After 20+ years in the corporate world, I’ve dealt with my fair share of jerks. I’ll even admit to thinking that jerks must have just been drawn to my field – they appeared too frequently not to be. But after a few years working as a success coach alongside those in industries as diverse as software development, media production, materials manufacturing, engineering, product sales, and professional services, I can assure you that jerks find work pretty much everywhere.
Sometimes these jerks are customers and sometimes they’re “important” clients. Sometimes they’re trainees, sometimes they’re coworkers, and sometimes they’re learned veterans. Perhaps worst of all, sometimes the boss is a jerk. If there is any pattern that I’ve been able to discern it’s this: the more critical a person is to our business or our careers, the more we’ll allow them to be a jerk.
Now we might be painting with too broad a brush here, so before we simply agree that all jerks be eliminated, let’s make a few distinctions.
#1: Non-jerks can become jerks (sometimes without even realizing it). Life events have an affect on our behavior. So when a non-jerk starts acting like a jerk, perhaps the best place to begin is with some difficult-to-muster compassion. Look for an opportunity to provide help – get others who seek beneficial outcomes (like a manager or HR representative) involved or simply offer to listen.
#2: Some jerks can occasionally be affable (or even downright enjoyable). They’re jerks – no doubt about it – but like every bad relationship, they redeem themselves just frequently enough to be tolerated or isolated enough to be avoided, so nothing gets said or done. Of course ignoring the behavior does nothing to change it. Sure, looking the other way feels safe – no reason to risk loosing a customer, client, relationship, or advancement having to address the jerk – but doing nothing is a course that relies on someone else taking action, or some future conflict or meltdown, for resolution (and likely places others at risk).
#3: Some people are just jerks. There’s no avoiding it. Jerks.
If someone’s face came to mind as you’re reading this, then it’s time to take action (or at the very least forward this blog as a link to someone else!) because all three of these exact a toll on your business and your life.
Everyone wants to create a meaningful organization – a place where productivity and morale are high. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan. While problems with the company’s infrastructure, market, product or service are occasionally to blame, a toxic workplace (which is a product of the toxic people within it) always foul success. Thankfully, just because a workplace is toxic doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, provided you adopt the “no jerk rule.”
What Is The No Jerk Rule?
It’s fairly self-explanatory, really. The no jerk rule means that you create and foster a workplace where jerks simply aren’t allowed. This term was inspired by Robert I. Sutton, a PhD who studies workplaces and how employees interact. He originally went with much blunter phraseology because he found that people didn’t really respond to soft language like “bullies.” However, we find that “jerk” sums up the type of employee we’re trying to address just as well as his original phraseology (which was more profane).
For our own use, a workplace jerk is someone who does two specific things:
1. They make the people around them feel badly. Clients and co-workers have terrible things to say after interacting with the jerk.
2. While a workplace jerk might be mean to everyone, they habitually target those who are in inferior positions to their own.
Who Needs the No Jerk Rule?
Every place of business – from the Fortune 500 to a tiny coffee shop – could benefit from implementing this rule. When jerks are allowed to keep their jobs, the overall quality of life and morale of others goes down – productivity is decreased and employers feel less personally invested in their jobs. Essentially, any organization pursuing a purpose (profit or otherwise) striving to create and maintain a good workplace for its employees needs the no jerk rule.
Many companies don’t fire jerks because despite having a bad attitude, the employee in question hasn’t done anything wrong in relation to their job duties. When a company implements the no jerk rule, it means that a person understands that they can be fired merely for having a bad attitude that adversely affects employee morale. When companies implement this rule, they have happier workplaces.
We all know this, but acting on jerky behavior is easier agreed to than done.
Some managers believe that goal setting is a form of motivation for the wrong reasons. They know that their employees’ performance is under their evaluation so they set goals for them in relation to their own agenda. I’ve never seen this process produce the quality or quantity of work that employees are capable of and, if taken too far, this parochial approach can extinguish hope altogether.
How Can The No Jerk Rule Help A Business?
It’s surprisingly rare when people dread their jobs because of their actual work, especially in professional fields where people went to school for and actively pursued their line of work. Rather, people tend to dread coming to work because of a toxic coworker or boss. When most people complain to loved ones about their work day, it’s usually not about how complex their tasks were, but rather how another person made being at the office a nightmare.
When workers have less to complain about and view the office as a positive place, great things start to happen. An office where workers like each other becomes an office where workers are teammates, united in working towards a common goal. When workers interact this way, they’re more enthusiastic about completing tasks and going that extra mile.
When jerks are eliminated from managerial positions, the office loses its culture of fear and intimidation. This culture is replaced by one of encouragement and positivity, where employees work hard for positive incentives rather than a fear of being yelled at or chewed out in front of their peers.
The Five Advantages Of The No Jerk Rule
There are five key advantages that happen time and time again when companies put the no jerk rule into place.
1. Eliminate The Jerks
Sure, it’s pretty straightforward, but eliminating the jerks is an advantage in and of itself. There’s no good reason for one human being to treat another like garbage. Getting rid of these entitled and rude people is a joy. No one should be rewarded with employment for treating others like dirt and it’s a real pleasure to watch these toxic people pack their things and go.
2. Remove Fear and Dread
No entrepreneur who starts a business envisions a climate of fear and dread where employees feel like they’re suffering every single minute that they’re on the job. When you remove this culture from your workplace, your business starts to feel less miserable and a lot more like what you envisioned when you first launched your company.
3. Create Excitement
When employees are excited about the company, great things happen. They behave like cheerleaders, talking up your company and brand wherever they go. When they arrive to work in the morning excited for their job, they don’t waste time playing on social media but rather get right to work. A culture of excitement is a culture of productivity and enthusiasm.
4. Take A Load Off Of HR
Jerks don’t always stop as passive aggression. Sometimes they can ramp things up to the level of abuse, sexual harassment or threatening behavior. When you have a zero tolerance policy for jerks, you reduce a lot of headaches for your HR department. Fewer jerks means fewer instances of jerk behavior that need to be escalated to a formal complaint.
5. Happiness For All
You want to be happy. Your employees want to be happy. We all accept the idea that work is to be endured, but life doesn’t have to be like that. There’s no reason why work can’t be a place of both productivity and joy. With the no jerk rule, you’ll find that the people you see in your office are genuinely happy to be there. Life’s too short to spend eight hours a day at a place that makes you miserable.
Implementing the “No Jerk Rule” may be more complicated in practice – but just sharing this post and talking openly about the threshold of “jerky” behavior that we allow in our workplaces is often enough to begin enjoying these benefits.
Have another suggestion regarding workplace jerks? Add your thoughts to the comments below.