"Just be yourself, everyone will like you" are common words of advice for anyone attending an interview or starting a new job.
But while this seems obvious, a desire to be liked can lessen the focus on other things, like gaining respect and making a contribution.
Research for SEEK shows that more than half (52%) of people have been told they are too 'nice' at work, and 50% believe they may have been overlooked for a promotion for being 'too nice'.
Many of us offer to help colleagues even when we don't have time (47%), don't hold colleagues to account when they don't deliver (46%), and take responsibility for others' mistakes (46%) — all for the sake of being nice.
Experts say that striving to be liked can negatively impact our career and diminish how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves.
So, how do we know if we're being too nice at work and if it's holding us back? And if so, what can we do about it?
The first thing to consider is what nice means to you and how it makes you feel, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read explains.
"Some people would interpret nice as being a walkover or boring, someone who's weak or inauthentic. But others who feel well aligned to their niceness may feel it's a reflection of kindness and compassion.
"Consider whether this trait for you represents resentment or whether it represents pride and authenticity," she says.
Jane Jackson, Career Coach and author of Navigating Career Crossroads, says if you're agreeable by nature and you don't feel imposed upon, then there's no problem. But if you feel at any stage you've been taken advantage of, there’s a chance that you're being too nice.
"It's when you're afraid to speak up in a meeting because you might rock the boat, when you don't want to go against popular opinion, or when you take on work when you don't have time," she says.
"It's when you're letting people put their wants and needs before yours."
Being liked doesn't automatically make you respected, Jackson explains, and this is particularly the case for managers.
"You need to walk a fine line between being approachable and agreeable, and also someone who is able to communicate, take charge and make decisions."
Read says while a desire to be liked is linked to the human need for validation, it can also make us lose sight of our role or expertise in the workplace.
"No one's job description says 'be nice'," she says. "We've lost our way if being likeable has become our primary driver."
If you are too nice, to the point where you always let others put their needs first and you find it hard to be assertive at work, you can experience the following problems:
Being too agreeable can, ultimately, be "a downward spiral", Read says.
"People respond to us accordingly. They may not come to us as much or question our voice and then their respect for us dissolves. Then we lose expertise and we lose confidence."
There are various ways to improve your assertiveness and confidence, plus the way you’re perceived at work:
Once we have a better understanding of our strengths and what may be holding us back, we can feel more confident about the contribution we make, Jackson says.
To help you focus on the person you want to be at work, she suggests swapping 'nice' for stronger words such as 'professional', 'kind' or 'fair'.
If we're being true to ourselves, she says, we have nothing to fear. "Just because someone disagrees with you, doesn't mean that you're wrong, and it doesn't mean that you're not nice," says Jackson.
"If you know what your values are and you speak up according to what drives you and what you feel is important, then you can't really go wrong."
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4,800 Australians annually. Published April 2022.