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Build Your Career Office Life

Bosses Benefit from Over-Eager Employees

Bosses Benefit from Over-Eager Employees
Credit: Volt Communication/Shutterstock

You know that annoying co-worker who's always kissing up to your boss? While it might be driving you crazy, your boss may have good reason to put up with it. 

A study recently published in The Journal of Applied Psychology suggest that seeing a boss getting all that attention, helps positively shape the way new employees view their new manager. 

As part of the study, researchers asked participants to watch videos of employees interacting with their supervisor. In some videos, the employee was shown ingratiating themselves with the boss in a variety of ways, such as by complimenting the boss, showing an interest in the boss's personal life, offering praise or completing favors.

After controlling for age, work experience and social skill, the study's authors discovered that those who watched interactions that included ingratiation from a subordinate rated the supervisor higher than those who watched interactions without it. The positive opinions were held even when the participants were directly told that the boss wasn't nice and ineffective.

David Long, an assistant professor at William and Mary College, said new employees who see one of their co-workers pass a compliment or say something nice to the boss, such as "I really like how you make decisions" or "You are the best boss I've ever had," have to process all that information to determine why is that person is praising the supervisor. [See Related Story: Sucking Up to the Boss May Be Good for Your Health]

"Is it because the superior deserves it? Is it because that person is trying to make a good impression?" Long said. "There are a lot of things they have to process."

In the end, the newcomer synthesizes all that information and what they take away from that is that the boss is actually somebody who they can trust, according to Long.

"This is somebody who is warm and trustworthy and therefore somebody who I think will do good things or look out for my best interest in the organization," Long said.

The researcher found that the positive opinions, however, were only formed when the participants were told to imagine that they were new to the company. When told to envision that they were contractors whose time with the company was coming to an end, the same positive perceptions weren't made.

Trevor Foulk, one of the study's authors and a researcher at the University of Florida, noted that most people don't like "kiss-ups," and when established workers see this type of behavior happening, they ignore it. New employees, however, are desperate for positive information about their superiors, so they will accept information that others discount, Foulk said.

"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," Foulk said in a statement. "If we can't get good information, we'll settle for what we can get."

Foulk said the study shows how this type of behavior can affect how employees view others in the workplace.

"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," Foulk said. "It's almost like throwing your voice."

As for when it's OK to curry favor with the boss, Long says its all depends on whether or not what being said is authentic.

"If I don't mean what I say, but I say it anyway because I have a hidden agenda ... that is an unethical way to use it," Long said. "It really depends on the true intent of the behaviors."

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.