The toxic effect of being overly nice at work

A culture of niceness within the workplace where an overflow of positive feedback lacking honesty and constructive content can affect employees adversely.
By: | July 10, 2023

While organisations often understand the impact of a toxic workplace culture, an emerging trend of work culture is one that could affect employees just as badly: the culture of niceness.

“There has been a huge push around wellbeing and niceness at work, being kind, empathic and being caring — which are obviously good traits to have,” said Tessa West, Social Psychologist and Psychology Professor at New York University, speaking in an interview on CNBC Make It. “But what ends up happening is, we’ve somehow pitted niceness against clear communication and confrontation, even when it’s necessary.” 

The antithesis of a toxic, non-inclusive, unethical, cut-throat, and abusive workplace is not complete nicety but a workplace that affords employees a safe space for critical feedback and conversations, said Professor West.

This includes knowing and understanding the importance of giving and receiving honest feedback for someone’s career development instead of fully positive feedback. In fact, any workplace that prioritises niceties over honest feedback may see a rise in mediocrity and a lack of accountability within employees, which can lead to passive aggression and an inability to handle criticism when it comes by. This then leads to other toxic behaviour such as micromanaging and bulldozing over employees who have clear opinions.

READ MORE: Whistleblowing can be key to fostering a positive workplace

Professor West suggested that employees and managers looking to break free from a culture of niceness should start asking for honest, constructive feedback that do not violate the niceness norm, then working their way up to issues that are a bit more critical in nature to build up a habit of asking for honest feedback, she added.