Managers promote likable workers over competent ones

The hardest worker gets the promotion? Nope. “Lovable fools” are more likely to get ahead

Two colleagues in an office, one of them grinning and doing a handstand

(Henrik Sorensen/Getty)

Wouldn’t the world be a lovely place if hard work earned proportionate rewards? Hard workers certainly deserve a shot at the C-suite, but research suggests that it’s their chatty, likable colleagues who’ll eventually get the big desks and sweeping views.

Good social skills matter big time when it comes to career advancement, according to Tiziana Casciaro, a professor at Rotman School of Management whose research suggests that employees’ likability can determine how others view their abilities. Most people are so keen to work with individuals they like that they’ll overlook any shortcomings and focus on even the vaguest suggestion of competence, wrote Casciaro and co-author Miguel Sousa Lobo, a professor at Duke University, in the Harvard Business Review.

Given the choice, even managers typically opt for a “lovable fool” over a “competent jerk.” How can managers level the playing field for hard-working but less charming employees? The researchers recommend “manufacturing liking”—engineering opportunities that help less popular employees get to know their colleagues, ideally in a co-operative, team-building situation that fosters bonding.

“Building an environment in which people like one another by creating situations that make liking people easy…can help all employees work more happily and productively,” they wrote.