Being ‘nice’ limits your earnings potential

If you’re nice you earn less money.

I noticed a couple of stories the other week about how nice folks suffer on the career ladder.  That Jerk really does make more than you and Mean people earn higher salaries  pointed to some sobering news.   Research carried out over 20 years and using a sample of over 10,000 workers seems to prove that this is the case.  Its depressing news – especially when women’s groups are fighting to reduce the gender pay gap, niceness is still a limiting factor.

Anti-competitiveness – a trait often found in women in the workplace doesn’t translate into income and earnings. Collaboration is not a good idea if you want to succeed in your goals

Look around your office.  Look at all the collaboration going on.  Then look at the people in the office that are tipped for the top.



Do these people collaborate well in teams?  Or are they individuals that prefer to work alone?  Are they successful?  Are they driven?  Are they potential leaders?

The study titled “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income” certainly indicates that agreeable people do tend to earn less than their more aggressive counterparts.

Being nice seems to have its downside – and nice women come in last of all  in the survey.  But being nice doesn’t seem to reap any benefits.  It’s certainly an interesting study if you’re concerned about gender pay and unconscious bias.  Some of the findings of the survey jumped out at me:

Agreeable individuals place greater value on their interpersonal relationships

People who are low in agreeableness may be perceived as more competent by virtue of their lack of warmth

Women are sorted into lower-earning, less prestigious occupations

Voice behaviours may, … attract rewards, particularly when they are directed toward persuading others of the value of one’s ideas.

It is possible that agreeableness disproportionately affects men’s earnings because agreeable men (as opposed to disagreeable men) are less likely to pursue prestigious work.

Less nice (aggressive?) women earn more than nice women but even the aggressive women earn less than the nice men (who earn less than the less nice men)

Agreeable individuals, being more motivated to “get along” than “get ahead,” may choose to work in lower-status, more service-oriented occupations.

Do you  know anyone with the “6 facets of agreeableness. trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness?”  Do you fall into any of these categories?   Low levels of agreeableness may not be psychopaths – they may just have less of the qualities above.  And if you look around the organisation, I’m sure you’ll find these traits in most of us.

Working in teams – and collaborating well also limits our path to the top – a path we need to forge alone.  This is such a shame for our collaboration efforts across teams, but being collaborative doesn’t seem to help our careers where “Disagreeable behaviours, particularly in settings where competitiveness and aggressiveness are valued, seem to signal ability and promise.” – Does this remind you of the place where you work?


It certainly validates the statistic about Why would you leave your job. People who leave their jobs because of their bosses.  Leading respectfully has it’s benefits. And being nice should be a prerequisite for a leader – not the other way around…

Eileen is a social media consultant and author of Working The Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business. Contact her to find out how she can help your business extend its reach.

Image credit: Flickr


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