Is it OK to 'suck up'? - Business Works
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Is it OK to 'suck up'?

Adi Gaskell, CMI
I wrote last year about the different ways managers attempt to schmooze their way to the top of the corporate ladder. You had things like the social schmooze, the bashful schmooze and the similarity schmooze, all designed to sufficiently ingratiate you with your boss that you would be well on the way to corporate greatness.

New research has further supported the benefits of schmoozing as a means of moving up the corporate ladder. The research, published in the Journal of Management Studies, suggests that the ‘politically savvy’ amongst us not only get ahead, but they also avoid the psychological distress that comes to those that are less cunning in their office behaviour.

The research, conducted by Long-Zeng Wu1, Frederick Hong-kit Yim, Ho Kwong Kwan and Xiaomeng Zhang, suggests that when politically savvy managers ingratiate themselves with others they neutralise ostracism and the psychological distress that comes with it.

Ostracism at work is a bigger issue than it often appears. It’s defined as the feeling that one is ignored or excluded by their managers. Not invited to lunch with the boss or a round of golf? Then you could be being shut out, even if not intentionally. A study in 2005 revealed that 66% of managers felt that they were ostracised at work. It’s a form of bullying that often goes un-noticed, but nevertheless can cause quite a bit of psychological discomfort for those on the receiving end. If you’re stressed at work, it’s quite likely you’ll be stressed in other parts of your life too. All in all, it’s not a good thing at all.

In the present study, researchers examined the relationship between workplace ostracism and employee psychological distress, with a focus on moderating effects of ingratiation and political skill. The research team surveyed employees from two oil and gas companies in China, with 215 employees providing responses. "Our data confirmed that workplace ostracism was positively related to psychological distress," explains Ho Kwong Kwan one of the study’s authors. "We found that ingratiation neutralized the relationship between workplace ostracism and psychological distress when used by employees with a high level of political skill, but exacerbated the association when ingratiation was used by employees with low political savvy."

While the path to success and health may appear to come from sucking up, the authors of the study have a better suggestion. They say that organizations should create a culture that discourages workplace ostracism by provide training to managers and employees, which enhances self-esteem, encourages effective problem solving techniques, and promotes the development of political skills.

If you are a boss then playing favourites is a risky endeavour to undertake, but I provided some tips earlier in the year on how you can do so successfully.

  1. Make it meritocratic: One of the biggest gripes concerning percieved favourtism is that it isn't based on results or ability, but who they know or how much they brown nose you. By all means look after your star performers but make it your star performers, not your golf partner or a family friends nephew, that get that star attention.
  2. Be inclusive: It's fine to give attention to your best staff but you also need to give some love to everyone else. So give training and support to those that aren't in the top group. Look to improve those people at the same time as showing the stars some love.
  3. Show equality: Clearly, you wish to support your stars as much as possible, but there are basic behaviours that should apply to all. A recent Gen Y study found favourtism to be the most unethical practice in the workplace, with those workplaces that have favourtism suffering higher rates of stealing, bad-mouthing and other damaging behaviours.

Adi Gaskell is the editor of The Management Blog for the Chartered Management Institute, a professional body for managers and leaders in the UK: The CMI Management Blog

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