SURVEY SAYS: Do Nice Guys (and Gals) Finish Last?

August 18, 2011 ( – Earlier this week we reported on a study that indicates that nice guys do, indeed, finish last.

Well, at least in terms of pay in the workplace (albeit they apparently fare better than nice girls – see Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last in the Workplace).  This week, I asked readers what their workplace experience had been.

The most common response this week was that nice guys finished last – “frequently”.  That was the perspective of 39% of this week’s respondents.

Moreover, nearly a quarter (24.4%) opined that that was “always” the result.

As for the rest, it broke down as follows:

12.4% – “sometimes”

12.2% – “not generally”

7.1% – “only for a while”

2.4% – “depends on what you mean by ‘last’” 


I also asked readers why they thought that was the case – but more on that in a minute.  After all, it’s one thing to bemoan how “mean” people get ahead, but I wanted to know how readers managed their own shops.  Among those who managed others, the most common answer to “based on the people who work for you – do nice guys finish last – in terms of pay/title - but one cited by just 35% - was “no”

Nearly a quarter (23%) said that was the case “frequently,” and nearly one-in-eight (11.5%) admitted to “always.”  Nearly as many (9.8%) said that was “sometimes” the case, while the rest said “not generally” (3%) or “other” – the latter group for the most part indicating that people got ahead (or didn’t) based on merit (or the lack thereof), not personality. 

As one reader noted, “I focus on whether they're competent in the job and their ability to grow into other roles. You don't have to be nice but you do have to be courteous. Sometimes you have to be hard and make tough decisions to move the organization ahead. Sometimes "nice" can be seen as timid and that's not an effective trait of a leader.”

We did, as always, have some interesting verbatims:


Some places seem to promote people on being nice, others seem to base it on being mean. Sadly, few seem to base it on competence!

In my experience, people who are agreeable will end up being "the" person others go to for help, answers, support, etc...becoming a person with subtle power in the office  This is often perceived as threatening to those "disagreeable" folks in charge.  As a result, those disagreeable folks will either actively, or more quietly, work to get those "agreeable" employees "removed", by choice or otherwise.  Been there...done that.  I am still nice...they still aren't.  Life goes on...

I hope to be there one day

Then tend to promote some associates, simple because they are not capable of doing any "real" work.  But for some reason, they think this makes them capable of managing people...what I wonder is how do you manage people - when you don't even know what they do or how to do it yourself?????????  If we really hired & promoted based on abilities it would make all of us more successful.

Nice people finish last--always have, always will.

The article is certainly accurate at my company.  All those men at the top are nasty and they continually get rewarded for it while the guy that pointed out a quality/safety critical problem with directions given by a new COO got fired.  "Warm and fuzzy" this place is not.

Finishing ahead does not mean getting paid more.  Finishing ahead means living your life with integrity and kindness.  It is very unfortunate that our society places so much importance on money and material goods.

Personal frustration with folk that know how to play the games, do little, and get the promotions because they have mastered visibility over productivity.

The study confuses not nice with assertive.  Those that are assertive, and get their opinions across will fare better over time.  Those that are quiet will not advance.


I'm tired of people telling me they don't answer their phone because they think it may be a sales call - tell the sales person NO or they don't respond to a message because the person should know better.   I want to say "Practice the golden rule, people!"  We're all helpless sometimes.  Give us a break!

Nice guys finished last cuz no good deed goes unpunished. But, the worm is turning during these economic times as the squeaky wheel and square peg are being replaced as opposed to placated.

Greed and ruthlessness are considered assets in corporate cultures and people with those traits are often valued and promoted.

You related the antonym of "nice" as "mean".  A lot of "not nice" people are not necessarily outwardly "mean".  They could be conniving, greedy, self-serving, disrespectful, etc.  Nice people usually care about others and show it.  They care about an organization for what it provides the "team" of which they feel a part and are willing to receive just rewards as part of the team.  "Not nice" people really care only about themselves and what the organization can provide to them.  They will step all over others to get what "they" want and rationlize their actions as best for the organization and its owners.

In my opinion most of those who seek power and wealth lack competence, humility and a sense of basic human decency. I'd rather retain those qualities than earn a few more bucks.


When I was a kid, my mother said, "Work hard and do your job and you'll get ahead."  2nd worst piece of advice ever.  After working for 30 years, what the REAL advice is, "Work hard and do your job and you'll be taking advantage of."  For the WORST advice?  "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say aything at all."  Never tell your kids this! What that does is opens the doors for all the MEAN people to walk all over them!  Applies to kids AND the workplace!

Perhaps unhappy people strive to be happier by working harder.

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who noted, “I always thought that nice people finish last--especially women.  It's good to see I wasn't just having a mental breakdown....”


Now, the last item from today’s bonus survey was to explore with readers why things were the ways they were.  Specifically, while the reasons for nice guys (and gals) finishing last are surely as varied as the individuals and their workplaces, I asked readers to pick ONE main reason for why that happens…and here’s what they said:

9.5% - said the people who make those decisions (that result in nice people finishing last) tend to be “mean” as well.

14.3% - thought that “mean people intimidate the people who make those decisions”

19.0% - said that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”

23.8% - observed that “competence and niceness aren't always related”

But the most common response offered by readers to that question was…



People know that nice people will “take” it – an opinion expressed by a full third of this week’s respondents.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!... and here’s to not taking it…anymore.