Nice Guys May Not Finish First In Pay, But There’s Still Hope Out There

I’m a nice guy (or, so I’ve been told). So when I hear stories like I did this past summer about how we often reward bad workplace behavior with better pay, I might get a bit defensive, my blood pressure might get elevated and I may, just temporarily, get mad about it.

That’s what nice guys do, right?

So if there is one silver lining to this, you have to assume that nice guys win in other ways. And as one study found, they win in ways that are important to businesses. That, in turn, could help employers flip the tables on the pay question as well.

There are jerks among us

When the story came out this summer about how workplace jerks get paid more than their nicer counterparts, I looked for something that could challenge that. I found it in a Wall Street Journal piece about the study:

Other research shows that rudeness may not always benefit employees or their firms. A paper presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association found that 86% of 289 workers at three Midwestern firms in the manufacturing and health-care industries reported incivility at work, including public reprimands and making demeaning comments. Incivility was bad for the organizations as a whole, though, increasing employee turnover, found the researchers, Jeannie Trudel, a business professor at Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion, and Thomas Reio, a professor at Florida International University.

“The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” says Dr. Livingston. “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”

And that was the key: managers weren’t aware that they reward bad behavior. It may be a question of simply not knowing what being a jerk can actually cost a company. It might also be that managers are unaware of some of the positives that nicer and more civil employees bring to the workplace. At the very least, we can deal with the second issue.

Nice guys win on personality and productivity

Nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed in a recent Workplace Options study believe that more agreeable co-workers are better from a working perspective.

That’s shocking, I know.

The other, more interesting take is that nice guys (and gals) are seen as more productive and more successful by a plurality of their peers (43 percent and 45 percent, respectively).

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Now, we can take a bit of that with a grain of salt. Workplace Options focuses on work-life balance and EAPs (employee assistance programs). But, any ammunition that can help empower leaders who are tired of workplace bullies and jerks is good ammunition at this point. Raising awareness about how we treat workplace jerks (and how we may even reward them) has to be followed up with more and more evidence about how bad these toxic relationships can actually impact our jobs.

Moving forward

I remember one co-worker who was completely miserable, and, that everyone in our department had to work with. He was soon to be retired and was put in a diminished role to pave the way for the next guy to take his place. Besides being miserable to work with (and I constantly avoided working with him, even if it meant additional workload on myself), I remember that he took all six weeks of his vacation every year. Every week he was gone was a good one — for him and for us.

While I don’t believe that a pillow-soft workplace is always a great situation (sometimes, conflict and being aggressive is appropriate), avoiding being rude doesn’t preclude having disagreements, accountability, and conflict. But there’s a constant impact that comes with the jerk co-worker that can eventually wear you down. You’ve probably experienced it and so have I.

If there is one thing I can be thankful for, it’s that companies continue to be interested in having diplomatic workplaces. And not only that, there are hints of evidence out there that diplomatic workplaces can often produce results that are in line or better than those that don’t care.

Here’s one thing to bank on: we’ll only know if it is really important to companies if the gap in pay between the nice guys and jerks shrinks substantially. Until more comes out about that though, we still have to have some hope for us nice guys.


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