Yes Man Culture: The Price of a “Yes” Culture at Work


Let me start by saying I’m all for being positive, helpful, and optimistic. Still, there’s a huge difference between being a can-do employee and being punished for having an opinion, needs, or merely lacking time. From very early on, we’re taught that saying no to your boss is simply something you don’t do.

Yes man culture. Is saying no bad?
Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

Is Saying No Bad?

When it comes to business culture, one of the first things you learn is that saying no is bad. But is it really? If it were, then books like The Power of a Positive No: Save The Deal Save The Relationship and Still Say No wouldn’t existSo why then do we believe “no” is an evil word?

Cons to Always Saying “Yes”

I don’t need to tell you that the absence of “no” in a workplace can negatively affect many aspects of work culture. What you may not realize is the variety of areas it disrupts.

Creativity Becomes Dulled

When I say creativity, I don’t just mean the artistic kind. Solving problems and producing new products takes a certain amount of finesse. While work ethic usually isn’t based on rewards, it’s demotivating to know that the person who says “yes” most often will reap unending benefits. At the same time, you’ll be left behind for posing problematic questions, voicing concerns, or objecting in any way no matter how valid your points are.

Yes man culture spiraling into self-destruction
Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

Work-Life Balance Suffers

At the heart of being able to say no is balancing your work life and personal life. Balance is about more than how many hours you work. It’s also how much time you spend worrying about what goes on at work. It’s all of the time you try to find ways to get ahead. It’s also sleepless nights stressing about performance reviews and questioning taking a day off because it could be an excuse to say you’re not up to par.

Job Satisfaction Drops

Have you ever had to say “yes” to something you knew couldn’t be done? Have you ever had to go way out of scope because “no” wasn’t an option? When “no” is not acceptable in the workplace, it creates a feeling of dread. You have to commit yourself to things you know you can’t succeed at.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Toxic Positivity

Has someone told you to “always look on the bright side?” It’s not bad to be optimistic, but there’s a line where positivity turns toxic. Psychology Today defines toxic positivity as “the concept that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. It means only focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.” Negative feelings happen; burying and invalidating anything that isn’t rosy and bright isn’t healthy or useful.

A Right Way to be Positive

Remember, there’s a right way to be positive, especially in the era of coronavirus. Don’t be dismissive of how someone feels. It’s okay to be optimistic, but be supportive of how the other person feels. Hear them out. Learn to recognize when someone needs a shoulder and when they need positive words. Solve problems when possible and remove conflict where it exists. Don’t ignore issues at the workplace and don’t sugarcoat pain points. Once things are out in the open and off someone’s chest, there’s a path to fixing broken processes and mending poor relationships.

How Did We Get Here?

Good question. There’s a part of all of us that wishes to please others. By nature, most of us don’t like conflict. In reality, a “yes” culture has always been a part of the workplace. Movies and TV often portray an image of an employee cowering to a boss, promising to deliver whatever is requested even when it involves missing a birthday or staying at work all night.

Where Do We Go From Here

That’s a great question! When something has become ingrained in our way of life, it’s incredibly hard to shake. Putting your foot down may make some waves and cause some conflict. Your ideas and feelings may not be readily accepted at work, so choosing when and what you express is a careful balance. Be a thought leader when you can, but know that part of standing up is also knowing when to leave.

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