• Eve Arnold

Do Nice Guys Finish Last in Work? Be Kind

Does being kind win at work?

Photo by Amélie Lazar on Unsplash

When we were five, the very first lesson our mums and dads instilled in us was the importance of being a kind human being. Don’t say mean things, look out for the other kids in the playground and above all else, be kind. Being kind is a desperately human thing. I’m convinced it’s part of our nature, it’s the reason you so often witness little kids hurrying around if someone has fallen over. They do that adorable head tilt thing whilst bending their knees to see if they can help.

Little kids are perhaps the kindest souls on planet Earth. It’s such a wonderful thing. Like butter wouldn’t melt, little kids couldn’t hurt a fly and we teach them not too. There is total embarrassment if your kid comes home with a letter from the Head Teacher that they’ve been bullying someone at school. It’s the stomach drop, disappointment kind of moment. Followed by a stern talking to. One thing is for certain, bullying is not acceptable. Somewhere along the way we go from looking after each other in the playground to purposely tripping each other up in the work playground. Otherwise known as the boardroom. Bullies at work don’t get the same level of reprimand, in fact in some circles, it’s seen as a badge of honour.


Find the latest series of The Apprentice and you’ll see the playground bullies at their finest. All of a sudden all that our mum and dad’s taught us goes down the drain. The workplace is cut throat and dog eat dog. The way to win is to be ruthless. Kindness will get you walked all over. Or at least, so we think. When you are new to work, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the way the world works. The way to win in work is to be short-tempered, cut-throat and ruthless. You need to set standards and make it clear that you are not someone to be messed with.

So we are at a crossroads. The popular depiction of work is wall-street type, only the strong survive. However, we are hearing more and more that empathy and ultimately, being kind feels like the right thing to do.

Bullying at Work — The Harrowing Stats

Unfortunately bullying in the workplace is fairly commonplace. A study by Schat, Frone, & Kelloway found that 41.4% of U.S. workers experienced psychological acts of aggression. It also found that the most common target for this aggression is young people who haven’t been in the workplace long (between 1–3 years). Added to that 37% of Americans reported being bullied in the workplace, with it mostly being ignored. The obvious impacts are mental health issues, the decreased productivity, lawsuits and rising healthcare costs. Being unkind isn’t only bad for the employee, it’s bad for business.

According to a study by Berowitz in 1993, just 7–15% of kids have bullying characteristics. With the majority of parents teaching kids that kindness wins, how do we end up with such a dramatic increase in bullying in the workplace?The answer is pretty obvious. For some humans there is a need, albeit nature or nurture, to dominate other humans. If those individuals are not properly managed, they will exercise that need. Once the exercising of that need becomes the norm, that’s when we have a problem.

It’s obvious that being a bully in the workplace is not good for anyone. Not good for the mental wellbeing of the victim or to the bottom line of the company.

Agreeable vs. Kind

The first thing to note is that being kind and a nice human isn’t the same as being agreeable. You can be a kind person and disagree with someone else’s opinion. According to a study in 2018 the more agreeable you are, the more financial hardship you will face. What the paper essentially says is that if you constantly agree with people’s views you will bring home less bacon. The trouble is we find it hard to say ‘I disagree’ and feel good about it. What we need to do is find an authentic way of saying I disagree without getting people’s backs up. When you are new to the world of work, this is one of the things to practice and practice consistently. You shouldn’t be scared of voicing your opinion and giving an alternative view. That is why you are employed to some degree. Your opinion counts, so don’t shy away from expressing it, however, try not to be a dick about it.

As I continue on through my career it’s becoming more evident the importance of just being a kind human being. It costs nothing and has so many upsides. Part of the reason that bullying is so common in the workplace is it becomes the norm so nobody challenges it. As we become part of the working world, it’s our job to challenge the world and create the place we want to work in, not conform to the place we see before us. Work doesn’t have to be backstabbing, competitive and ruthless. We can be kind to one another like we would on the playground as kids, and be successful.

Being Kind

“Be the change you want to see in the world” — Ghandi

I think sometimes we are all in the habit of mindlessly climbing up the ladder. The idea is to get as high up the ladder as physically possible in the shortest time possible and if you have to step on people to get there, well so be it. If you entertain the idea of being nice, people almost laugh at you as if you are just a young, naive twenty-something with all the wrong views in life. And I get it right, if you’d been chewed up and spat out in one workplace because someone stepped over you to advance their own career, you’d be pretty bitter. However, I don’t think being ruthless and cut throat is the way to go. I just don’t. I think going down that route is a fast-track to being paranoid and hating your job.

What’s Your Ambition

What is the goal here? Is the goal to get to the top of the ladder, look down and see all the people you’ve trodden on along the way who are now just waiting for you to mess up so they can watch you fall? Or is it to learn, grow and find a job that you enjoy? I get that we all need to make a living and you’ve got to pay the bills but over and above staying afloat, what are you trying to achieve?

Being nice has a number of benefits, for me those benefits outweigh the benefits of being a bit of a dick at work.


  1. Feels good

  2. Makes other people feel good

  3. You get more from people when you are kind to them

  4. More enjoyable work experience overall

Surely as we find our way in this world it’s our job to create new norms and that starts with being kind. What our mums and dads taught us all those years ago still rings true, at least for me it does. There is a total difference between being kind and being a pushover. There is a distinct difference between being a thoughtful, considerate human being and rolling over to agree with what anyone says. Contrary to popular belief we can be kind and disagree with someone. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a skill in itself but you disagreeing is part of life. We all have opinions. The ability to express those opinions and come to the best conclusion is part of what makes a successful team. We shouldn’t feel like pushovers for being kind and we should be able to disagree authentically and not be thought of as awkward.

The workplace is changing and we can be a catalyst for that change. You can be kind and win in work. As long as we are clear on what being kind is and what winning is, those two things can work together, in fact they go hand-in-hand.

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