Why being a jerk at work doesn’t pay

According to a recent study, aggressive people make more money than nice people–up to 18% more, on average.

Depressing if true…but here are three major caveats:

1. The study doesn’t break out sales vs. non-sales. Aggressive salespeople generally do better than non-aggressive salespeople, because that’s the nature of sales. (If I were less aggressive I’d apologize for that remark.) Moreover, sales is a high-paying field for those who are good at it. Therefore, a large sample of highly aggressive (and well-paid) salespeople could easily skew the study results. Does that mean that an aggressive head of HR makes more than a nice head of HR? We don’t know.

2. The study doesn’t measure the impact of employee turnover. Today’s employees are more mobile than ever. Smart, talented people who work for a jerk won’t work for a jerk for long. They’ll work for the jerk’s competitor. The jerk may not care, but the company should.

3. Aggressiveness doesn’t always equal jerkiness. In a positive context, it means biased toward action, able to make tough decisions and act on them. Companies want people who are aggressive in that context–they should make more money than people who are more passive and laid back. You can be aggressive without being a jerk.

And if it turns out to be true that the average jerk does in fact make more money than the average nice person, just remember: you can still strive to be an above-average nice person rather than an average jerk.

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