Workplace Toxic Behavior Doesn’t Pay, Study Says

All of us have worked for a mean boss at some point or had a co-worker who was willing to step on anyone just to get ahead. Unfortunately, there will always be these kinds of people in any workplace. But the good news, according to the results of a recent study, is that their toxic behaviors don’t give them a long-term career advantage.

Researchers in the study found 500 college and graduate school students, gave them extensive psychological evaluations and then followed their careers over a period of about 14 years. They then interviewed both the participants and coworkers of participants to gauge workplace behaviors and relative standing within a given company. The study results showed that the participants who engaged in toxic behaviors (such as rudeness and deception) didn’t rise any higher or faster than those who were kind.

This is great news for anyone who has always heard that “nice guys finish last.” The downside, however, is that while jerks don’t do better than kind workers, they also don’t seem to do any worse in terms of their advancement within an organization.

Hopefully, organizational leaders will take these study results to heart. Because even though the two types of employees may rise to similar levels of leadership, the jerks are much more likely to do damage to the company when they are put in charge. It is often these bosses that engage in workplace bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and other problematic behaviors.

Even if they don’t explicitly break employment laws, jerk bosses nonetheless erode workplace culture and morale. A different study by Georgetown University included surveys with employees who had experienced toxic workplace relationships. Among survey respondents:

  • 78 percent reported feeling less committed to the organization they worked for
  • 66 percent admitted that their own work had declined in quality because of the toxic relationship
  • 25 percent said that they ended up taking stress and anger (from the relationship) out on customers

There may have been a time when a win-at-all-costs mentality was a desirable trait among employers, but thankfully, our culture seems to be changing to reward those who lead by developing good relationships with others. Nonetheless, the “jerks” in any organization can cause significant difficulties for their coworkers and the organization as a whole – including liability in employment lawsuits.

If you’ve been the victim of discrimination, harassment or any other illegal workplace behavior, please discuss your legal options with an experienced and caring employment law attorney.

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