How to get Promoted: Lessons from the movie Office Space

Topic(s): business strategy
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2013)
Article: Linking subordinate political skill to supervisor dependence and reward recommendations: A moderated mediation model
Authors: Junqi Shi, Russell E. Johnson, Yihao Liu, & Mo Wang
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

In the movie Office Space, Peter Gibbons, a programmer at a software company, shows up late to work, takes his boss’s parking spot, and disregards requests from his supervisor. Despite this behavior, the human resource consultants hired to assist with the company’s downsizing promote Peter, because, by being frank about the company’s problems, he makes a positive impression on them. Thanks to Junqi Shi of Sun Yat-sen University, Russell E. Johnson of Michigan State University, Yihao Liu of the University of Florida, and Mo Wang of the University of Florida and Peking University, this type of promotion behavior is now scientifically supported. Supervisor rewards (or recommendations for rewards) were linked to the number of times an employee interacted with a supervisor at work, their political skills, or the ability to make a good impression on colleagues and supervisors. Specifically, a subordinate with greater political skill was likely to interact with their supervisor more frequently. Unsurprisingly, supervisors tended to recommend rewards more for those subordinates with whom they interacted with most often.

In their study, data was collected from 53 construction management team supervisors and 296 subordinates from a construction management company in South China. Among the subordinates, most were men in their early thirties, and for the supervisors, most were men in their late thirties. So, next time you try to get a promotion, you should maybe follow the brave steps of Peter Gibbons and get noticed.