How ‘kissing up’ to the manager impacts co-workers

by L&D07 Sep 2016
Many employees have relied on ‘kissing up’ to their manager as a technique to progress their own careers.

Now, Trevor Foulk from the University of Florida and David Long from The College of William & Mary have looked at how this action impacts staff who have seen it.

They discovered that new employees who saw a co-worker kissing up to the boss were more likely to have a positive perception about the supervisor. However, other workers' perceptions were unaffected.

"That kind of information is so much more valuable to a newcomer," Foulk said.

"You're scanning the environment looking for any cue you can get that can help you understand the workplace."

The reason why is that new employees are so keen for positive information about their supervisors that they'll accept information that other employees discount.

This results in them seeing attempts at ingratiation as a sign that the boss must be someone worth getting on the right side of.

The results were interesting because previous research has found that people normally don't like ingratiators.

However, new workers really want to know about their supervisors, so they take the exchange as a positive and ignore its "unsavoury aspects", 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," he said.

"If we can't get good information, we'll settle for what we can get."

The study involved participants watching a video of an employee using different types of ingratiation on a supervisor. This included compliments, interest in personal life, praise and favours.

When the researchers controlled for age, work experience and social skill, they found that participants who watched interactions that included ingratiation from a subordinate rated the supervisor's warmth higher than those who watched interactions without it.

The positive perception even remained when participants were told that the supervisor was unpleasant and ineffective.

However, it only applied when the participants imagined that they were new to the job. When participants were told that they were contractors whose term with the company was ending, the positive perception disappeared.

"This study shows that this behaviour can affect our impressions of others. 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," said Foulk.

The study is published The Journal of Applied Psychology.