For the past two years I've kept a pact with myself: I only want to work with nice people. Yep, nice people who I respect and who treat me with respect. When I mention my new pact to friends and colleagues some of them get it, while others look at me as though I am speaking a foreign language. Would it make more sense if I said I want to work with nasty people?
Depending on your circumstances, the notion of working with likeable people may be unrealistic; yet isn't it the right of all employees to at least like who they work with and love their work?
Since, making this pact, my work life is immensely more enjoyable and it's more productive. I can focus on work, rather than worrying about difficult personalities.
Recently, I turned down a job to write for a leading women's magazine because of the editor. Each email exchange and conversation I had with her, she was stressed and abrupt. I privately questioned what working with her would be like under those conditions.
We all have bad days. I do too, but when it is consistent and it's affecting your output, then this is not conducive to a good working relationship.
Dr Tim Sharp, the founder of the Happiness Institute, agrees and says that it is a basic human right to work with nice people.
But first, it's important to define what nice means.
“Nice means different things to different people,” Dr Sharp says. “We need to be tolerant of these perspectives.
“Generally, people have an understanding of what it means to be nice and polite. We are perfectly within our right to want to ask for this and expect it.
“Sometimes people don't intend to be nasty. It's unintentional, they maybe going through personal problems and having a bad day. Some people are not good at relating to other people. They can come across as being aggressive, and they lack insight and don't realise their behaviour.”
Under health and safety regulations, employers have an obligation to look after employees not just physically, but their psychological health and wellbeing too.
“Nastiness, aggression or violence is effectively in breach of the law,” says Dr Sharp. “From an employer's perspective it would be of great benefit if all the employees were nice to each other, they're going to collaborate well with each other and they are going to like each other and work well together. Even if you take an extremely selfish approach, from a profitability perspective it makes logical sense for employees to be nice to each other and to customers.
Sharp says that scientific evidence over the past 20 years indicates that happier workplaces lead to profits.
Dr Matt Ives says he never loved a job more than his role at the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre of Excellence, in Sydney.
Dr Ives began working at the centre in 2007 as a research scientist assessing NSW's fish stocks. In late 2011, a new head of fisheries was appointed and one of his main tasks was to close down the heritage Cronulla research centre.
“Things began to decline after that,” Dr Ives says.” It was a great job with great people doing great things. We were in shock after the closure decision. We had systems and processes in place for managing our wild fish stocks that were the envy of other states. But all that good work was being discarded with the closure and the loss of much expertise. We fought it, but there was no arguing over the closure, it was a done deal,” he says.
Over the months that followed, Dr Ives noted a shift among his co-workers. Employee motivation rapidly declined and there was widespread dissatisfaction with the new management.
“I am a scientist, and in my line of work, scientific integrity is a badge of honour. I couldn't believe the reasons they used to close down the centre. My heart was no longer in the job. I lost all respect. The bottom line was that I no longer liked who I worked for.”
This year Dr Ives left the department to start his consulting firm, Ecosystemz, to work with people he respects. In the end, he says the experience has been positive because he is now working with some former colleagues who are passionate and genuinely nice people.
“I could have stayed, but I would have spent every day working under a management regime that I did not respect, and did not care about the work we did. Leaving meant that I could choose who I worked with. Although I am still doing the stock assessments. I am much happier and more productive. I am working on projects I believe in, with people I like, trust and respect. At the end of the day, if your pond fills up with sharks – it might be best to just go find another pond.”
Nicely put, Dr Ives.