects of ingratiation and recognize that engaging in it may not have the anticipated benefits in the long run.

Houston cautions that leaders should also be mindful that ingratiation comes at a cost to employees and the result can also be an unproductive and emotionally unbalanced employee.



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Ray Williams

Author/Retired Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others