Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Marcia Sirota Headshot

The Most Effective Managers Are Kind, Not Nice

Posted: Updated:
shironosov via Getty Images

Sometimes, a manager thinks that they need to be "nice" at work. They're overly invested in being liked and they're uncomfortable setting limits or giving consequences. They especially don't like dealing with interpersonal conflicts between staff, assuming that at least one person will be unhappy with the way they resolve the issue. But this creates a lot of problems in the workplace.

Perhaps they have an employee who's behaving badly, by coming in late, leaving early, avoiding work, or surfing the net when they ought to be working. Instead of calling this person to task, the manager decides to give this worker a second chance, then a third, a fourth, and an eighth.

The "nice" manager is hoping to avoid a confrontation and wants to believe that the employee has the sincere intention of doing their job to the best of their ability. Meanwhile, there are repercussions throughout the entire workplace as a result of the manager's choice to be "nice" to this employee.

Even though the workplace is not the same as the home, and even though the people at work aren't our family, when we're grouped together day after day with the same individuals, we human beings naturally have family-type reactions to one-another. In other words, interpersonal dynamics at work will often mirror familial ones.

For example, the manager is often seen as a parental figure. The manager's role, like that of the parent, is to guide their workers, resolve difficulties that arise with them, and give appropriate consequences for a deficient performance or unacceptable behaviour. When the manager fails to do these things it results in a workplace without a "good parent," and leads to the same types of consequences as would happen in a family with lax parenting.

When the "nice" manager gives second, third, and eighth chances to an employee, it does a few things. First of all, just like with a spoiled child, it enables the misbehaving employee to keep getting away with their unacceptable workplace behaviours.

And just like a spoiled child who no longer takes their lenient parent seriously, the misbehaving worker, after being given so many chances, becomes convinced that they can get away with doing whatever they please.

When the "nice" manager allows the misbehaving worker to get away with their inappropriate behaviour, the other workers become angry with their "sibling" who somehow doesn't have to follow the rules that the rest of them are being held to.

This unfair situation builds resentment, and leads to the other employees taking more sick days, not being fully present when they are at work, and even potentially acting out in passive-aggressive behaviour; let's say, by not getting a crucial piece of work done by the deadline, potentially causing deep embarrassment to the manager.

The employees also feel a sense of helplessness, because the person they were counting on to resolve this problem - the manager - has abdicated their parental, or managerial, role by allowing the misbehaving employee to continue doing whatever they want.

The other employees can't speak to their manager about this, and workplace morale plummets, causing more absenteeism, presenteeism and angry acting out. Instead of focusing on doing their work to the best of their abilities, the other employees spend their time at work focused on how their colleague is getting away with murder and how their manager has abandoned them.

Arguments begin breaking out between colleagues, as the frustrated employees take out their anger on their lazy colleague and indirectly, leak their resentment out on their manager. Productivity drops precipitously and the whole workplace environment begins crumbling beneath the manager's feet. This need to be "nice" and to give "one more chance" to their employee has created a toxic workplace that's lost its primary focus.

The answer to the problem is for the manager to actually manage their employees. Giving so many chances to one lazy or irresponsible worker is a terrible idea for all of the above reasons. Instead, the manager should follow the HR protocol of their workplace in guiding and disciplining any worker who is shirking their responsibilities.

The spoiled worker doesn't like or respect their manager any more than the other workers do; they're just taking advantage of their manager's niceness, in the same way that spoiled children disrespect and exploit their lenient parents.

The manager must see that being so "nice" is encouraging their employee's bad behaviour, while at the same time alienating their other workers. The manager needs to see that being kind, not nice is the way to be effective in the workplace.

The kind manager has clear expectations and sets clear limits. They treat everyone in their workplace fairly, and they allow no-one to get away with unacceptable behaviour.

The kind manager looks at the big picture and rather than avoiding confrontations that make them uncomfortable, they put the welfare of their workers and their workplace first. In this type of environment, the employees feel respected and empowered, which inspires them to do their best, creating high morale and a highly productive workplace.

In the workplace, being a "nice" manager is a lose-lose proposition, whereas being a kind manager (a good parent) is a win-win, as it brings out the best in the workers and creates a very functional, rather than dysfunctional workplace environment.

Sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. November is all about effective communication.

Listen here to my podcast. Doctor of naturopathy, Maryska Taylor, discusses the role of self-love in healing.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook