Pitfalls of the “nice” workplace

I work in a very nice place with very nice people. The kind and courteous atmosphere is one of the biggest perks of my job. And this is only one of several nice places in which I’ve worked ove rthe course of my career. Call it good fortune or eerie coincidence, but I can honestly say that I’ve never worked in a place where I wouldn’t describe my co-workers as “nice.”

But therein lies a problem. A first world problem surely, but a problem nonetheless. The problem of being too nice. You know that saying about how you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all the people all the time? Well, I have been in more than one work situation in which the parties involved try much too hard to please all of the people all of the time. Niceness often trumps sensibility (and to a certain degree, backbone), and it can make for some rather silly and frustrating scenarios that sometimes play out rather passive-aggressively.  We all have to take the good with the bad in life, but that doesn’t mean plain old common sense should be cast aside to save face. Because let’s face it, there’s nice, and then there’s stupid. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

The looooong emails of high importance


Nice people don’t want to bug others too much. They want to give people plenty of space in which to do their work without being overloaded by nonsense, such as frivolous meetings and extraneous conversations.  These nice people are often in charge of major internal policies, and sometimes they need to inform staff of changes to these policies. So rather than bother everyone with some face-to-face time, they send out seven-page emails in which they carefully state everything that needs to be said. And then they mark the message “high importance” so that it shoots to the top of everyone’s inbox. Upon seeing that very important message, everyone reads it (all at once it seems), then the reply all‘s start. So many “reply all” messages flood the system because, naturally, people usually have lots of questions when previously unbeknownst major policies changes take place. And then the phone calls start. And then more emails happen. And then, sometimes, eventually, after everyone’s had enough, a meeting is called. A ridiculous mess takes over that could have been avoided if a meeting had simply been called in the first place. So what if everyone can’t be there? Catching the people for a two hour meeting is better than wasting days of everyone’s time fretting over electronic communication channels.

The Doodle polls


Speaking of meetings, sometimes they really are necessary, and nice people want to make sure everyone is included in all the things. They want to make sure that people are as informed as they can be about anything that needs to happen. In the olden days, a meeting was called at a specific time and place. If the vital bodies couldn’t all be there, it was rescheduled. Enter in email, and arranging a meeting becomes a series of back and forth messages filled with “I can be here this day but not that day” and “that time doesn’t work for me, how about this one.” It was a little chaotic but still worked if you only had to gather together a small group of people. But now…oh, now we have Doodle, a fantastic and dastardly app that allows for “easy” and “nice” scheduling. Fire up a poll, enter in a series of days and times, and then send it out to everyone to vote on the best meeting time for them. It works well in principle, but nice people often abuse the practice by creating Doodle polls with a dozen or more possible dates/times. Or worse, dates and times that are months out. I have zero idea on Monday what my schedule will be like two Fridays from then, let alone in August what my October schedule will be. These polls can get utterly preposterous, and all because nice people want to make sure everyone is accommodated.  A Doodle poll with five dates — fine. Fifty dates – you’ve got to be joking.

The last piece of cake


With meetings on the mind again, sometimes we’re lucky enough to have meetings with food. In fact, free food is sometimes quite prevalent and often appears without notice. Days with free food are always good days, but they come with a downside, namely that not everyone can get to the food when it is readily available, either because of scheduling or they don’t see the “FREE FOOD!” email (perhaps because there are seventeen emails of “high importance” in the way). But the initial vultures that descend upon the food when it is first noticed don’t want to be complete jerks, so they make sure to save something for everyone, be it slivers of cake, bowls of potato chip crumbs, quartered donut holes, or a spoonful of hummus and a lone carrot. Missing out on the free food entirely is so much better than witnessing the decimated remains of a spread that, at the end of the day, consist of wilted lettuce and random bagels chunks. The food is there, so just eat it! And don’t leave the dregs thinking that you’re being “nice” to the next person that comes along.

So there. There’s a time and place for “nice,” but being sensible should be a constant state of mind.  Ahhh….It felt good to get all that off my chest. I know it reads as a passive-aggressive rant, but what else is the Internet for? I mean, I could bring this up to my co-workers, but I don’t want to bother anyone…


Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.



3 thoughts on “Pitfalls of the “nice” workplace”

    1. Haha. 🙂 Passive aggressiveness is just endemic in workplaces because people are both awesome and sucky. We all mean well in wanting to get along, but the end result isn’t always positive.

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