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Nice Guys Finish Last

Being Agreeable May Hinder Your Rise Up the Corporate Ladder

WebMD Health News

Sept. 14, 2004 -- It usually pays to be nice, but new research suggests that being a team player may leave you stranded at the bottom of the corporate ladder.

The findings come from the Sept. 13 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Researcher Nikos Bozionelos of the University of Sheffield in England interviewed 308 white-collar university workers about their career success and found that those with the most agreeable personalities were unlikely to be promoted.

Career success is either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic success is objective-based, such as what job level or grade a person achieves. Intrinsic success is more subjective, encompassing things like financial accomplishments and happiness with the job.

Considerable research has suggested that personality disposition is strongly linked to career success. A 1999 U.S.-based report examined traits of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (the "Big-Five" traits) and concluded that a worker's level of conscientiousness was the sole predictor of intrinsic achievement.

For the present study, Bozionelos questioned participants about their job level, job satisfaction, and financial success to determine whether the earlier findings held true in today's British culture. Unlike previous studies, he also examined the relationship between a person's disposition and success within a specific company.

Surprisingly, agreeable dispositions outranked neuroticism when it came to hindering on-the-job success. Conscientious workers also missed out when it comes to job promotions, but the trait had no impact on eventual or organization-specific intrinsic career success, a stark contrast to the 1999 study.

The study suggests that team players with modest, friendly demeanors may be more sensitive to the needs of others than to their own career advancement. Conscientious employees may put too much effort into performing well and not enough on networking.

"It will be of substantial assistance to individuals to be aware of the advantages and limitations that their personality profiles offer and impose," Bozionelos says in a news release.

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