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Are You Good at Your Job and a Pleasure to Work With? You'll 'Never Get Promoted,' According to a Viral TikTok. Here's What the Experts Say. Here's what the research has to say, and what leaders can do to promote kindness and empathy at work.

By Sherin Shibu

Key Takeaways

  • A viral TikTok video suggests that being good at a job and a pleasure to work with could hold employees back from promotions.
  • The video amassed 8 million views and 900,000 likes, but research presents a different take on the value of kindness at work.
  • Here's how leaders can promote kindness in the workplace, too.
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Being a pleasure to work with could be holding you back from a promotion, according to a viral TikTok with eight million views and 900,000 likes that's currently making the rounds on social media.

"If you are both good at your good and a pleasure to work with… you will never be promoted out of a hardworking, more junior position where a lot of the hard work exists," says the South Portland, Maine-based Jacqueline Morris in the video, which was posted in April.


but if I take a week off everything falls apart? it ain't adding up

♬ original sound - jacqueline

Morris explained in the video that employees performing well and doing so happily at a junior level will continue to work hard without a promotion or other incentives — and their employers know it.

She further told Newsweek that companies might not want the drop in productivity that comes with hiring and training replacements for exemplary employees. So they opt to keep those outperforming workers in junior positions and look outside the company for management roles.

Promoting high-performing employees could ultimately hurt the company's bottom line, said Morris, because they can't afford to replace those workers.

The video resonated with viewers, with many expressing that they had experienced the same thing.

"I had to adopt a "C's get degrees" mindset at work. Stayed unproblematic and positive but did not overwork myself. Just got promoted," one viewer wrote in a comment liked over 72,000 times.

One comment with over 44,000 likes simply read "Former HR here... You are absolutely correct."

Another comment with more than 4,000 likes had a different take on the video: "Excellent. I'll work harder at not getting along with people"

Some viewers pointed to performance punishment, or high performers getting tasked with additional work and held to a higher standard, as a possible reason for high performers not getting promoted.

But decades of research tells another story.

Research has consistently painted a different picture of the importance of kindness and empathy in the workplace. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and a co-author of a 2007 study of 1,648 Harvard students, found that the greatest predictor of happiness in high-stress situations was feeling connected to other students, or social support.

Related: What Is a 'Dry Promotion' — and Has It Happened to You? Employees in This Specific Group May Be the Most Likely Victims.

In a later 2012 Harvard Business Review study, Achor found that employees who provided social support in the office by checking in with coworkers, picking up the slack for others, and actively celebrating colleagues' accomplishments were 40% more likely to get a promotion.

More recent Harvard Business Review findings published in 2021 show that kindness, especially giving compliments, can positively ripple out in the workplace and give life more meaning.

Giving compliments can make people happier than receiving them and lead to long-term job satisfaction, the findings showed.

So being pleasant at work can translate to tangible quality-of-life benefits, increase the chances of a promotion, and create moments of joy, especially in remote workplaces.

Related: Dell Reportedly Told Remote Employees to Come Back to the Office or Forgo the Chance to Be Promoted

Tips For Promoting Kindness From The Top-Down

A February conversation between Jamil Zaki, a Stanford research psychologist and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, and McKinsey global editorial director Lucia Rahilly showed how leaders in the workplace could promote a healthy environment.

There's "a big drop in how much we say we care about one another," Zaki said. "Whether social media is the culprit or not is impossible to say, because history is not an experiment. But there are trends that seem to be pulling us apart instead of bringing us together."

Before having conversations with employees, leaders should rethink how they reward employees and what they focus on, according to Zaki.

Related: Woman Goes Viral After Recording Her Disastrous Call With HR After Being Let Go

"A lot of our social norms reward people based on their individual performances," Zaki said. "But it's also important when we see somebody acting compassionately or empathically to call that out in a positive way, emphasizing empathic behavior and helping it to become normal behavior."

Sherin Shibu

Entrepreneur Staff

News Reporter

Sherin Shibu is a business news reporter at Entrepreneur.com. She previously worked for PCMag, Business Insider, The Messenger, and ZDNET as a reporter and copyeditor. Her areas of coverage encompass tech, business, strategy, finance, and even space. She is a Columbia University graduate.

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