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Working Hard or Just Sucking Up? Your Boss Knows the Difference

Working Hard or Just Sucking Up? Your Boss Knows the Difference
Credit: Alpha Spirit/Shutterstock

When you're working hard, your boss knows what your motivations are, new research shows.

Good supervisors are able to distinguish which employees are simply sucking up to get a raise or a promotion when they put in long hours or take on an extra workload and which ones are going the extra mile in an effort to do what's best for their employer, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

The study's authors say managers are becoming better at determining which employees are "good soldiers" and which are "good actors," as they make decisions on who deserves promotions and other rewards most. While the behavior of both groups goes beyond the mere basics of their job descriptions, the soldiers' actions are selflessly motivated by helping the organization and their co-workers. The actors' actions, however, are self-serving because they're focused more on furthering themselves.

For the study, researchers tested whether supervisors can successfully spot good actors from good soldiers by surveying 197 bank tellers and cashiers, and their 47 immediate supervisors, at 21 branches of an English-speaking multinational bank in Pakistan.

The researchers found that managers know with relative accuracy when employees' actions and behaviors are selflessly or self-servingly motivated. [Want a Promotion? Mind Your Manners ]

Magda Donia, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said the findings dispel concerns that bosses may unfairly reward employees who are only looking out for their own best interests.

"Supervisors are able to accurately identify the motives behind their subordinates' organizational citizenship behavior, and they are not fooled by good actors," Donia said in a statement.

The study builds on previous research that found that supervisors tend to prefer good soldiers over good actors. Researchers say this might be because selfless and self-serving workers differ in the work they produce.

Donia advises that, based on their findings, it might be more effective and meaningful for employees' own long-term advancement in a company if they selflessly work within an organizational setting rather than only going above and beyond the call of duty when it can benefit their own goals most.

The study was co-authored by Gary Johns, a professor at Concordia University, and Usman Raja, an associate professor at Brock University. Both universities are in Canada.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based 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.