Why Sucking Up Won't Save Your Job

Not all attitude adjustments are welcome in the workplace.

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

April 23, 2009 — -- Like many executives, John Kulisek has seen a significant change in his employees in recent months.

"Attitudes have certainly changed for the better," said Kulisek, who's vice president and COO of an import company in New Jersey.

Doors are held, lunch invitations are extended and smiles abound, the executive added.

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"Borderline cantankerous employees are now sheer delights to be around," he said. "It's almost like everybody's medicated."

Not that he's complaining.

"Where it may have been necessary before to settle for decent performance, shoddy appearances or unprofessional demeanors, we now have the princes and princesses of the labor force," Kulisek said.

With any luck, he added, the trend will continue even after the "ostensible threat to their job security is gone."

But not all attitude adjustments are welcome in the workplace, especially in today's penny-pinching economic climate.

Suck up without pulling your weight on critical projects, and you'll soon earn the title of office muck-up.

At the very least, your co-workers will find you annoying. Management even may come to question your motives.

At worst, you'll apple-polish your way right out of a job.

"At the end of the day, what an employer's really looking for is a person who's going to add value and work hard," said Thom Burke, senior vice president of human resources at the international staffing firm, MPS Group. "I wouldn't waste any time kissing up because it's not going to make a difference."

Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR, a communications firm in New York, will attest to that.

Last September, when his company was contemplating layoffs after losing several clients, one of his low-performing account executives began frantically e-mailing Laermer self-assessment reports every few days.

"I would get all these e-mails about all the things she was going to do," Laermer said. "But they were completely pie in the sky. Have you ever met anybody who has all these great ideas but no way of getting them done? That's what she was like."

To make matters worse, the floundering staffer refused to accept help when Laermer offered to have a co-worker coach her on how to become more results-oriented.

"She thought that the fact that she did the self-assessment was enough to keep her on," Laermer said.

Not surprisingly, this misguided muck-up was one of the handful of employees Laermer's agency laid off in November as a cost-cutting measure.