No Jerks at Workplace Rule

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How often during your career have you encountered a jerk at the workplace? How often do you hear phrases like “talented jerk,” “brilliant bastard,” or “a bully and a superstar” for a colleagues who has to be tolerated? A McKinsey Quarterly Article by Stanford Professor Rober Stutton on workplace jerks; reports that one firm found the Total cost of a Jerk (TCJ) to be US $ 160,000 annually:

Research in the United Kingdom and the United States suggests that jerk-infested workplaces are common: a 2000 study by Loraleigh Keashly and Karen Jagatic found that 27 percent of the workers in a representative sample of 700 Michigan residents experienced mistreatment by someone in the workplace. Some occupations, such as medical ones, are especially bad. A 2003 study2 of 461 nurses found that in the month before it was conducted, 91 percent had experienced verbal abuse…

I have met (and heard from close friends) about quite a many workplace jerks — even at some of the top Technology/non-Tech companies in the world. These jerks come from all sorts of backgrounds, even from top Universities (yes even from Stanford or Berkeley in US Or an IIT or IIM in India); with a range of degrees from Graphic Arts, to Business, to Engineering. These jerks also appear in various positions — top management & leadership roles to mid management or just entry level employees.

Stutton has listed the 12 common ways (the dirty dozen) workplace jerks do their dirty work:

  1. Personal Insults
  2. Status slaps intended to humiliate victims
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, verbal and nonverbal
  5. Sarcasting jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
  6. Treating people as if they were invisible

7.  Invading coworker’s personal territory
8.  Withering e-mails
9.  Rude interruptions
10. Two-faced attacks
11. Dirty looks
12. Public shaming or status degradation rituals

I would add some more like:

  • Stealing Credit leveraging higher Position or physical location in central offices
  • Subtle Racial Abuse like referring to India, Phillipines other countries as living on outsourcing dollars rather than value added from merit and hardwork

The word about jerks goes around but typically the jerks stay safe using political skills, weak HR practices in companies, organizational needs that they are fulfilling or just their strong positions in a company. A jerk may not just be a clearly verbally abusive & mean character. Experienced jerks have built a subtler set of techniques to harras and violate others, including “right-talk” with “those who matter”.

Stanford Professor Robert Sutton has written a book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t where he covers these issues and more. Do you think your workplace enforces the No-Jerk Rule?


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