The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

Everybody loves nice people. Nice people won’t hurt you. Nice people will always help you. Nice people can even be the vehicle you use when you need to go further.

Oh and everybody likes to be liked. Even before Facebook invented the ‘Like’ button and utilised this as psychological tool to deepen its users engagement. And it is so understandable that in order to be liked by other people, a person would behave nicely. Yes, you are being nice in expect of being liked. A simple basic rule of social interaction.

But what happen if you’re in a situation that will harm you to be nice? What happen if your expectation to be liked is failed? What happen if your nice behaviour is being used by other people at your expense instead?

Well I’m talking about professional and business environment. I just came across this interesting article about three types of personality in workforce: takers, givers and matchers. As obvious as it sounds, taker is someone who continuously taking advantage for himself and neglect others’ benefit. Giver, on the other hand, is that ‘nice guy’ who care about your need and try to offer help. Matcher is someone who constantly maintain the balance of ‘taking’ and ‘giving’.

People will naturally (well, mostly) be a giver in terms of close relationship like family, friends and lovers. But in workforce, it is normal that you will tend to be a taker. Especially in the business world with ruthless rule: eat or being eaten. Being a total giver certainly won’t benefit you, since it equals to surrender yourself to be a ladder other people can step on. Most people, however, will fall in the category between: a matcher. It’s a basic rule of reciprocity: you get what you give and vice versa. You help people in the hope they will return the favor if someday you need them. As Adam Grant (2013) put it:

“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return.”

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

My dad is an example of natural giver. He’d rather walked himself away from a company than having to fire his innocent subordinate. He’d rather suffered himself than having to see other people suffered because of him. He’s a brilliant man–it’s just he helped other people too much that he forgot to care about his own self.

It’s probably not surprising then if research suggested that givers are the least successful people in their careers. Compared to takers, on average they earn 14% less money and 22% less powerful. Being nice in professional workplace is, scientifically proven, not helping you to reach successful career.

If so, then why some people still thrive to be a nice guy in workplace?

It’s because, eventhough some givers succumb to the bottom of career ladder, surprisingly some other givers are also those who occupy the top position. In short, “both the worst performers and the best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle. Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder.” Being a giver means you can either be exteremely failed or extremely successful.

How could it possibly happen?

Well, a giver is simply generous in sharing time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them. Apparently, every time you help others with your skill, you learn something from it. It’s like that simple philosophy of educator: by teaching you’re learning. The more you help, the more you learn, the more you get expert, the more you make valuable relationship, thus the more likely you are to succeed.

Still, if all givers receive those benefits; then why some of them fail while others succeed? Vicki Helgeson suggested that one of the critical distinctions between self-sacrificing givers and successful ones is the willingness to seek support. They do not hesitant to share the ‘help load’ by asking support from other people, thus expand the ‘helping spirit’ itself. Moreover, succesful givers also help with careful consideration of when, how, and whom to help.

Grant put the conclusion of his theory very well:

“Givers, takers, and matchers all can— and do— achieve success. But there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when [givers] win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.”

At the end of the day, it is our right to choose our own reciprocity style in workplace; a taker, a giver, or a matcher. If we identify ourselves as that ‘nice guy’ though, then make sure to be kind in the right way.


That Marriage Between Business and Society

That Marriage Between Business and Society

What comes to your mind when you hear those words of ‘social business’, ‘corporate social responsibility’, or any other noble things that seem too idealistic to do? The middle line between business and social charity?The marriage between capitalism and socialism?

Since CSR term coined years ago, it suddenly became such a ‘happening trend’. Corporations started to engage CSR projects into their annual strategic plan and realise that somehow it can boost their reputation among community–and target market of course.

However, business is business. They suppose to make money, they are not charity foundation. They will not do something without any cost/benefit analysis behind. It’s a common argument I’ve used to hear about people who are skeptic about CSR. Corporation’s bosses might say, “Just let the government and NGOs take care of society. Our job is to make money. And this is the way we contribute to society. By making money, we provide employment, we create living for our workers.”

Well, somehow that’s not entirely wrong–yet not completely true.

CSR Reports

When I was still an idealistic fresher college student, this idea of CSR was so ‘sparkling’ that I feel mad to those irresponsible companies ruining their environment and communities. However, as I worked in a commercial corporation for 2 years and get to know how the business is actually run, I began to understand businesspeople point of view.

It’s not that I’m at the side of Freeport with their Papua nature devastation, or Nike with their ruthless labor condition. They still do unforgivable things. However, CSR projects somehow draw a border line between business and society–which make it even worse. By thinking that CSR is a marriage between business and society, we are deliberately considering that the two parties are exactly different. And why should we differ business from society? Why can’t we think of it as the whole entity?

It’s like business is ‘evil’, and society is ‘good’. Business can do anything to earn profit as long as they share (tiny) portion of the profit to community. Nike can continue enslave their workers as long as the owner donate to education charity. Danone Aqua can keep exploiting East Java springs as long as they build a kindergarten for local people near the factory. Those giants can still do all the evils–as long as they commit those CSR projects to ‘erase their sins’.

The truth is, society is the part of business, and vice versa.

I once read about The Five Capitals. It is the concept invented by British NGO, Forum for the Future,  as the framework for understanding and achieving sustainable development of organisation. Basically it says that all organisation (corporations) can do sustainable business as long as they maintain their five capitals in balance: natural capital (environment, climate, resources etc), human capital, social capital, financial capital, and manufactured capital. As long as company carefully source and manage those five capitals, they can run sustainable business.

For example, you can source as much financial capital, but you can’t harm another capital (such as natural capital & human capital) in doing so–because in long term it will negatively affect your own company. Your business can’t run without healthy climate condition–for instance. Your business can’t run without satisfied suppliers and workers. This way we think business and society as a blending entity. As long as they do business in this sustainable way, I think companies do not need to compensate their ‘sin’ by doing CSR charity merit.

In a last week seminar, the Head of CSR in Innocent Drinks, UK’s leading smoothies company, frankly said that she didn’t like the term ‘CSR’. She prefers to do a community program that directly impact their business. For instance, they set up mango plantation improvement project in India to enhance their productivity and quality. They did it because, aside of benefiting community farmers, they knew they will get quality raw material (fruit) for their end product (smoothie).

In the end, CSR has no point if it’s just used as a mask to cover your unfair business practice. As long as company behave well and fair in their business process, they don’t need to spend additional budget for ‘charity’. They already did the charity.