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Should employees “kiss up” to get ahead?

Dear Office-Politics,

My boss has resigned and has recommended to his superiors that he wants his secretary to be promoted to senior office supervisor. Two junior supervisors (also her boss) who deserve to be given the chance for promotion will most likely be passed up due to the fact that they don’t kiss up. Does it mean that one’s education and many years of company loyalty means nothing if you don’t kiss up?


dr. john burton

Dear Non-kisser,

Sometimes it is the case that those employees who “kiss up” get ahead. But is that really the case here?

Behavior that may look like “kissing up” to someone who is cynical may in fact be a good working relationship. Is there perhaps a combination of personal warmth and competence here?

Congenial relationships benefit the company
One of the ways to combat the unhealthy sort of “Office Politics” which this website is all about, is to recognize that if people develop congenial relationships with their co-workers, the whole firm benefits. It is easier to count on someone to give that extra effort when needed if you have a relationship that includes taking time to get to know the person as a person.

If the promotion you are concerned about goes to an unqualified person solely because of their good relationship with the departing boss, the firm will pay the price for that decision. The employee promoted beyond their competence will also pay the price when they find themselves unable to cope. If she/he can cope with the job, then you really have nothing to complain about.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Dr. John Burton

Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John was recently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities. He is now teaching at UBC, Okanagan Campus.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2003. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

  1. 3 Answers to “Should employees “kiss up” to get ahead?”

  2. Okay, and everything you say is true. But, my impression, having been out in the work world for twenty years now is that, in every work situation, there is a cad who makes work as difficult as possible for everyone they come in contact with because they see it as job security to torment their coworkers and subordinates. Often times this cad has more seniority than anyone because they have created a revolving door all around themselves. You say the organization will suffer if the “kiss up” is not really competent but that makes it sound like “kiss ups” being promoted is the exception rather than the rule. The fact is, every organization I have worked for is loaded with fools at the top and they always seem to go bankrupt shortly after I get hired. Incompetence at the top is the reason why we just bailed out the banks. As a matter of fact, incompetence is wildly common. Incompetence is not at all rare.

    I think it is definitely time for companies to embrace a more productive corporate corporate culture. But it wont happen. And although I am unemployed right now, I have that wonderful day when I eventually have to go back to work to look forward to. YAY!!! I can hardly contain my enthusiasm.

    By May U. Knowme on Jun 8, 2009

  3. Unfortunately, Kiss ups do get ahead. There is a particular person at my office who has at one point or another, has become rude, screaming and yelling at another staff memeber. This person has continued to climb the corp ladder, to everyone’s dismay. Why? Kissing up to the bosses. So now this person is a boss.

    By Sylvia on Sep 22, 2009

  4. The bottom line is that a person must live with themself. I do not recommend kissing-up to people. It typically means embracing a lot of ineptitude and ignorance. There’s a standard of bare minimum and it makes it hard to be serious when you need to be. Where I work it is perpetuated by nepotism and good old boy/girl’ ism. I am thankful I get to work out of the office. I can’t stand that office. I recommend if you do kiss up have your aces ready in case it goes south. That, of course, requires being a game player. Nuff’ said.

    By johnson on Oct 20, 2014

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