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Like it or not, there are always people in the office who intend to climb up the career ladder by flattering their bosses. It’s nothing new. In fact, past research has shown that employees can benefit from the so-called “impression management tactics” when they are used correctly. However, not a lot of research on the the downside has been done until recently.
While kiss-ups may be able to leave a “good impression” on their supervisors, boosting their career as a result, a recent research found that these workers are prone to poor workplace behaviour because they are too busy scratching their bosses’ backs.
The research was done by Oregon State University’s College of Business (OSUCB), observing the daily activities of 75 middle managers in a large, publicly traded software company on the mainland.
During the study that lasted for two work weeks, participants were asked to record their daily workplace experiences, and took a survey measuring their “political skill”.
The researchers concluded that these managers’ impression management tactics fell into two categories – ingratiation and self-promotion – and the extent to which managers engaged in these tactics varied widely from day to day.
What is worrying is that the more the managers flattered their bosses, the more they lacked self-control by the end of the day due to exhaustion. As a result, these managers were more likely to be rude to their co-workers, skip meetings, or surf the internet rather than working.
“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,” said Lawrence Houston III, an assistant professor of management in OSUCB.
The researchers also found that employees with high levels of political skill were less likely to exhaust themselves after kissing up to their bosses when compared to those who were less skillful politically.
This means, according to Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management in OSUCB and the lead author of the research paper, that high level political skill can help employees manage appropriate and less-depleting ingratiation.
And if you do feel depleted, Klotz suggested taking steps to restore yourself, such as take a walk, talk to a friend or eat a snack. “That’s typically better than the allowing the depletion to manifest in other ways, like skipping a meeting or being rude to a co-worker,” said Klotz.
Houston advised leaders should be mindful that ingratiation comes at a cost to employees and their response to an employee’s action can play a role in determining what that cost is.
“Leaders can respond to their employees’ ingratiation efforts in ways that are resource depleting or in ways that are more resource giving,” he said. “Positive reinforcement is resource giving, and it’s free.”
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