If you think brown-nosing and being the “nice guy” at the office is going to pay off, think again. The new study, “Do Nice Guys—and Gals–Really Finish Last?” finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones.
According to the study, men who measured below average on agreeableness earned almost 15% more—or $9,772 more—annually than their more agreeable counterparts. Ruder women, on the other hand, earned only about 5% more—or $1,828 more–than their agreeable counterparts.
The researchers define agreeable employees as those who “place a greater value on their interpersonal relationships” and are inclined to maintain these relationships than less agreeable employees. To sum it up, a more agreeable employee will stay mute on a subject instead of speaking up, for fear of hurting a coworker rather than contributing the bottom line of the company. Less agreeable employees realize the goal at work is not to win the popularity contest—it’s to contribute to the company’s success. It’s the really successful ones that are able to accomplish both.
So why the large gap for male and females? The researchers conclude that gender stereotypes are still alive in the workplace. When men act agreeable, they do not confirm to the expectations of masculine behavior. Furthermore, employees who tend to be more easy-going and agreeable may also be less willing to assert themselves in aggressive salary negotiations.
The study examined results from three different surveys collected over 20 years, from roughly 10,000 employees from a diverse range of jobs, industries and salaries. Each survey measured the notion of “agreeableness” in different ways, but the results all point in the same direction. As Cornell professor Beth A. Livingston and co author of the study puts it: “Nice guys are getting the shaft.”
Here’s what you can do to show your mean side and hopefully get noticed when it comes time to decide on bonuses or salary increases.
- Fight the good fight: Choose your battles wisely based on the company’s bottom line and you can expect to make your way to the top. When disagreeing with an idea or decision, remember that the goal of the decision is to benefit the organization in the long run. Employees that genuinely care about the performance of the company and fight for it will surpass employees that fight for personal reasons.
- Be more assertive: Even though the workplace may seem team-oriented, when it comes to contribution, it’s the individuals themselves that matter. Don’t be afraid to speak up! Your co-workers and superiors will respect you for it.
- Follow your gut: Knowledge is power–sometimes. Lack of knowledge is usually the reason for insecurity to speak up. However, ignoring your gut feelings and staying mute on a topic while you the take time to research wont benefit you or the company. Intuition can sometimes be more powerful than hard facts, so pay attention when these feelings arise. In fact, many business leaders strive to develop and perfect their ability to tune into their intuition.
- Show that you care: Taking the time to form an opinion and share your stance on a topic proves that you care about the decision at hand and are willing to work towards the best solution. Disagreeing with a co-worker is not a personal attack or an attempt to undermine their competency; you are simply doing your job to ensure that the best decision is made.
Acting less agreeable in an interview can also help you get the job or assist you in negotiating a higher salary. Instead of nodding to everything that the hiring manager says, show your interest in the company by asking questions and actively participating in the conversation. This “roll up the sleeves” mentality will reveal that you are a competent candidate that isn’t wasting any time on jumping in to start addressing the company’s problems.
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