Looks like nice guys or girls do really finish last, especially at work. New research from Umeå University’s Filip Fors Connolly and Ingemar Johansson Sevä (2021) suggests that being too agreeable can set you back when it comes to your career growth.
To put this into perspective, think about a current or past coworker who never says no to more work. How did their peers perceive them? By their superiors? Being hardworking is an attribute we all look for in coworkers and employees, but not having boundaries in the workplace can make you seem like a pushover.
Here are signs that you are too kind, why being too nice can backfire, and what you can do to combat it.
Attributes of being ‘too nice’
There’s nice, and then there’s too nice. According to personal performance specialist Olivia James, general signs you’re being too nice can include not saying how you feel, not asking for what you want, not asking for what’s owed to you, or what’s fair.
Particular examples of being too nice in the workplace can include taking liberties with help requests, according to Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar, an employee recognition and rewards program “One of the telltale signs that you are too nice at work is when people start trying to foist their work off onto you,” he says.
“Making yourself available to help coworkers and being willing to collaborate are both essential to a cohesive work environment, but if people are regularly coming to you with requests to do what amounts to handling their work for them, especially if they continue to take the credit, it is safe to assume your colleagues believe you are a pushover.”
How it can lead to lower life satisfaction
In the recent study conducted by Umeå University, researchers identified two key areas that contribute to life satisfaction: status and inclusion. Status correlates to how a social or professional group perceives you, and inclusion pertains to your acceptance and liking within a group.
Being too nice, specifically not having boundaries and saying yes to all requests, can make people perceive you as less respectable and even less likable. Because of this, highly agreeable people reported lower percentages of life satisfaction.
As Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, psychologist, and media advisor for Hope for Depression Research Foundation, points out, it’s not being too nice that can be problematic for overall life satisfaction, but the lack of boundaries. “There are many people who pride themselves in being nice to others and taking care of others,” he says. “It is not the act of being nice that can be problematic; it is the behavior of engaging in ways that are incongruent to how we really feel or think.” For example, overextending yourself to help a friend or coworker when you don’t have the bandwidth.
How it can affect your career
Being too nice in the workplace can make you an easy target for being overworked. “The perception of you in the workplace then becomes that you will always be available to help, which may lead to burnout,” says licensed mental health therapist Sydney James.
It can also impact your upward mobility at a company, such as being consecutively passed over for leadership or management roles despite high performance.
“Being a good leader or manager requires being able to tell people no when necessary, which means people-pleasers usually are not good fits for these roles,” says Larson. “If you have leadership and management aspirations, consistently get stellar performance reviews but are passed over for management and leadership positions or career tracks, there is a high probability it is because you are seen as too nice.”
Actionable ways to combat being too nice
Think you may be too nice at work? Here are a few ways to shift your behavior.
1. Identify situations where you notice that you are being too nice at work
“When you identify these situations, you increase your awareness,” says Lira de la Rosa. “When we have awareness, we can begin to monitor these situations and experiences and later use them to change our behavior.” In addition to identifying the situation, Lira de la Rosa says it can be helpful to reflect on why you are being too nice.
“Do we feel afraid of upsetting people? Do we feel guilty if we show someone other parts of ourselves other than kindness? Sometimes when we identify the emotions behind our behavior, we can work towards understanding our behaviors and emotions,” Lira de la Rosa says.
2. Take inventory of what happens in your body when you are in these situations
“Our bodies are always reacting to our environments and giving us clues,” Lira de la Rosa explains. “When we begin to pay attention to our bodies and their responses, we may notice we are holding tension or perhaps notice that our breathing is impacted. If we can establish a mind-body connection, we will increase our awareness of the physiological responses that impact our behavior.”
3. Practice saying no
“It is difficult to change our behavior and can be challenging when we try to establish healthy boundaries with others,” says Lira de la Rosa. “Others may have a negative response to our boundary setting, especially if they are not used to these boundaries. Practice with people who you feel safe with. Take it slow.”