About Workforce Echoes

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jerks At Work, Good, Bad, Or Both?

Have any of you ever had the unfortunate experience of working with a jerk? Robert Sutton has written a book on this subject that is receiving a lot of attention. The problem with jerks is that often their abrasive personalities are tolerated because they seem to “get results”. We measure their sales for instance, but don’t measure the costs associated with this “jerkish” behavior. Customers are lost. Good employees leave. Other employees hate coming to work because they have to deal with the jerk.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, in Time Magazine, defends jerks at work. See her article at this link:

She asks what American Idol would be like without Simon?

“Good point” you might think. But the American public loves tuning in to watch Simon and most respect his opinion. He makes about a hundred gazillion dollars a season for all those associated with American Idol. The benefits clearly outweigh the costs and I doubt there are many on the American Idol staff that want to see him leave. This is not your typical “jerk at work” story.

What do you think? Our suggestion is to identify and focus on specific unacceptable behaviors rather than telling the employee to stop being a jerk. We also highly recommend dealing with unacceptable behaviors immediately, before being a jerk becomes contagious in your organization. This isn’t to say that all jerks are lost causes. By focusing on specific behaviors that need improvement, perhaps you’ll get lucky and turn the jerk into a star employee.

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