Soft skills | Being 'easy to work with' is an undervalued skill - but should it be celebrated?

Being 'easy to work with' is an undervalued skill - but should it be celebrated?

In the past year, business influencers, founders and LinkedIn users have shouted about the importance of acknowledging and celebrating employees who are ‘easy to work with’.

These figures have expressed the importance of this often-overlooked character trait. And yet, what makes someone ‘easy to work with’ is subjective and can mean different things to different people.

According to a Forbes article, being positive, a helper, responding quickly to colleagues, and saying ‘yes’, are all behaviours that lends itself to being a pleasant person to work with.

Whilst being helpful and attentive are certainly skills that go a long way in any business, they’re not necessarily traits every employee needs to be good at their job. And interestingly, many of these characteristics are associated with increased levels of stress and burnout.

For example, even if you’re not necessarily exceptional at your job – in terms of performing every single job-related task to a high level – you might still be an enjoyable person to work with because you have a can-do attitude and say ‘yes’ to every task given to you.

In the inverse, you might be exceptional at performing the tasks within your role, and therefore be considered very good at your job, yet be missing the ‘softer skills’ that fall outside of your role, and so are potentially perceived as less helpful than a peer.

Even though saying yes to colleagues might make you seem as though you’re always willing to help, the need to be a ‘yes person’ can easily lead to burnout.

Employers might have historically been reluctant to encourage employees to say ‘no’ in the workplace. But we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic, with this being the leading cause of employee absence, and employers can’t afford for staff to be taking on more work than they can manage, especially if it’s only to appear helpful.

Too often in the corporate world we accept the idea of being stretched beyond one’s capacity, and having a to-do list that never gets shorter, as signs of success and hard work. But encouraging employees to set their own boundaries and limits can have better long-term employee and business consequences, leading to better productivity over time.

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What’s more, evaluating an employee’s performance over arbitrary factors makes for a more equal and diverse workforce. For example, an employee who is a primary child carer or another with a neurodiversity might not be able to take on extra tasks outside of their role – which makes deciding whether a worker is valuable on the grounds that they have certain personality traits somewhat non inclusive.

Ultimately, we must base an employee’s business value on how well they perform their job. They might have the capacity or ability to take on extra tasks or reply to emails straight away – which makes them easy to work with – but these shouldn’t necessarily be valued over performance.

Valuing performance above everything means that managers aren’t exercising unconscious bias towards certain personalities they’re familiar with, or unknowingly judging staff who have less time or energy because of social factors. Most importantly, not over prioritising these traits is essential for employees themselves, to negate the risk of burnout.

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