How being a suck-up to the boss backfires on you

For all you suck-ups who kiss up to the boss in hopes of earning their favor, enjoy the benefits while they last, because it comes as a cost later.

For all you suck-ups who kiss up to the boss in hopes of earning their favor, enjoy the benefits while they last, because this ingratiation comes at a cost to your work later. The act of maintaining a people-pleasing facade is work that takes up energy we could be using towards our actual job, a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found.

When you are faking sincerity, this acting performance depletes your self-control resources, increasing the likelihood that you will act out later on. “This depletion is positively associated with employee deviance, and the indirect effect is stronger among employees with low political skill,” the study found.

Flatterers can be ‘good actors but bad apples’

These flatterers can be “good actors but bad apples,” researchers found. The time and energy it takes to become a yes-man depletes your self-control and increases bad employee behavior. When the researchers recruited mid-level managers at a software company to write diaries about their work days, they found that the more these employees engaged in ingratiating behavior, the more their self-control resources depleted at the end of the day.

And once the self-control keeping employees in check ran low, these employees became more tempted to act out and be bad employees.“There’s a personal cost to ingratiating yourself with your boss,” Anthony Klotz, the lead author of the paper, said. “When your energy is depleted, it may nudge you into slack-off territory.” Employees became more likely to be rude to their coworkers, skip meetings, and unproductively surf the web instead of doing their jobs.

Be suspicious of people who try to get in your good graces like this, and be careful about doing it yourself. Doing favors and mindlessly conforming your behavior to whatever your boss wants to hear may earn you a nod of approval now and then. But in the long-run, it backfires on you. It may gain you a reputation as a bad employee who is better at talking than working. And it breeds hostile resentment towards the higher-ups we flatter. No one enjoys kissing the ring.

A study on ingratiating managers found that employees who flattered their bosses felt resentment towards them because the acting performance hurt their self-esteem: it “contradict[ed] the ingratiator’s desired self-concept as someone who succeeds on the basis of talent and hard work.” We want to get ahead on our own merits, not on the basis of false compliments.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.