“Nice guys finish last.” It’s not a new idea—in fact, it’s paraphrased from a quote teasing the 1946 New York Giants for their last-place finish in their league. In business, it’s become a cliche all its own…but does the cliche actually have anything supporting it?
As it turns out, it doesn’t.
Upward Mobility in a Business Doesn’t Require Unpleasantness
Despite what pop culture and countless personal anecdotes may try to establish, the stereotype of the office jerk also being the boss, that the only way to reach the top is by tearing others down, is less than factual.
A recent study has established that the opposite, in fact, seems to be true.
Meet Cameron Anderson, Professor of Organizational Behavior at UC Berkeley
Inspired by the 2016 election, Anderson turned his academic focus on the question of whether or not being unpleasant was the advantage it seems. Retrieving the results from a personality test that an assortment of college and graduate students had filled out a few decades ago, Anderson sought out the participants and compared where they were professionally to how they had filled out their assessments.
The resulting study’s title says it all: People with disagreeable personalities (selfish, combative, and manipulative) do not have an advantage in pursuing power at work. In his research, Anderson discovered that those who would be deemed unpleasant were actually no more likely to rise among the ranks than those who were pleasant—regardless of how toxic the workplace is (which is another can of worms entirely).
However, this study also showed that niceness and generosity weren’t any more likely to rise in the ranks. Both a community-based focus and a domineering one seemed equally likely to succeed in the business setting in isolation—however, when put in the same environment, the two tend to cancel each other out. Having said that, further research by a group of researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Iowa, and Purdue University conducted a metastudy of 200 other pieces of research, and ultimately found that the nice people tended to come out on top—particularly those who were a particular kind of nice.
The meta research suggested that agreeability didn’t make a difference, but being supportive and proactive to help others was the golden ticket.
However, Without Active Effort, Nastiness Still Works…But You Can Fix That
Again, it isn’t as though being, as Anderson bluntly puts it, “a jerk” is inherently detrimental to one’s career trajectory…despite the fact that the damage done by such behaviors tends to undermine the performance of those around them. Naturally, this is a paradigm that many will likely want to shift.
Stanford professor of management science Bob Sutton suggests implementing a zero-tolerance policy toward unpleasant behaviors like the ones we’ve explored (although his term for this policy is particularly more colorful). Basically, if someone starts throwing around their weight, throw it right back at them. Similarly, businesses could shift their focus concerning internal reviews. Instead of rewarding personal productivity exclusively, a policy of also rewarding those who help to elevate their coworkers and teammates can help to give greater opportunities to team players.
There are some signs that these efforts are going to continue rising in importance. While I realize that you don’t want to hear about the pandemic or the Great Resignation or quiet quitting or rage applying or anything else of that sort anymore, do you really want to give your team members another reason to leave your business? Of course not.
Encouraging this kind of positive, collaborative, and just plain better working environment, amongst its other benefits, helps encourage your team members to stay and helps draw in better candidates. Just consider some of the recent headlines that have referred to the mass exodus that many massive enterprises are experiencing right now. Creating the kind of environment that people want to stay in, makes people want to stay.
There are many ways that you can do this. Improved benefits and work/life balance play a major role, of course, but so does empowering your team members to effectively do the job they’ve been hired to do. Let me ask you this: if you were hired to do one thing, but the tools you had been given prevented you from doing so, would you feel empowered? If you relied on the efforts and input of your colleagues to accomplish your tasks, but you couldn’t collaborate effectively with the tools you had at your disposal, would you want to stick around?
That’s why we’re so committed to ensuring that your business and its team members have the technology that makes it easier and more effective for your teammates to remain positive, collaborate effectively, and just have a better impression of their job. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, give Nexela a call at (215) 525-3223 today.