Under the Hood

Brown-Noser At Work? How Suck Ups Affect The Whole Office

Everyone knows who the brown-noser in their office is, and a team of researchers from the University of Florida’s Business School set out to discover how sucking up affects coworkers. Kissing up to your boss won’t just affect your relationship with them, but also how the rest of your colleagues interact.

For the study, published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers recruited participants to watch a video of an employee sucking up to their supervisor using different strategies, including compliments, interest in personal life, praise, and even favors. Half of the participants were told to imagine they were new to the job and that the video featured their coworker and boss, while a second group was told to pretend they had worked with them already and their contract was about to expire.

Afterwards, researchers interviewed participants and found newcomers gained a sense of respect for their boss even though it was at the hands of a brown-noser. Established workers tended to discount the kiss up and not think positively about their boss, leading researchers to see a divide between the effect a kiss up could have on newcomers and veteran employees.

Office Suck Up The brown noser at work changes the way the rest of the employees view their boss. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

"That kind of information is so much more valuable to a newcomer," said the study’s lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student at the University’s management school, in a statement. "You're scanning the environment looking for any cue you can get that can help you understand the workplace. If you could sit down with your supervisor for an hour and talk, that would be the best way to form an impression, but we don't always have that opportunity. If we can't get good information, we'll settle for what we can get."

While kiss ups may make their boss look better to newcomers, coworkers who already work there don’t believe the charade. In fact, it can even be difficult to work with brown nosers. Business strategy expert Jappreet Sethi, the co-founder of marketing at YoStartups, wrote in an editorial that was featured on LinkedIn: “They [Brown nosers] seem to have very little personal dignity, or a very strange version of it. Getting and staying in the good books of their (and your) superiors seems to be their main priority.”

These types of employees are “universally despised” and are only dedicated to those in charge simply because they are in charge. This is a shortcut that Sethi says rarely gets them to where they want, and in the end should be ignored. According to the new study’s findings, having a kiss up in the office only seems to benefit a newcomer who is trying to form an opinion on their new boss.

"This study shows that this behavior can affect our impressions of others,” Foulk said. “If you're a newcomer and I want you to like the supervisor, I can manage your impression by ingratiating the supervisor in front of you. It's almost like throwing your voice."

Want to know how to improve your work environment when forced to work with a bad boss? Read here.

Source: Foulk T and Long D. The surprising side effect of kissing up at work. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 2016.

 

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