The office vacuum cleaner is back and they are ready to toot

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Daniel Distant did not register it immediately. The only thing the software engineer knew was that three or four times a day a director or senior engineer would go outside, and “the next thing you know, no one is at their desks,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

He began to notice that he was out of the loop in terms of team project development, and that assignments and promotions went to people who disappeared every few hours while staying at his station and joining. Then it dawned on him.

“People would go outside and smoke cigarettes, and they would have these high-level conversations – what directions projects took, who would be entitled to what kind of work,” explains Distant, 34. “Some things are more fun to work on; others are more challenging or maybe looking better on your resume. I noticed more and more that those positions went to the people who were outside and smoked along with the directors. “

Of course, he’s talking about office suction ups – the employees who succeed in the business without really working.

In a fair world, switching to teleworking over the last two years would reward productivity and expose slackers. But as companies have returned to business as usual, guess who can not wait to get back to the office? Suck-ups, the colleagues we love to hate.

The pandemic made it harder to orchestrate all the “spontaneous” approaches, cozy gang chats and ties with the boss on the toilet – or during a quick smoke. Before the lockdown, Distant began to steam, just to gain access to the smoky inner circle. Truth be told, he steamed without tobacco – but his colleagues did not need to know. “Pretty embarrassing, but you do what you have to,” he says.

When the coronavirus forced his company to go the distance, “there was a lot more awareness of how much or the amount of work I was producing,” he says. “Because, you know, there was a lot less filth.” Distant even got a promotion, but he does not return to the office; he left that company and has a new full-time job from his home in Stamford, Connecticut.

But for millions of employees, 2022 means a return to commuting, the cabin – and the suction.

Let’s determine in advance that there is a difference between go-getter and suck-ups. There are people with an innate sense of office politics who quickly figure out how they can be helpful to their boss and boss boss in addition to doing their jobs. Then there are people who flatter and squeeze the meat, but who are not as interested in the work as climbing the company ladder. How do the well noses get away with it?

“They find similarities with those in power, and they take advantage of those things,” says Tessa West, an associate professor of psychology at New York University and author of “Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them.” Being from the same city, going to the same school, even liked the same coffee brand – suck-ups benefit from small coincidences. Managers “actually find it a breath of fresh air compared to most people who are just men and women telling them how good they are all the time.”

The lavish suck-up is a common plot device on screen, especially in comedies such as Dwight Schrute, who kneels (sometimes literally) in front of his boss Michael Scott on “The Office.” “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci’s political satires often feature characters who understand that power is assigned to people who flatter them with more of it – as Gary, Selina Meyer’s psychophantic personal helper. In 1991, Kiefer Sutherland starred in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch titled “Whose Ass Should I Kiss?” where game-show contestants try to make each other the best they can to infuse themselves with the boss.

That best suck-ups are both selective and strategic, West adds: They want to study one or two bosses, and praise a direct comment they made weeks ago, which creates the impression that they are very detail-oriented and therefore very good at their job. Suck-ups are also very good at joining team projects or launching initiatives or task forces, with many meetings but little real work.

The pandemic took most of the tools in the suction bag with tricks – but not all was lost. Instead, they transferred their efforts to Zoom and other teleworking platforms. They signed up early for meetings hoping to get a few minutes with the boss before everyone else logged on. While online, they were more confident and more engaged. And they had a big advantage over colleagues there was burnt out, distracted or multitasking. “They looked a lot better than everyone else, and they knew it,” West says.

The benefits of returning to the office your boss will not mention: Gossip is back

But Zoom is no substitute for being in the office, not only for one-on-one interactions with bosses, but also to see how they interact nonverbally with each other and subordinates, to see who is inside and who is ude. People in glass offices should not throw seizures.

Of course, not all suck-ups work in real offices. Ben Fraters works as a hotel bartender in The Hague with a colleague who noticeably bends backwards and creates extra work for others to impress guests – and indirectly the boss. “If guests come and ask for paper plates,” says Fraters, 23, “he insists we give them actual plates and cutlery when we do not always have many of them walking around, especially on busy nights. When a guest want a slice of bread as a snack or something, he insists that the chef prepares a whole fancy piece of toast! ”

The peak of modern suction came on June 12, 2017 at Donald Trump’s first cabinet meeting, where the president asked the designated officials to present themselves and share a few thoughts.

Mike Pence set things in motion: “Just the greatest privilege of my life to serve as Vice President of a President who keeps his word to the American people.” As cameras rolled and journalists portrayed each tribute, each person at the table praised Trump for his vision and leadership. But there was no one who completely matched Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ obsession: “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you have given us to serve your agenda.” The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush called the 11-minute play “one of the most exquisitely awkward public events I’ve ever seen.”

Members of President Trump’s cabinet met on June 12, 2017 in the White House. (Video: The Washington Post)

It was an SNL sketch that came to life, but the little dirty secret is that even the most balanced bosses like praise and appreciation. Absorption works.

“There’s a certain type of personality that has always outperformed if we look at their career success in relation to their actual contributions,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University. It includes extroversion, self-confidence, self-confidence and what he calls “impression management” – the ability to say the right things at the right time. Which could be used for good or evil: “When you call it emotional intelligence, it has a good meaning,” he says. “When you call it sucking or manipulating, it has a bad meaning, but it’s the same thing.”

There are employees who believe that their results should speak for themselves. “Good luck with that,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, “because in most cultures you will be bypassed for promotion.” Or people do not speak up in a meeting unless they have something useful to say. Very honest, but it makes it easy for suck-ups to grab the spotlight.

Without drinks after work, coffee breaks or drop-in at the office suffered suck-ups. They were eager to return to personal work where they could get up early, go late and spend a lot of time looking busy. He says: “I remember in the early stages of the pandemic when a client said to me, ‘How would I pretend to work without the office?’ Some bosses do not believe that people are really productive unless they see them at their desks – which annoys remote workers who want their work to be what counts.

In the early days of the pandemic, Chamorro-Premuzic thought teleworking would be a great opportunity for executives to focus on performance rather than office politics. Now he is worried that hybrid work will create a two-tier system.

“Those who optimize for politics will be back at work, and those who are unable to leave their homes or they enjoy focusing on output will be inadvertently punished,” he says. “Because even if you say it does not matter where you are, there is still a prize for being in the right place at the right time and telling the right things to the right person. And who should be in the office then? “More likely men than women, more likely majority than minorities, more likely high status or rich people, more likely outgoing than introverted, and more likely people who are ruthlessly focused on advancing their careers.”

Meet the introverts who are afraid to return to normal

Sexism, of course, plays into the ability to successfully become one of the boss’s chosen ones. Christina Smith has spent much of her career working in male-dominated spaces – and at a car dealership in Maine, she had a harder time being promoted than her male colleagues, who were often more comfortable than she tooted with their male boss. “My manager was super-supportive of me entering the field as a woman – but it was still a boys’ club,” she says. “I think there was, like, buddy-buddy, the guys-locker room idea where they felt they could not be like that with me.”

Smith, 37, initially tried to befriend the boss himself: made a small talk, offered him coffee, invited him to have coffee together. But every time he gathered her colleagues for drinks after work, he neglected to include her. She left the dealership after a promotion she had been promised was just pushed further down the road.

“I felt I had to wait longer or do extra work to prove I was worthy,” she says. A month after she resigned, the position went to a male colleague with what Smith describes as fewer qualifications than she had – but who were friends with the boss. Now she works as a nanny, where “if I do the job well or do not do the job well, then that’s what you look at,” she says.

The workers are back in the offices. Why does it feel so strange?

At a time when many workers are reevaluating their relationship with their jobs, some are clinging to their relationship with their bosses. Where there is personal work, there will be suction-ups roaming the halls.

“There’s a saying in Argentina: ‘It’s not the pig’s fault, it’s him feeding it,’ ‘says Chamorro-Premuzic. “To a certain extent, from a moral perspective, we should not be too harsh on these people who control impressions and suck at them all the time, because in fact, they are optimizing for something that is rewarded in that culture.”

In other words: did not hate the players, hated the game.

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