Why the office yes-man or yes-woman seldom scores the promotion and how acting this way impacts how your coworkers perceive you.

It’s hard work sucking up to your boss – from laughing at all their jokes to falling over yourself to agree with their every whim and opinion. Such hard work, in fact, that a recent study found serial sycophants often underperform in their jobs as a result.  

All that fake laughter, mechanical nodding, and forced smiles actually negatively impact the mental state of the person behaving this way, draining their self-control, and causing employees them to bring other negative habits into the office. As you can imagine, this creates a deeply unhealthy work environment for all employees and often increases turnover and decreases productivity for the entire organization. 

A look into overly flattering behaviors 

The study, conducted by academics from universities in the U.S., Singapore and China, examined how 75 professionals used self-promotion in the workplace, such as taking credit for success, boasting about performance, and highlighting connections to other important people, and how these employees used ingratiation tactics — also referred to as flattering the boss – to build and maintain their own desired image in the workplace. 

While the intent of the employee might be to gain favor with management, researchers actually found employees who incessantly flatter their supervisor become less energized and more likely to engage in workplace deviance, such as being rude to co-workers, skipping meetings, or surfing the internet at work, as a result.  

How does your team feel? 

When it all adds up, flattering your boss probably won’t make up for the fact that you’re not doing your job to the best of your abilities – particularly when it comes to being a team player. You may also make yourself incredibly unpopular – something that not only harms your career, but can also be hugely detrimental to your sense of well-being at work.  

According to Linn Taylor, a workplace expert, while co-workers who don’t like you because of ingratiating behaviors like those described above might not outwardly show their disdain for your actions, they are significantly less likely to offer help and rarely look out for your best interests.  

On the other hand, employees who are well-liked amongst their team tend to get favors more easily and are better at achieving cooperation across various departments. This, in turn, often leads to a boost in morale and a more productive and successful career – the same results those flattering their bosses are often targeting and the exact opposite of what their actions often actually result in.  

Making the wrong people look good 

One thing sucking up to the boss does achieve is making your boss look really good, especially to new colleagues – according to one 2016 study. Often, these newcomers to your organization will look for any and all help they can get when learning about the ins and outs of their new job and coworkers. This study shows that these new employees will often ignore who is doing the ingratiating in favor of picking up helpful information about their new supervisor. So, while your efforts may not be great for your own career, they could be fantastic for your boss’s!   

For more on what employees who flatter their supervisor may experience at work, view this press release from Oregon State University’s College of Business, one of the schools to co-author the Journal of Applied Psychology article linked earlier in this blog.