Why Being Too Nice Does More Harm Than Good and How to Stop

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Did you stop keeping people accountable?

If you are a caring person, you probably don’t like to make things difficult or unpleasant for other people. In fact, you may be willing to go above and beyond your responsibilities to help people and accommodate their special needs and circumstances. That’s beautiful, but past a certain point, it becomes unhealthy.

One thing I don’t love about higher education is how common it is for employees’ poor work performance to be tolerated. When someone does not do a good job, we often expect less from them. Since we don’t see them as valuable resources, we focus on “damage control” and don’t give them opportunities to mess up important tasks. Sometimes, we just tolerate their presence and count the days until they retire, so that we can finally hire someone new. That’s not ok!

I have to admit that if an employee has been getting away with unacceptable behavior for a very long time, it may or may not be possible to inspire them to do better. But you have a great chance of success if you handle the problem early on. Act quickly, at the first sign of trouble, or you will regret it later.

Intention versus reality

When my clients tell me about problem employees and how they have dealt with them until now, they often don’t see what part they played in how things spiraled down. The way they “handled things” unintentionally enabled the exact behaviors that should not be tolerated. Here are some examples.

Example 1. An employee consistently misses deadlines.

Response – Telling the employee that the task is urgent and must be completed ASAP.

Issue – Unwanted behavior was rewarded by giving a time extension. Employee was shown that there are no consequences for not taking deadlines seriously. Therefore, it will happen again.

Better approach – Create accountability, monitor progress before the deadline, identify and remove obstacles to timely completion.

Example 2. An employee appears busy but does not produce the results expected for their position. The person complains about workload and stress and makes excuses for not having tangible outcomes.

Response – Accepting the excuses as valid reasons to continue to underperform. Waiting for things to change without any intervention.

Issue – Enabling the problem and failing to help the person make a better use of their time.

Better approach – Work with that person to identify priorities, set measurable goals, clarify expectations, choose different strategies, and meet goals.

Example 3. Employee displays unprofessional behavior, has a negative attitude, and complains about everything.

Response – Avoiding them!

Issue – Not dealing with the problem implicitly gives the person permission to continue and will hurt other people’s morale and job satisfaction.

Better approach – Counseling the employee about what is expected in the workplace very early on, before they get comfortable and harder to influence. Make sure you do not tolerate what should not be tolerated.

Why do so many supervisors shy away from accountability? Because it’s uncomfortable! Nobody enjoys it, nobody wakes up in the morning looking forward to having a potentially difficult conversation with someone. Also, keeping people accountable takes time. It will only work if your behavior is consistent. If people have to face their responsibilities some of the time, but can get away with not doing their job when you’re too busy to notice, they will not do their best. You must make time to communicate expectations, check in regularly, help eliminate obstacles, and ensure that goals are met. You can’t be complacent.

How to motivate yourself to do it

First of all, you need to define what it means to do your job well. If you are reading this blog, you are most likely a college administrator and you see yourself as a leader. Supervision is probably the least exciting part of your job. Maybe you take pride in not being a micro-manager and prefer a hands-off approach to management. But… if you’re having employee performance issues, it’s time to face reality and use your superb leadership skills to lead your department and improve work performance.

Here is what to keep in mind every single day!

  • Avoiding issues perpetuates them and encourages unwanted behavior. You cannot hide from them.

  • Invest time now to train and supervise people and you will save an enormous amount of time and energy later by no longer having to deal with employee issues.

  • Letting people “off the hook” is not what’s best for them. Most under-performing employees are miserable at their jobs and would be much happier if they knew how to improve or chose to leave. Help them be better or get motivated to find another work environment where they will be happier.

  • You have to be a good steward of the college funds you are spending. Obviously, people are not commodities but there is still a transactional aspect to having a job. People get paid to do their jobs. A paycheck is supposed to be earned. If you are paying someone and not keeping them accountable to do their job, it’s like stealing money and putting it in someone’s pocket. It’s not self-serving but it’s still not ok.

  • Under-performing employees hurt morale and discourage your top performers. Their negativity can be contagious.

  • Being too hands-off can make you look weak and you might lose people’s respect. Some of your top employees may look for employment elsewhere if they are disappointed by the choices you make.

  • Having employees who aren’t valuable resources has an enormous opportunity cost! Imagine if they left and you could attract new talent, how your department would change. Imagine the possibilities for you, for your team, for your campus, for the people you serve, and for the highly deserving job applicants you haven’t even met but who would be amazing assets.

  • Don’t underestimate your courage and resilience. I know how uncomfortable things can get when we keep people accountable but trust me, 99% of the time it’s worth it.

Need help? You don’t need to live in California and drive to my office. I’m only a phone call away. Let’s team up to change your perspective on what it means to be nice without being too nice. I look forward to helping you overcome thoughts and ideas that stop you from rising to the next level as a higher ed. leader. Click here to schedule a complimentary call with me. Talk to you soon.

 About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.

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