Be Nice – It’s Good For Business, And It’s Good For You

“Being nice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak. You can be nice and strong at the same time. Thats a character trait we need more…” Shelley Moore Capito

It is truly unfortunate that many of our workplaces are not “nice” places to work. By nice, I simply mean, places where people treat others with the dignity, kindness, and respect deserving of all humans. What is even more unfortunate than the dearth of nice work places is the lacking expectation that our places of work can be “hubs of happiness”! And if you think that being nice is somehow Pollyanna thinking, being nice can change your brain! Did you know that doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin? Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that gives us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being.

I realize that readers from the four generations in the workplace; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials may respond very differently to what I’m about to say. Those of us from Generation X (born between 1965-1980) have been heavily influenced by a wide range of cultural and political shifts as well as technology, which has greatly affected our expectations at work. My generation, and the following Millennial Generation (born between 1981-2000) are particularly concerned with the work environment and work life balance. Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) and Traditionalists (born between 1900-1945), are typically less concerned with the environment due to their concerns with adult children, retirement and other concerns related to aging. That said, many executives who are primarily from Traditionalist and Baby Boomers generations recognize that the workforce is primarily comprised on Gen-X and Gen-Y.

I believe that if you and I want to work in a nice environment, then I must be the first to commit to being nice. We can only do this if and when we take steps towards self-development and personal reflection. As the greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, “He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it.” I agree with Socrates in theory and in practice. My own personal decision to pursue my present career is a result of many years of reflection on who I am at my very core, and then making a conscious decision to change course, and focus on leadership development and organizational culture. It’s probably good for me to acknowledge that I am on a personal mission to change our expectations of what is possible in the workplace. If you can take Socrates’ advice, you can begin creating a new reality, starting with you, by being nice to others and yourself. As uncommon as it is, one realizes quickly that being “nice” is germane to and essential to human nature. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

There is a very tangible effect on the workplace when being nice (respect) is not a core operating value. A recent article states,“Study after study points to unhappy employees, leading lives of unproductivity, which hurts profits. Gallup recently estimated that symptons of employee unhappiness — high absenteeism, chronic turnover, quality control issues, lost productivity, cost companies an eye-popping $550 billion a year! So does it pay to be nice? Emphatically yes! The firms listed in the 100 Best Places To Work in America, have out-performed their industry peers in annual stock market growth by two to three percentage points. In the movie Horrible Bosses, one of the characters advises the new executive on the block that,“the key to success is taking sh#$ from everyone.”Sadly, I do believe this advice to be the implicit if not explicit belief of many. I however, take great exception to this kind of thinking and sincerely discourage anyone who currently believes this lie. The real key to success is learning how to build harmonious relationships, engaging in acts of kindness which are both centered on others and yourself. This final point is directed toward management, to whom I sincerely hope will allow your intellect, imagination and emotions to be engaged by my following comments. Our places of work were never intended to be run by “the antichrist,” as one boss was affectionately described. If you haven’t noticed, expectations of managers in the 21st century have changed from what you may see in television shows such as Madmen. Most recently Zappos eliminated the management layer all together! Managers are expected to be leaders and leaders genuinely care about their employees, and are concerned with their employees happiness. Research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by psychologist Martin Seligman, found that there are five key areas that contribute to human happiness – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.  It is commonly thought today that enlightened leaders are participative, encouraging and focused on their employees development. Leadership involves counseling  or “people-development” skills. To see transformation in the managerial role from tyrant to teacher, managers need to be taught how to adopt approaches that will make them effective counselors.

In conclusion, we are all responsible for improving our work environment. I fear many of us have stopped caring, partly because we are continually disappointed by many in leadership positions. I am deeply empathetic to those who feel this way, however, I fully embrace Max De Pree, founder of Herman Millers’ challenge; “ In the end it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining who we are.” 

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