Do you ever get the feeling that the a$$holes in your office end up doing better than the decent folks? Yeah, you’re not wrong. A new study shows the people who score below average in “agreeableness” make more money than people who are nice.
The study’s authors offer a bunch of possible reasons for this. Agreeable men (the salary gap is bigger for men) might not conform to “masculine” norms. Disagreeable people might be more assertive in salary negotiations. Yada, yada.
But there is one reason that I think is more plausible than all the others: managers simply reward “disagreeable” behavior more, whether they know it or not. Doesn’t that sound like a law firm partner you may know?
The Wall Street Journal reports on the study. Apparently the study used all sorts of definitions for “agreeable.”
The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts…
The researchers analyzed data collected over nearly 20 years from three different surveys, which sampled roughly 10,000 workers comprising a wide range of professions, salaries and ages. (The three surveys measured the notion of “agreeableness” in different ways.) They also conducted a separate study of 460 business students who were asked to act as human-resource managers for a fictional company and presented with short descriptions for candidates for a consultant position. Men who were described as highly agreeable were less likely to get the job.
Now, I think we all know that often enough “highly agreeable” individuals are nothing more than beta-level “yes men” and doormats. The world is full of people who lack initiative, drive, courage, honor, fortitude, ambition, or other money-making traits, yet couch those deficiencies as “just trying to be nice.” I don’t think it’s all that surprising that cowardly bootlickers make less money than people who can stand up for themselves.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that some of these highly agreeable people are talented, ambitious humans who just try to do things in a nice way, while some of the more highly paid “disagreeable” people have no special skills other than the ability to be a prick on command.
In that situation, it would seem to me that this study is providing evidence for the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” says [study co-author Beth A. 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.”
That sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? The firm talks about teamwork and efficiency and excellent client service, but at the end of the day, whichever d-bag bills the most hours gets the most toys. The guy who is constantly in the managing partner’s or client’s face, elbowing others out of the way, is the guy who gets the best work. The guy (or girl) who just does the job, quickly and without drama, and then goes home, somehow doesn’t have the “it” factor to make partner, or to make it rain once a partner.
Which means, of course, that companies get what they deserve. That’s what I take away from this study. It’s not hard to find and retain “nice” people who are also really good at doing whatever business they are in. You just have to reward that kind of behavior.
If you end up with an office full of a**holes and divas, it’s not an accident.
Hey, You! Mean People Earn More, Study Finds [Wall Street Journal]