Workplace bullying and incivility: Does kissing up fuel kicking down?

Does kissing up to the boss make one more susceptible to kicking down subordinate workers? At least one study suggests that there may be an association between the two.

Science Daily reports on a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology:

Kissing up to the boss at work may help boost employees’ careers but it also depletes the employees’ self-control resources, leaving them more susceptible to behaving badly in the workplace, a new study has found.

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

. . . Klotz [and his] co-authors examined how 75 professionals in China used two supervisor-focused impression management tactics — ingratiation and self-promotion — over two work weeks.

Ingratiation, or kissing up, generally includes flattery, conforming with the supervisor’s opinion and doing favors. Self-promotion refers to taking credit for success, boasting about performance and highlighting connections to other important people.

. . . The researchers found that the extent to which employees engaged in ingratiation varied widely from day to day. They also found that the more employees engaged in kissing up, the more their self-control resources were depleted by the end of the day.

. . . The depleted employees were more likely to engage in workplace deviance such as incivility to a co-worker, skipping a meeting or surfing the internet rather than working.

In sum, study suggests that workplace incivility may result from the energy depletion of kissing up to a boss. In other words, the process of brown nosing up the chain may be so emotionally exhausting that there’s not much energy left for treating other workers with a baseline of civility.

A different take

This is a different take from how the term kiss up, kick down has evolved in the context of workplace bullying. Here, kicking down is part of an integrated strategy, rather than a consequence of emotional depletion. As the Wikipedia entry on kiss up, kick down states:

The workplace bully is often expert at knowing how to work the system. They can spout all the current management buzzwords about supportive management but basically use it as a cover. By keeping their abusive behavior hidden, any charges made by individuals about his or her bullying will always come down to your word against the bully’s. They may have a kiss up kick down personality, wherein they are always highly cooperative, respectful, and caring when talking to upper management but the opposite when it comes to their relationship with those whom they supervise.Bullies tend to ingratiate themselves to their bosses while intimidating subordinates. The bully may be socially popular with others in management, including those who will determine the bully’s fate. Often, a workplace bully will have mastered kiss up kick down tactics that hide their abusive side from superiors who review their performance. [footnotes omitted]

Not everyone who kisses up to a boss is a workplace bully. And we shouldn’t conflate lesser forms of incivility with bullying and mobbing behaviors. Nevertheless, kiss up, kick down bullies are iconic figures among those who study work abuse. These individuals are not simple brown nosers. Rather, kissing up is a job security tactic in the event that subordinates try to hold them accountable for their behaviors.

***

Hat tip to the Society for Occupational Health Psychology for this article.

2 responses

  1. In working with both renown bullies and good bosses for over 25 years, I have seen how healthy, yet tough, bosses create thriving organizations where everyone is treated with maturity and trusted.

    Bullies exploit and hurt the vulnerable. They may feel entitled for generating financial results and not accountable for being a jerk.

    Bullies at work fear their incompetence is threatened by a talented target.  Bullies attack to satisfy disturbed needs to control this threat.

    Bullies are in it for themselves. They choose to repeat the cycle of abuse for power and create sham appearances to perpetuate their ruse. 

    “Bullying bosses undermine their own teams. Morale and company loyalty plunge, tardiness increases and sick days are more frequent.”  In one of my new book’s, 
    https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Successful-Leaders-Arent-Bullies/Matt-Paknis/9781682617175 
    case studies, one bully’s behaviors cost a plant over $500,000 a month.

    The best employees are targeted, attacked, and often leave.

    The toughest / healthiest leaders often survive hardships and have the wisdom to not repeat the abuse cycle. They are transparent, self critical, and selfless.

    They uplift thought and conduct.

    It is time we demand good leaders.

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