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Being a Nice Guy vs Being a Jerk At Work

Does it pay to be uncivil (a jerk) at work? Or does being nice have a certain advantage?

Among the many issues that concern the modern workplace, this one has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Do jerks really succeed over nice guys?

You have been told that being kind and generous is the way to get what you deserve. That you should treat others like you would want to be treated yourself. But could being nice have a disadvantage that you may have overlooked?

Give and Be Rewarded

In the best-selling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, the author Adam Grant provides evidence that “givers” meaning those who share their time, contacts, or know-how without expecting a payback, remain on top of their fields.

“This pattern holds up across the board,” Grant writes, ranging from engineers in California to salespeople in North Carolina to medical students in Belgium.

The book is full of anecdotes of selfless acts that, just happen to have been repaid with personal advancement.

The author, who is a psychologist and a Wharton professor, seems to have tilted the business opinion in favour of a more pleasant situation where nice guys do finish first.

However, recent studies appear to keep the debate alive.

The Downside of Being Nice

A study by University of Copenhagen economist, Miriam Gensowski, concludes that nice guys do not do as well at work, as mean guys.

Genswoski reviewed the results of the Terman study, which followed a group of about 1,500 high-IQ individuals from childhood to old age. They were all similarly gifted, but how much they earned, it was found, depended greatly on their personalities.

Results showed that the less agreeable a man was, meaning the more of a jerk he was, the more he earned. This was more so, later in his career when he could be pursuing leadership roles.

“Men who are more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less agreeable, reap large benefits between their 40s and 60s,” Gensowski writes.

“More agreeable men, who tend to be friendly and helpful to others, have significantly lower earnings than less agreeable men. The man who is very agreeable (in the top 20%) will earn about $270,000 less over a lifetime than the average man,” she adds.

The effect was particularly large for highly educated men with graduate degrees.

Two other traits that affect a career are, being extroverted and conscientious.

In another book, Habits of Leadership, psychologist Art Markman has suggested that employees appreciate a boss who can offer frank feedback. Agreeable people could have a hard time providing criticism.

Markman also added that disagreeable people tend to be more prone to losing their jobs, and to be less well-liked compared to agreeable people.

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