Managers: Be Nice, Be Friendly, But Be Careful...


Published: 14 March 2018

We know the qualities of leader and managers include enthusiasm, vision, integrity, transparency and ethical behaviours – and so the list goes on – but could your personal demeanour and attitude toward the job and your staff be a little softer and kinder?

I believe that the softer and kinder qualities are in short supply in nursing managers (not all…) today.

So why might this be so?

Perhaps it’s the growing demands of the managers’ workload. Like the unrelenting pressure of meeting unit objectives with a budget that is slowly eroding (and also eroding is any niceness from your disposition.)

Maybe managers see the softer qualities as a sign of weakness and these managers need to be seen as being ‘in charge’?

Maybe, after years of working in not-so-nice and not-so-friendly workplaces, the behaviour has become ‘normalised’, in their eyes?

Let’s look at the pros of being a nice and friendly manger, and what could happen if we go too far.

Are You Too Nice as a Manager? Be Friendly, Be Careful Want to be liked by everyone

Nice Managers…

… Are typically pleasant and agreeable. They attract people towards them.

Staff will listen to their managers because they know they will, in turn, listen to them. Staff will run their ideas past their managers because they know they won’t scorn or humiliate them.

Staff will contribute positively towards the unit by supporting, helping and teaching their workmates – because this is what their managers do for them.

This type of manager role-models good behaviour and, because the staff respect them, they will emulate those behaviours, setting off a ripple effect throughout the unit.

Everyone is treated fairly, respectfully and with good manners.

Too-Nice Managers…

…However, are typically weak and ineffective.

They need everyone to like them. The too-nice manager wants to please everybody, all the time. They are conflict-adverse and don’t want to upset people.

They will try to support both parties on an issue, even when one erring party is in clear breach of a policy directive, for example.

They will make excuses for them, and the other party will be left feeling undervalued and that their issue is of no consequence.

Too-nice managers will turn a blind eye to ongoing annoying behaviours (e.g. someone who is always late for work or taking longer breaks). They will have difficulty pulling the recalcitrant into line, and possibly not follow through with the PAD (performance appraisal and development) process.

A too-nice boss doesn’t want to stress you and prefers the comfort of the status quo. On the other hand, a nice manager will push (direct and guide) you out of your comfort zone to aim higher, giving you constructive feedback and advice along the way.

And so on.

Because the too-nice manager’s managerial skills are largely ineffectual, they will lose the respect of their workers.

Unfortunately, workplaces might stagnate instead of flourish under an overly-nice manager and, even worse, cause staff to search out more challenging jobs in another unit or facility.

Nice managers know that they can please most staff, most of the time, rather than unrealistically aiming to please all staff, all the time.

Business Workplace-Friendships and Personal Workplace-friendships (There’s a Difference)

Business workplace friendships are necessary to promote a safe and cohesive work environment where the staff know a bit about each other personally (a low-level of familiarity is healthy and does not necessarily breed contempt).

In business workplace friendships, staff are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and support each other to grow – both personally and professionally. These friendships are essential for team belonging.

Business workplace friendships are sometimes strengthened when staff socialise occasionally at all-of-staff get-togethers like the Christmas Party, a resignation dinner or a birthday cake in the tea-room.

Though beware. Managers should avoid small in-house, ‘select-group’ get-togethers.

The reason being: when staff socialise they will undoubtedly end up talking-shop. They will usually engage in a bit of gossip and most times it’s the management or ‘how the place is run’ that’s up for discussion.

You don’t need to hear this – especially if it’s reported back to you by your new personal workplace friend.

A business-workplace friend will understand and empathise with the worker going through a marriage separation: will understand the need to accommodate unexpected changes to the roster.

Whereas a personal friend will indulge in the nitty-gritty about who did what, who gets the house, what about the kids, and so on. This conversation has no place in the workplace.

Personal friendships are, therefore, a threat to the harmony of the unit and the interrelationships between staff, which may also impact on the quality of resident/patient care.

Managers, Be Wary

So, managers should be wary of becoming over-friendly with staff at work.

Problems will arise when personal workplace friendships develop, especially between a manager and a subordinate.

Liberties may be taken with the nurse having a direct line to you, by-passing the next in the chain of command.

The limits of a subordinate’s scope of practice (or skill set) may be stretched, with the subordinate enjoying a higher level of authority (or role responsibility) not in line with their actual role responsibilities.

The nurse might be heard quoting you ad infinitum, seen reporting others’ minor indiscretions to you, and end up earning the title of ‘favourite’. This will cause dissent amongst the staff who see ‘the anointed one’ (yes, I have heard that reference made) enjoying some sort of privilege, while others continue to slog it out on the floor.

Additionally, jealousies will surface, staff-splitting will develop and, worst of all, you the manager will be seen as unfair and biased — and all you want to do is be friends with everyone!

In Summary…

I still hear managers say, “I’m here to do a job: not come first in the popularity-stakes”.

All of us want and need to be liked; we’re human after all. The psychologist Abraham Maslow describes our human needs for friendship and belonging to have high self-esteem and the respect of others (1943).

These needs are just as pervasive and relevant in the workplace as they are in family and society. Remember, staff that like you, support you – as much as you like and support them.

(Note: the use of the word ‘subordinate’ in this article, refers to the nurse with a lesser qualification and/or lower level of authority. It is not meant to demean that (or any) level of nurse.)

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