23 Mar 2018

Why being 'nice' won't get you a payrise

OK, with that Headline I'm as bad as the Daily Mail.  However, this week, my mother in law (a staunch reader of the above rag) sent me a link to an article.  

Their headline was:

Being nice at work will NOT get you a pay rise! Key to success and riches lies in being intelligent rather than kind.    

Whilst reading this, I instantly added the word 'discuss' and started thinking about a blog.  I remember a couple of years ago, I was in a client meeting and they actually had a big poster on the wall with the mantra 'work hard and be nice to people'.  That resonated with me and I generally think it's good advice.  Given too that the Daily Mail was kicked off Wilkipedia in 2017 as their news reporting is 'generally unreliable', I wonder why I'm giving this any headspace.  But then again, blogs don't write themselves and there were some interesting points they made in the article.

The premise of the article was that Intelligence is more important to a successful life than being nice. Generosity and conscientiousness are not as beneficial and cleverness to success and that people with a higher IQ showed higher levels of cooperation in the workplace.

So, I think that there should be a caveat about the sort of job that you do and how that affects the findings of this study which was carried out by a Professor of Economics at Bristol University.  I've tried to think about his results into the context of the advertising and marketing sector, particularly in the agencies which represent 85% of my billing.  I've also considered my own behaviour in the workplace too.    I think I'm quite nice (not a bitch) and quite intelligent (albeit not a rocket scientist) so where would that put me on the assertiveness scale?

The research found that individuals who are agreeable, trusting, conscientious and generous do good for themselves and other people, but only for a limited amount of good and only for a short time.  By contrast, people who are intelligent and less nice are more likely to do better in the long term.  The researchers extrapolated this to find that intelligent people are likely to see the bigger picture and work cooperatively and be promoted and financially rewarded.

When you put it like that, I can't really argue.  When I consider looking at the candidates who are most successful, they (by and large) have followed a traditional path with a strong academic background, good work placements, good degree, moving role every 3 years on average and who have gained significant pay rises over the years.  It's one of the benefits of my job (and having been doing it for so long) that I often meet people at the bottom of the ladder and I'm still working with them when they get to the top of the ladder.  Of course, I'm making this simplistic here.  There are clearly people who are intelligent who haven't followed that traditional path and who have followed the same career trajectory - but they are not the majority.  And also, having a degree doesn't make you intelligent.... BUT doing a good degree at a good university (i.e. not BA in Digital Enterprise and Innovation at the University of Wrexham) will make you attractive to good employers who recognise strong talent and that first role post university often frames the rest of your career - a stepping stone to better things or alternatively a business that promotes you regularly having recognised your talent.

In general, I find that individuals who have stayed in the same business for a long time are either on the same salary that they started on or they have progressed to being the MD. This week I talked to a candidate who had stayed in the same role at the same employer for over 10 years.  The salary was very low against industry standards.  This individual was very very conscientious and reliable - definitely not stupid....but clearly not someone who was going to take on the world.  In the candidate's defence, they didn't want to take on the world. Actually, they were perfectly happy to stay at this level with very little overall responsibility other than doing their own job well.    So in this context, the research is a bit of a red herring.  Often, I find that individuals don't necessarily take into account that whilst a pay rise is nice, it isn't for free and the extra responsibility, pressure, stress, hours etc are all trade offs.  Just an observation.

I gave a talk recently at a University where I spoke to first year students about careers.  I am absolutely of the mindset that a strong education gives you options and choices.  As the bottom line, I say, get your GCSEs, then if you're doing A levels, get good A levels in good subjects (employers still assess this), if you're doing a degree, make sure it's one that is going to count (I refer to the Wrexham example).  Don't get into a whole heap of debt for something that won't enhance your career prospects significantly.  And following the extrapolation of this research by the University of Bristol, they essentially say the same thing:

'With education, our results suggest that focusing on intelligence in early childhood could potentially enhance not only the economic success of the individual, but the level of co-operation in society in later life.'

I'm seeing more apprenticeships in our sector but even then, I urge individuals to get the best possible A levels to give them an advantage. Whilst the big blue chips are now taking on candidates post A level, they're still taking the 'best'.  And at this point, whilst exam results are the measure of 'intelligence', the advice needs to be to do the best that you can.

Ultimately it was a bit of a rubbish headline.  If I was to be truly honest I'd say 'asking for a pay rise will get you a pay rise' - or it possibly will. I'm more a fan of 'if you don't ask you don't get'.  And in my experience, more men than women ask....which is another blog entirely!