Do Nice Workplaces Really Finish Last?

company culture

Here's a theory - the meaner the workplace, the better the bottom line.

Hmmm.

The gist is that nice leads to polite leads to lack of dissent. And lack of dissent (in other words, lack of multiple perspectives) leads to a dearth of innovation. Ergo, nice = failure.

Not surprisingly, the article's irresistible headline ("The Unintended Consequences of a Too-nice Work Culture") lit up the comment threads. And not all of the responses (all 3,353 of them)...were kind.

We won't argue - dissent is good. Great ideas are born of disagreement - the reason that the most innovative cultures are usually the most diverse.

But are "nice" and "innovative" mutually exclusive? We think not. Why?

Bold is not unkind

The "nice" argument posits that people button up to avoid hurting colleagues' feelings - censoring ideas to keep everyone happy. But if you have people who are unwilling to speak up, you don't have a "too nice" problem. You have a "people are too afraid to speak up" problem.

Connected leads to bold with opinions

In positive environments, alternative views don't generate bad feelings. When people feel good about and safe around each other, they'll be brave enough to speak up...and disagree.

Dissent doesn't need to be knuckle bearing

People can make their case without rubbing others' nose in it. We call that culture and values statements. The latter, wrote our own Helen Zarba, provides civilized guidelines for arguing - "the moral compass that gets from dissent to implementation."

To be fair, the article's URL ("a-respectful-culture-is-better-than-a-nice-one") says the title was merely catnip (mission accomplished). So there's no argument they know respect is the key.

We couldn't agree more. In our very nice workplace, we follow the HEART Principles. But, Honestly, Excellence, Accountability, and Teamwork would be nothing (well..."HEAT") without the R (Respect).

Because a company without any respect?

Well, that's just not nice.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.