Let’s imagine that you are are the manager of a profitable hot dog stand. You need to hire a new employee since business is booming. You get two applicants: one is Darth Vader, the other Luke Skywalker. Setting aside Darth’s black suit and mechanical breathing, which of the two would you be most likely to hire? Which candidate would be the most likely to boost sales?
A recent study done by three university professors, Beth Livingston, Timothy Judge, and Charlie Hurst, shows that men who are considered “nice guys” make 18 percent less than guys who consider themselves less agreeable. In other words, Darth Vader wins. Women who are more agreeable also earn 5 percent less than their more assertive counterparts. This means that in the workplace, despite his darker intentions and overall disagreeableness, Darth Vader would likely make a much higher salary than Luke Skywalker. Luke’s overall agreeableness may be excellent for saving the universe, but detrimental to his earning a competitive salary.
The study, titled “Do Nice Guys—and Gals—Really Finish Last”, will be published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The three researchers mentioned studied survey data on 10,000 employees in different age groups, professions, and salaries over 20 years. Questions on the survey asked participants to rate their self-perceived “agreeableness” as well as ability to cooperate with others and be flexible. The more easy-going and agreeable employees reported earning lower salaries.
One possible explanation for this is that those who considered themselves agreeable were less likely to be assertive in asking for raises or promotions. Among men, this made a huge difference, since being agreeably isn’t usually a part of the masculine stereotype. Women didn’t see as much of an effect on their salary due to agreeableness since women in general are already stereotyped with being friendly. The study also examined whether assertiveness was actually beneficial to the company. Many people associate disagreeableness with rudeness, which is detrimental in any work environment. There is no doubt that Darth Vader would be better at negotiating his salary and benefits than Luke. Yet, Darth Vader would also be more likely be disciplined for disrespect to fellow employees, or hot dog customers. (Can you see Darth catering to hot dog patrons who want specialized orders, like a hot dog with “minimal” mustard?) Luke may make less money, but he would always be well-liked by his coworkers and more willing to help customers.
Think this bias against “nice guys” is unfair? You may be right, as far as monetary value is concerned at least. Note that the study doesn’t take into account the personal lives of the individuals surveyed. You would be hard pressed to deny that Darth Vader had a much less enjoyable home life than Luke ever did. Assertive people may have more success in the professional world, but in their home life they are more likely to butt heads with those they are closest to. Even normally agreeable people who do well in interpersonal relationships might take a cue from Darth Vader and try a more aggressive (but still courteous) approach when approaching the boss for a raise. Who knows, by unleashing your inner Darth Vader just a little bit, you could increase your salary and maybe even be a more effective employee.
About the Author
Natalie Clive writes for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers provides tools to help prospective students determine if an online education can help them. These tools allow them to search for online courses and degree programs.