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That Jerk at Work May Get Paid More Than You

They say nice guys finish last and, despite your mom’s protests, that may actually be true.

Paul Bradbury | The Image Bank | Getty Images

New research that used "agreeableness" as the gauge found that men who ranked below-average on the agreeable scale actually get paid more than their nice-guy counterparts.

A lot more—18 percent, or nearly $10,000 a year, more, to be exact, according to the findings of researchers at Cornell University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario.

And, no matter what people say about “mean girls,” when it comes to the workplace, women who score low on the agreeable chart earn about 5 percent, or nearly $2,000, more than their nice-girl counterparts.

But don’t go cursing the office jerk just yet.

Marie McIntyre, a career coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics,”said it really comes down to how you define agreeable.

“If you define agreeable as unassertive, or socially fearful, or overly accommodating and unwilling to speak up—those are the people who don’t get ahead,” McIntyre said.

The researchers define agreeable individuals as those who “place greater value on their interpersonal relationships” and are more motivated to maintain these relationships than their less-agreeable counterparts. They are also more cooperative, helpful, and “as a result, are better liked by their peers.” Researchers also point to Costa McCrae’s “six facets of agreeableness”: straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.

But you don’t have to become the office jerk to earn more.

McIntyre says the best strategy to get ahead is to avoid the extremes—you don’t want to be too agreeable or too, ahem, disagreeable.

“If you want to get ahead, you need to be pleasant—but assertive,” she said.

Matt Wallaert, behavioral psychologist at GetRaised.com, sees the glass as half-agreeable.

“This study really isn’t about the advantages of being mean; it’s about the disadvantage of being so disagreeable that you never capitalize on your value,” Wallaert said. “A good performance-based raise is exactly that: based on performance. Some people, in trying to be agreeable, can forget that they need to display and celebrate their performance and value.”

Even the guy who first uttered the phrase, “Nice guys finish last,” former baseball manager Leo Durocher, says his words were misinterpreted. Durocher, who took three teams to the World Series and wasn’t known for his agreeable nature, said in an autobiography, aptly titled, “Nice Guys Finish Last,” that he was just referring to his team’s crosstown rival, saying they’re nice guys, but they’ll finish last.

While we were all bellyaching about the office jerks, we may have been missing the real story.

“I think the story is that ladies finish last,” said Tim Judge, co-author of the study and a business professor at Notre Dame. “Whereas men can benefit their salaries by being disagreeable, that same benefit doesn’t translate to women.”

He points out that of the four groups—agreeable and disagreeable men, and agreeable and disagreeable women—“disagreeable men are, by far, the most advantaged.”

Just look at the numbers: Disagreeable men earn 18 percent more, while disagreeable women earn just 5 percent more. The women who scored as highly agreeable came in last.

“We don’t know for sure why this is but it may be that our notions of disagreeableness are gendered,” Judge said. “If men behave disagreeably, they are afforded respect and seen as tough negotiators; if women behave disagreeably, they are given the b----- label.”

Before you go picking up your copy of “How to Be a Jerk”—which includes valuable tips, such as yelling at people on crutches to hurry up, or hiding 500 pictures of yourself in your significant other's apartment just before you break up—think instead, "What does the office jerk have that I don’t have?"

Chances are, the jerk has no problem touting his achievements.

“Even a good manager can be so busy trying to keep a business running that they don’t realize just how much you’re doing,” Wallaert of GetRaised.com said.

If you’re not comfortable with rattling off your achievements in person, he said, craft a letter or email outlining the going market salary for what you do, your past contributions to the business and what you’d like to do in the future.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to try the jerk thing for awhile.

Get ready, idiots. It’s coming.

Hey, boss, did you hear that? I am a total jerk, right?

Pony Treats:

Beautiful Jerks. Another recent study showed that beautiful people tend to be more selfish. Jerks.

A two-year study showed that iPhone users may be bigger jerks than Android users .

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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