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How Are Your Employees Treated? Nice vs. Kind.

How Are Your Employees Treated? Nice vs. Kind.

According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, “nice” is defined as “pleasing; agreeable; delightful,” while “kind” is defined as “having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence.”

This difference seems to explain why we use “nice,” but not “kind,” to describe things besides people and the way they treat each other.

I have been in the people business for about two decades. As a People Operations Consultant (also known as HR), I have endless curiosity about how people behave at work. If you stay in this profession long enough, you will have a few incidents under your belt that go in the category of way weird — i.e. someone stripping naked and stealing a truck, sex in the office, defecating all over the bathroom, fighting over romantic perception or lack of it.

But these are extreme examples. What about the everyday run-of-the-mill mayhem?

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In the case of everyday tension, I find I am often told by executives and their managers:

I was just trying to be nice.

Most of the time, “trying to be nice” just comes off as condescending and often inconsistent with the rules of engagement for the company — rules the CEO said, “Yep, this is what I want the company to follow.”

The problem is, while they are “just trying to be nice,” they are angering their already disgruntled employee. The employee quits and tells the workforce commission, EEOC, their family, friends, and everyone they are connected to on social media how much you and your company suck. Sometimes it’s legit, and sometimes they make up the entire thing. Either way, the burden of proof falls to the employer.

I would like to suggest an alternative — being kind. In the workplace, being nice has a twinge of political connotation to it. It’s about you, not about the employee. You make yourself feel good by “being nice” to someone else.

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I would even go as far as to say that nice people are not always kind. Kind requires a certain level of sympathy and benevolence for the other person's plight and taking actions that are beyond polite. But being kind also means you are willing to have difficult conversations for the sake of creating a space of clarity between management and the employee.

For example, I recently had an executive tell me she was going against the PTO policy and paying the terminating employee his PTO balance because of his long tenure. She got approval from the CEO. The executive was then surprised when the employee still acted like a jerk to her after she went to bat for him.

Her reply:

I guess I am just too nice.

My reply:

Stop being nice, and be kind. It’s not about you.

The kind thing to do is thank the employee for all his years of service and explain to him that the company does not pay out PTO at termination and follow the PTO plan regardless of tenure. By being “nice” to this employee, is she being fair to the other employees because she doesn’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation?

In this new work paradigm of being mindful of humanness in the workplace, what actions would spark a kindness revolution? Would you call your co-worker or boss out for saying “I was just trying to be nice?”

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In 2018, Amal Babar started Flourish Forward, LLC, a talent management company that enhances the employee experience through attraction, engagement, and development of the most important asset - people. As an idea generator and expert problem solver to sometimes weird, but real, authentic situations, she has been an integral part of the decision-making functions for her clients and employers.

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