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Why being too nice at work is holding you back

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Are you a people pleaser at work?

Always there to help your colleagues, a workhorse who agrees to your boss’ demands or a peacemaker who tries to settle conflict?

People-pleasers are no rare breed. At 52 per cent, the majority of Australians say they have been told they are ‘too nice’ at work and 50 per cent believe they have been overlooked for promotion because of this, according to recent research from employment marketplace SEEK. 

The research also found a large portion of workers go out of their way to be exceedingly nice.  

This includes 47 per cent who offer to help colleagues when they don’t have the time and 46 per cent who don’t hold their workmates to account when they don’t deliver. A staggering 46 per cent say they even take responsibility for other people’s mistakes.  

But going above and beyond to be kind and helpful can leave people pleasers feeling exhausted, stressed and ultimately, ignored.  

Be helpful, but not too helpful. Photo: Getty

The risks of being too nice 

Those who put the needs of others ahead of themselves might start to feel like doormats – walked over and worn out.  

“It’s saying, ‘Yes’ when you mean, ‘No’,” said Sabina Read, SEEK’s resident psychologist. 

“When you do this, you do yourself a disservice and you don’t really bring your best self to the job. 

“Because once you continue to please, often resentment builds, frustration and you don’t want to deliver.  

“So you’re saying one thing, but you’re doing another. That incongruence is felt within you but is also seen by others. So it actually doesn’t serve anyone well.” 

Some tasks workers have little choice but to bite their tongues and accept, however Read said these should not occur too often. 

“If it becomes habitual and a pattern then the residual damage builds up because you’re not authentic or transparent and that’s not going to end well,” she said. 

The real reasons why 

There are complex reasons why people try so hard to be nice at work, said Read.  

“Often being a people pleaser comes from a place of anxiety, self-preservation or in its most simple terms – fear,” she said. 

“Fear of not being accepted, fear of not being good enough, fear of rocking the boat, fear of being a problem.” 

Without confronting and resolving these fears, workers are likely to be taken advantage of by others. They will also struggle to make tough decisions or manage people, which will hinder their leadership skills and personal growth.   

Dial back the nice 

If it’s time to take charge and change perceptions at work, there are some clear strategies to help workers get out of the ‘too nice’ rut. 

Start by working out the reasons for the people pleasing behaviour, Read advised. 

“So if your boss says, ‘I need you to stay until midnight’ and you say, ‘Yes, no problem’ –  why are you saying yes?” she said. 

“What’s the fear that sits behind the pleasing behaviour? And when you make sense of that, I think there are ways to manage that.” 

The crucial steps lie in setting boundaries and mastering the art of saying no.  

Don’t allow yourself to work overtime too often, especially on projects that aren’t time-sensitive.  

Be brave and to speak up when your workload is too heavy. Your employer will either have to delegate some of your work to others, or ask you to prioritise your tasks so you can work on the most important first and the least important when you have time, rather than trying to do it all at once.  

For more tips on how to push back on your boundaries, head to SEEK Career Advice.  

Source: Independent research conducted on behalf of SEEK, surveying 4800 Australians annually.     

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