Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Is There a Disadvantage To Always Cooperating At Work?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 5

Vijay is a “mench” – (a Yiddish word that means “a good person)” who was not supported for doing the right thing. Is Vijay’s story the exception or the rule?  In my opinion the exception, but common enough that most people can relate.

I came across a fascinating study by Dr. Craig Parks which indicated that selfless people at work may be disliked by their colleagues almost as much as the slackers[i]. Why would this be the case?  Research Fellow Paul Nunes explains the result on the Harvard Business Review blog as follows: people at work dislike people who deviate from “normal motivations.”[ii]

“One can’t offer a bonus for harder work, because money doesn’t seem to matter. Can’t punish with extra or unpleasant tasks because this person takes those on willingly for no apparent reasons. A bit of chaos ensues, with this person being considered complicated–or complicating–at best. I think employees most resent having to come up with new ways of influencing these workers because the traditional ones don’t work.”

The discussion on the HBR blog is fascinating, with strong resonance from several posters, who felt this finding “explain[s] perfectly” the resentment they feel from coworkers.  The mismatch in motivations comes from a mismatch in the underlying values, between an individual’s “personal principles” and the culture and values of the corporation.

I found another study that suggested that people who follow the Golden Rule at work may be at a disadvantage. Men who are less agreeable earn 18.3% more than men who are more agreeable, with disagreeable women earning 5.4% more than agreeable women.[iii]  Vijay’s story is certainly consistent with this finding – the less trustworthy person continued to earn a salary, while the person who was helpful was out of a job.

Next week: using fables to identify the trustworthy

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[i] The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members From the Group.  Craig D. Parks, Asako B. Stone. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Volume 99, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 303-310

[ii] Quote from Paul Nunes, an Executive Research Fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance, commenting on the article Your Most Helpful Colleague (Don’t You Hate Him?) by Craig Parks cited October 25, 2011

[iii] Do Nice Guys and Gals Really Finish Last?  The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.  Timothy Judge, Beth Livingston, Charlice Hurst.  Journal of Personal and Social Psychology In Press–JPSPInPress.pdf; October 24, 2011.  Note: agreeableness is a term in social psychology that refers to “trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.”



  1. Great post, and timely for me too.

    I’ve always had this dilemma, an even wrote a post on it recently concluding that sharing is good because it spreads knowledge around and builds your authority in a particular subject matter.

    But it looks like the research is in and those very intentions can create negative results.

    • Greg Marcus says

      Joe, I’ve thought a lot about this topic. You are acting as we would want everyone to act. The workplace has it’s own dynamics and set of rules. If the issue is “selflessness” as the research suggests, than maybe the solution is to be “generous but not selfless” (at work). For example, if I find an article that my dad would like, I send him the link without expecting anything in return. Maybe at work add a note: if you see something like this in the future, could you please send it to me? In other words, by asking for something in return, the resentment or whatever will be mitigated, and you can still get the benefits of building your authority, etc.
      What do you think?

  2. Greg Marcus says

    Joe, one more thought: it matters a lot who the other person is. If you read on, I will describe a way to identify who is more likely to reciprocate.


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