The Cost of Office Jerks

Has someone ever taken the credit for your ideas or threw you under the bus to leadership? Have you ever had a colleague that sucks up to upper management and is totally rude to you? Chances are, this person in these experiences is what we would simply call the office jerk.

While we may think that office jerks are a natural occurrence in the workplace, it doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Think about the costs of an office jerk. Office jerks can diminish collaborative efforts and deteriorate teams, disengage and demotivate employees, and stifle strategy. Bottom line, office jerks kill performance. At first glance we may overlook the office jerk because their abrasive interactions yield results, but over time the more you embrace the office jerk, the less your other employees will want to work for you. The office jerk can kill your culture, increase your turnover, and destroy growth.

The consequences of an office jerk go beyond the initial victim. Individuals that witness the office jerk being rude or condescending are negatively impacted as well. Research by Charlotte Raynor found that 25% of people who were victims of the office jerk and 20% of those that witnessed the behavior of the office jerk quit their jobs, compared to an average quit rate of 5%.

According to the book “The No Asshole Rule” Stanford professor Robert Sutton, Ph.D, wants you to help rid yourself of the office jerk and he offers a few questions to help understand if you are working with the office jerk.

  1. After talking to the office jerk, do you feel oppressed, de-energized, belittled or overall worse about yourself?
  2. Does the office jerk take aim at people who are less powerful than those that are more powerful?

If you answered yes, according to Sutton, you are working with the office jerk.

If you truly want to rid yourself of the office jerk here are some things you can do.

  1. Change your recognition strategy. Instead of strictly focusing on financial outcomes, incorporate the evaluation of how well they work with others.
  2. Challenge the behavior and hold them accountable to changing. Explain to the office jerk how their actions impact the organization, put them on notice. While the thought of losing the productive office jerk may seem scary, know that further cost savings will come from an increase in productivity and reduction in turnover by hiring an equally talented person who is not a jerk.
  3. If the office jerk is your boss, try having a direct conversation with them about their behavior. Explain your point of view. A conversation might sound like this, “I really enjoy my job and working here but when you do X it causes me to feel X. I want to continue to work hard for the organization and hope that we can move past X and do more of Z.” It’s worth having a conversation, especially if you enjoy the organization and want to continue growing a career there.
  4. Create a culture that does not condone office jerks. Identify the behaviors of an office jerk, such as demeaning or condescending communication, and make it known to everyone that these behaviors will not be tolerated. When it becomes part of the organizational culture it is easier for people to manage the office jerk because they are more empowered to call out the undesired behavior, making it a better environment for everyone.