How to Deal with a Brown Noser Employee

If an employee laughs out loud at all your jokes, she may be trying to appeal to your ego.

If an employee laughs out loud at all your jokes, she may be trying to appeal to your ego.

In elementary school, you no doubt learned how to spot a brown noser. At work, brown nosing happens when an employee sucks up to the boss in hopes of landing a promotion. If an employee sucks up, it's a good sign that she has underlying motivations. As a manager, it might be enticing to avoid this employee; however, treat this as a teaching opportunity and try to guide her in the right direction.

Consider the reasons that employees might be brown nosing you. They may not be as clear as you think. First, face the hard facts: In many settings, brown nosing works. In fact, in a study cited by "The Grindstone," researchers at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business polled senior executives at large U.S. corporations found that 92 percent have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions. Because even the top executives fall victim to favoritism, employees might feel that a little ego massaging will get them what they want. So first, before you act, try to understand that these moves aren't uncommon. Employees brown nose because, often, brown nosing leads to success.

Examine the employee's entire profile. Your job as a leader in your company is not just to manage and organize. You also owe it to your employees to guide and mentor them toward success. Maybe your employee is brown nosing because, underneath, she is insecure about the quality of her work. You might detect that by observing the way she interacts with coworkers, or the way she handles work assignments. If you detect perfectionism or insecurity, try to instill a sense of confidence in the employee. Praise her work when it's high in quality, and be empathetic and objective when you suggest modifications or improvements.

Indirectly work on the problem. Rather than calling in your employee for a meeting and saying, "Stop sucking up to me!" suggest lightly that she build relationships with her co-workers. Encourage her to ask her colleagues for help and input on her job. Let her know that her best effort is the main goal, and that you're not looking for perfection. By tackling the underlying reasons for the brown nosing, you help to guide the employee away from a behavior she may not even realize she's demonstrating. This also saves both of you from a humiliating or degrading discussion. Take the mentor route, and inspire as much confidence as you can.

Tip

  • Remember that you might have brown nosers all around you who simply do it more discreetly than others. In an article for "CNN Money" titled "The Fine Art of Sucking Up," Kim Girard suggests picking up on a boss's key phrases and buzzwords and using them often to inspire a sense of apprenticeship to the boss. Additionally, she suggests making eye contact often, taking note of the manager's interests, and running ideas by supervisors who are likely to dislike them to create the illusion that you covet their opinions. These are just a few examples of less explicit brown nosing. Understanding this, give your less subtle employee a break. She's just trying to compete with others who are probably far better at the game than she.
 

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