Other titles considered for this article included, “Step Away from the Office Mentorship Program” and “Just … Forget Everything You’ve Known Up Until Now.” No matter what the headline says, though, the point is still clear: You’ve got to stop being so darn nice.
Imagine: it’s a Friday afternoon and an urgent email from a client comes through to your team. They need their website fixed, and they need it NOW. Everyone around you grumbles and groans as they read it, realizing someone is going to have to step up to the plate for this one. Everyone has plans; it’s a Friday, after all. Everyone starts to back away slowly, except for you. You step forward.
While the instinct to “take one for the team” is certainly a nice one, it’s detrimental to your career … if you’re a woman, of course. Want to know why? Read on to find out just how workplace politics and those good old-fashioned societal norms will keep you down so long as you keep stepping up.
What Do You Mean By “Nice”?
We’re not suggesting that you start sneering at everyone who walks by your cubicle — of course you can maintain a pleasant persona around the office. The niceness problem only rears its ugly head when it comes to office responsibilities and favors.
Perhaps not surprisingly, women are more likely than men to volunteer for — for lack of a better word — housework tasks around the office.
This means they’ll often step up when someone needs to take minutes at a meeting. They’re the first ones to volunteer to help at the optional career fair for recent college graduates. They’ll order lunch for a meeting or bring cupcakes for someone’s birthday. They’ll make sure the whole team has turned in their paperwork on time. They’ll stay late and work on something that’s not under their umbrella of responsibility. It’s in their nature.
And while you might think this type of selflessness looks good when it comes to promotions and perks, get ready for a dose of reality.
Why is Being Nice Such a Bad Thing?!
By filling this role time and time again, women have inadvertently made this niceness the expectation of female employees. This has certainly left them in a pickle; research proves it. A 2005 New York University study revealed that, when posed with the same “altruistic” task, men who completed it saw a 14 percent increase in their favorability rating. The changes weren’t substantial for women who did the same. Groan.
Perhaps even more upsetting is the fact that women face a bit of a consequence when they say no to these types of projects, too. The study showed women lost 12 percent of their favorability ratings when they declined a task.
Quite the pickle indeed.
You’re probably wondering, then, why it’s time to stop being so nice, if it’s something that could potentially hurt the way others see you around the office. Well, for one thing, if you’re saying “yes” to all of these unrelated tasks, how much work are you doing that you care about? Probably not as much as you like.
Women also face high levels of career burnout, and it’s probably due in large part to the fact that they feel obligated to agree to any task that comes their way. You can avoid this feeling if you simply say “no” every once in a while.
This is the bottom line: if you’re too busy doing what everyone else wants, how much time are you really dedicating to you? Your career? Your goals?
Okay, Okay. You’re Right. How Do I Stop Doing This?
The first order of business is dropping that little old nag of a friend you’ve carried around for so long. His name is guilt, and he’s such a pain in the you-know-what. Guilt is a big reason why you say “yes” to these tasks in the first place. It’s largely responsible for holding you back. Fight against your DNA — women are often socialized to worry about the needs of others first — and don’t let yourself feel guilty for saying “no.”
A great way to break the cycle is to create a new one. Imagine your co-worker has asked you to plan the boss’s surprise birthday lunch. You say “yes,” but only because you’re treating the responsibility like a hot potato that you have to get rid of.
Create a list of office birthday buddies so that everyone on the team — men and women alike — shares this non-work-related responsibility. The same goes for more business-y tasks, too. It shouldn’t always be a woman taking meeting notes, or mentoring interns, or chatting with new hires.
If all else fails, you should try coming up with a little zinger of your own in order to redirect work to another employee with less experience and more free time than you.
“Hey, these reports could use the Kathy copy-and-staple touch,” says your boss. “Have you got the time?” You probably don’t, and you certainly don’t want to be known as the lady who’s good at stapling and copying.
A cool way to help with the task without actually helping at all? “I’m busy working on [name drop larger, more pressing project], but I’m sure my intern could handle it. She learned from the best!” See what you did there? You aided in office productivity without actually doing it yourself. Now, that was amazing.
Now, it’s time to go out there and be your amazing self. Keep a positive attitude and treat others with kindness, but remember: In the workplace, it’s nicer to be important than it is important to be nice.