Rewarding Bad Behavior: When It Comes to Pay, Nice Guys Finish Last

I’ve never bought into the notion that “nice guys finish last,” as baseball manager Leo Durocher so famously put it, but I’ll admit that nasty people frequently benefit from their behavior.

That’s why this Wall Street Journal story is so disturbing, because it’s about a new study found that when it comes to pay, “nice guys are getting the shaft,” as study co-author Beth A. Livingston so delicately puts it.

And it’s a big management problem, as you might imagine. Here’s hoping that having a study that identifies this problem also helps to do something to fix it, because bad behavior in the workplace does little to ultimately help organizations get ahead. As the Journal story put it:

The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” says Dr. Livingston. “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”

You need to read the entire story to get the full impact of the research, but here’s a question: what are YOU going to do to make sure you don’t reward bad behavior in the workplace? Or, what have you seen others do to deal with the problem? I’d love to get some comments and feedback here.

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Here’s the story from the Journal:

It may not pay to be nice in the workplace.

A new study finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones. The gap is especially wide for men.

The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more — or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.”

For more of this story, click here. 

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.