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School Bullies Earn More Money as Adults

Our culture is becoming less tolerant of bullying in the workplace.

A recent study by the University of Essex, which followed a cohort of British school children into their adulthood, found that "conduct problems, driven by aggression and impulsivity, are associated with positive outcomes in the labor market." In other words, the aggressive, impulsive kids ended up getting better jobs and earning more money than the others—including, of course, their victims.

This goes against our shared belief that there is a sort of karma governing our lives which eventually rewards victims and punishes aggressors. We see in countless films and other stories that the school bully ends up in prison, or in a menial job, while the meek studious kid becomes successful and marries the man or woman of their dreams.

Aggression in the Workplace

It is possible that having aggressive tendencies may help one climb the greasy pole of the job market, although this aggression will need to be modulated and channeled for it to be effective. In any case, those at the receiving end of aggression in the workplace will undoubtedly find this news distressing.

We may find comfort in the belief that the bullies and narcissists we encounter in the workplace are in fact unhappy and may eventually become victims of their own aggression and misplaced self-love, and so discovering that there may be material advantages to their behavior is a little disturbing. There is, incidentally, some empirical evidence that narcissists are in fact a pretty happy bunch. They are happier than the rest of us, according to this research, carried out at Queen’s University Belfast, because their self-adoring traits shield them from a variety of unpleasant emotions.

Things Are Changing

Luckily, things are changing. Aggression and bullying in the workplace are gradually becoming less acceptable, so these behaviors should eventually become counterproductive, at least as far as doing well occupationally is concerned. Research has shown that bullying at work is not only associated with predictable bad outcomes for the victims in terms of psychological sufferin—and even the possibility of developing PTSD—but is also bad for the employer, as it increases rates of employee sickness and lowers productivity. There is therefore an economic incentive for employers to tackle bullying at work. Bullying is based on a power dynamic in which one side is powerful and the other is powerless, so it is always difficult for the victim to complain against the aggressor. What we need is to continue to encourage a change in culture in which we don't associate aggression with executive decisiveness, or see it as a leadership attribute. It should be associated instead with an inability to work cooperatively, which is bad for productivity.

Despite our perception of the human race as being eminently violent, it is believed that Homo Sapiens' success has been largely due to its ability to cooperate peacefully in large groups, while lesser Homo species wasted their resources in constant warfare. Our dislike of aggression is imprinted in our genetic code.

We may have tolerated the office bully in the past, but a change in social attitudes hopefully means that their days are numbered.

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