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Sucking up to the boss can help your career. But it can hurt you in other ways, study says

A new study found that ingratiating, or kissing up, behavior can result in better performance evaluations, but also results in a draining of self-control that leads to poor behavior in the workplace.
A new study found that ingratiating, or kissing up, behavior can result in better performance evaluations, but also results in a draining of self-control that leads to poor behavior in the workplace. KRT

That one person in your office who always sucks up to the boss may be on to something. But even if a little flattery is earning them points with the head honcho, a new study says office kiss-ups are also sacrificing energy that can make them feel drained and lead them to behaving badly.

That study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that some workers who spend time flattering their bosses end up showing poor workplace behavior at the end of the day compared to others.

The reason? The scientists say putting on an act all the time to appease the boss is exhausting.

“There’s a personal cost to ingratiating yourself with your boss,” Anthony Klotz, an associate professor at Oregon State University and the lead author of the paper, said in a news release. “When your energy is depleted, it may nudge you into slack-off territory.”

Scientists have known for some time that ingratiating behavior can lead to positive outcomes for workers. A 1992 Cornell study found that “political influence behavior” could help predict career success, and an earlier study, also published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that sucking up to the boss caused bosses to tend to view subordinates more positively.

But there’s a trade-off the scientists say has been overlooked.

For the latest study, the scientists recruited 75 middle managers in a Chinese software company and told them to try one of two methods to make an impression on their bosses.

One way was to ingratiate themselves by doing favors for, agreeing with and flattering their boss. The other way was to promote themselves by highlighting their own successes, talking about their work and their connections.

The workers kept daily diaries of their experiences and also filled out daily surveys about their skill and making an impression of the boss. At the end of the day, the scientists found that those who used the “kissing-up” method felt more drained of their self-control at the end of the day.

The effect wasn’t there for the self-promoting group.

“It makes sense that ingratiation is depleting, because successfully kissing up requires the appearance of sincerity and that requires self-control,” Klotz said in a news release.

The scientists say the drain in self-control meant those workers were more likely to engage in poor workplace behavior like snapping at colleagues, goofing off at work or skipping meetings.

The researchers said one way to control those feelings is to take a break and blow off some steam. The boss can also recognize when someone is trying to suck up to them and try to stop it.

“If you’re feeling depleted you may want to take steps to restore yourself - take a walk, talk to a friend, eat a snack,” Klotz said in the release. “That’s typically better than the allowing the depletion to manifest in other ways, like skipping a meeting or being rude to a co-worker.”

Miriam Martinez Solais worked for low wages in a North Carolina restaurant until 2014. After Solais, who used illegal documents to apply for her job, reported lost wages to labor officials, her former boss had her investigated. Federal labor offic

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