It Pays to be Nice at Work

By Ignite Career Center

If you have been in the workplace for any length of time, you might feel it’s a whole lot like high school – the popular seem to advance to the corner office while others look on from their cubicles. That’s not just your sour grapes about popularity; research now backs up your perception. Mitch Prinstein, a professor at University of North Carolina, lays it all out in Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World. 

The good news, according to Prinstein, is you don’t have to be stuck in a high school dynamic at work. He reframes popularity as “likeability”– your ability to make others feel valued and happy, and it can be the key to happiness and advancement at work. The workplace popularity that comes from being likeable isn’t about wielding power or status as high-schoolers do. It is about being someone who is well-liked and highly respected by colleagues. When people feel comfortable approaching you and speak well of you, management takes notice. Remember that kid in your class who was popular not just because he organized activities, but because he was genuinely nice? Prinstein notes that this powerful combination is often the recipe for moving up the ladder.

Workplaces strive for inclusion. Which means your old high school status doesn’t need to define you now, but your past might help you think about the present. If you have good friends at work, do your job well and don’t worry much about office bullies, Prinstein would say you have average likeability.  He would caution, though, that if your tendency was to be “invisible” in high school, don’t repeat that pattern at work or your efforts won’t be noticed and rewarded. If that describes you, Prinstein suggests finding a mentor to help champion your cause.

Ultimately, it is never too late to feel more popular than you did back in the day. By focusing on likeability, Prinstein reminds us that fulfilling your colleagues’ needs to feel appreciated and included doesn’t just keep your team humming along, it could also be a key to your own workplace advancement.


Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or visit ignitecareercenter.com

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