Why Being the Office Jerk Could Pay Off

There’s one in every workplace: the office jerk. And, according to a new study, that jerk is probably making more money than you, if it’s a male.

The theory that men with low agreeability out-earn their nicer counterparts was proven in four different studies. People who perceive themselves to be less agreeable earned an average of 18% more than their more-agreeable coworkers.

In a recent report Do Nice Guys—and Gals—Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income, co-authored by Professor Timothy Judge of the University of Notre Dame, Assistant Professor Beth Livingston of Cornell University and Professor Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, found that in fact, the old catch phrase may be true.

Women, on the other hand, did not receive the same pay bump for being less agreeable. The effect of a woman being perceived as a "jerk" in the workplace had little-to-no effect on her pay, the study showed.

"We see all the ways that women have to change to get ahead and behave more like men, or less like men," Livingston says. "Niceness didn't have much to do with earnings for women. They are more strongly affected by the fact that they are women, than anything else."

Attitude and behavior was found "statistically non-significant," when it came to earnings, Livingston says.

There seems to be a disconnect in the workplace about what businesses claim to want from employees, and the type of behavior they reward, she continues. Businesses often talk of wanting to hire "team players" and "collaborative workers," but then reward those who do not behave in line with the message they are preaching.

"We see these people who are not very nice often making more money. Companies should put their money where their mouth is, to some degree."

Male managerial archetypes are strongly rooted in culture, Livingston says, citing business mogul Donald Trump as a classic example.

"It's this harsh, hard-nosed, 'I can get what I want,' attitude. But then look at people like [Apple founder] Steve Jobs. When you read his biography, it turns out he was kind of a jerk in some ways, but [after he died] people were touting his creativity. He wasn't seen as a manager, he was seen more as a tech guy."

Stephen Coco, a principal in talent and human resources solutions with Buck Consultants, says the notion of compensation based on agreeability is nothing new.

"It is a professional reality, and something that our clients deal with quite a bit. How men and women communicate, participate and view compensation versus purpose is very different."

Coco says what tends to be perceived as strong management tactics in the office, would normally be seen as confrontational outside of the workplace. Why this behavior is rewarded, remains a mystery, he says.

"Disruptive behavior can impact engagement and there are absolutely mirroring characteristics that those bad apples can convey onto other people. Then, there is a downward spiral.”

Having  a "top-down" mentality, with the less agreeable on the top of the pyramid can certainly impact productivity and morale in the office. Coco advises companies can combat this by better engaging employees and allowing those who are not at the top to feel more included.

"Purpose-driven employees can be more productive. We have seen a shift more to a collaborative environment. We are trying to foster environments where companies will take information from all aspects [of their staff], weight it and apply it."

Men not acting like archetypal managers can also be punished for doing so, Livingston adds.

"Our culture is set up now where it is more socially acceptable for women to act masculine than for men to act more feminine," she says. "There are a whole lot of men out there that don’t want to act like that, and they are being penalized in wage gap as well."

In order to break this cycle, Livingston says businesses need to make different and more thoughtful choices about the type of workers they want to hire and encourage in their company.

"It's a strategic choice about whether or not to reward jerks.”