From helicopter bosses to unnecessarily mean colleagues, most of us have seen our share jerks at work who just suck out the very joy out of our jobs. Also, we say that sans any conceit and with full recognition that anyone of us can be that jerk. But why do some people choose to be absolutely horrible at work? One might think that they must be getting something out of it, an advantage of sorts, right? Well, not really if you were to believe a recent study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Conducted by a team from the University of California--Berkeley Haas School of Business--the study tracked a sample of disagreeable people before they started their professional career and then assessed where exactly they reached approximately 14 years later. The research questions were simple: 'Are disagreeable individuals more likely to attain power than agreeable individuals? Does being disagreeable—that is, behaving in aggressive, selfish, and manipulative ways—help people attain power?'
Well, as per the results of this study, "disagreeable individuals did not attain higher power as opposed to extraverted individuals who did gain higher power in their organisations. Furthermore, the null relationship between disagreeableness and power was not moderated by individual differences, such as gender or ethnicity, or by contextual variables, such as organisational culture."
Clearly, the manipulative, aggressive, and deceitful individuals at work are not gaining anything by doing so. But why's that? The study explains that whatever power boost or gains that these work jerks get from being intimidating and mean is duly balanced by their poor interpersonal relationships.
"I was surprised by the consistency of the findings. No matter the individual or the context, disagreeableness did not give people an advantage in the competition for power -- even in more cutthroat, 'dog-eat-dog' organisational cultures," shared Berkeley Haas Prof. Cameron Anderson, who co-authored the study in interaction with Science Daily.
Sadly, if being a jerk does not bring an advantage, it does not bring too much of a disadvantage either. As Anderson further adds, "The bad news here is that organizsations do place disagreeable individuals in charge just as often as agreeable people. In other words, they allow jerks to gain power at the same rate as anyone else, even though jerks in power can do serious damage to the organisation."
That said, the study does talk about how these people contribute to toxic work cultures which cannot be good news for any company or organisation whatsoever. Then why do some organisations keep fostering and supporting work jerks and why do these disagreeable people are like that in the first place? Perhaps popular culture and discourse might have an answer. The study dissects former-Apple CEO Steve Jobs' example here.
The researches explain that those indulging in toxic workplace behaviours think somewhere on the following lines: "Maybe if I become an even bigger asshole I'll be successful like Steve." But then again, we all know how it goes, don't we? Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company for starters.
"My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership. Prior research is clear: agreeable people in power produce better outcomes," Anderson says.
Well, you might want to refer to this study next time you think of going full Miranda Priestly on your colleagues or see someone else doing it!
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