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Is a “Culture of Nice” Detrimental to an Organization?

January 9, 2020

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to research from Fierce Conversations, the majority of U.S. employees — regardless of gender or seniority — feel they cannot share an idea, opinion, or concern at work due to a fear of disrupting their role at their company.  The survey found that nearly 63% of U.S. employees have chosen not to share a concern or negative feedback at work.

The number one reason why is that they didn’t want to seem combative. Employees also ranked fear of being viewed as uncooperative and worry that others would view them negatively as critical factors for not sharing a concern or negative feedback at the office.

In addition, the data found that 80% of employees think it is important to be considered nice by those they work with, with just 5% saying it’s unimportant.

The top three reasons employees said they felt this way was because:

1.       They find work is more enjoyable when they get along with their colleagues.

2.       It makes it easier to get things done.

3.       They will get more interesting work/more opportunities if people like working with them.

“Many of the companies we work with have admitted to us that their organizations suffer from a ‘culture of nice,’ where people are afraid to speak openly or confront the behavior of others for fear they may ‘rock the boat’ or be judged as challenging the status quo,” said Stacey Engle, President of Fierce. “The results of our research confirm this — employees fear being seen as combative, and thus keep their concerns and negative feedback to themselves. This can have a significant impact on an organization, not to mention employee mental health, and if not addressed can lead to problems that could be difficult to bounce back from – from significant turnover to direct loss of revenue.”

When asked when they would be comfortable sharing concerns and negative feedback, the majority of respondents cited 1:1 meetings — with their boss, company leadership, or colleagues. Team meetings ranked last.

“In organizations where employees are empowered with strong conversations skills, concerns are not brushed under the rug, and ideas and opinions flow freely,” continued Engle. “The fact that employees are hesitant to speak up in the exact situations that are meant to bring out these ideas or thoughts should concern every employee in a leadership role, and then some.”

According to Fierce, these results strongly point to an epidemic — if not an obsession — employees hold when it comes to being viewed as nice. Unfortunately, when employees suffer from this preoccupation, business problems are swept under the rug, and difficult bosses and managers are ignored and never improve, resulting in employees going uncoached. This causes talent to decline, relationships to suffer, productivity to plummet, trust to erode, and the bottom line to dwindle.

These are major issues that must be addressed head-on by all business leaders if they want their organizations to be successful.  To start the process of creating a more open environment, the following steps are recommended:

1. Invest in programs that teach how to give and ask for feedback.  Don’t wait for employees to bring up issues or concerns. Instead, make regular requests for feedback and provide feedback directly yourself — including upper management.  Train management to give feedback appropriately.

2. Teach teams how to confront the behavior.  Don’t ignore issues you are aware are happening. Address them directly, clearly, and concisely. Work toward solutions.

3. Promote a collaborative environment and turn meetings into think tanks.  Actively invite multiple perspectives during team meetings, to ensure all voices are heard and that new ideas are generated.

“Being nice to colleagues and others is a good thing, however when prioritized above all else, this trait can get in the way of an organization’s success,” said Engle. “Your employees should feel empowered to speak their mind, and company leaders need to show up and set an example of addressing issues head-on, sharing ideas and opinions freely, and encouraging others to do the same.”

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