Jerk-Free Workplace

Have you ever worked for a jerk?

Some time ago I worked for a small business with an out-of-town owner who was a real jerk on an irregular basis. Some of the time he was friendly and professional. Then, just when you weren’t expecting it, ZING!

One ZING from the out-of-towner was over summer vacation when I was busy juggling the demands of family on the weekends and work during the week. I had driven my oldest child to wilderness camp on Sunday afternoon and arranged with my manager to leave work early on the following Friday afternoon to pick her up. My younger children were celebrating their birthdays the following weekend as well, so I felt a little bit like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, trying to keep up.

By Friday my manager was out of the office because of a death in his family. I went to the office early and focused intently to clear my desk. Before I left, I coordinated with the colleagues who would be affected by my absence to make sure the business needs were covered.

As I left I said goodbye to the owner’s secretary. Although she was not in my chain of command, she seemed annoyed that I had not asked her permission to leave early. Later that afternoon as I drove to my daughter’s wilderness camp, the owner emailed my personal email account with the subject: Please inform me as to who approved you to leave early today. The body of the message said: We have business to take care of and you aren’t in the office?

I did not read the email until Saturday afternoon when I had time to kill while waiting for my daughter in a department store dressing room. My immediate reaction was physical: my mouth went dry, my heart rate increased and my hands began to tremble. I retraced my actions in my mind to determine where I went wrong.

In his book, The No Asshole Rule, Robert I. Sutton describes his two tests to determine whether a person is acting like an “asshole”:

  1. After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?
  2. Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful? (p. 9)



If this situation were a one-time incident, Sutton would have labeled my office jerk as a temporary asshole. However, since incidents like this happened on an irregular basis, my office jerk was a certified asshole!

In his book, Sutton presents his dirty dozen list of “Common Everyday Actions That Assholes Use”:

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s “personal territory”
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering email flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible (p. 10)

Sutton advocates for “The No Asshole Rule” in the work place and suggests that “assholes” impair organizational performance in terms of increased turnover, absenteeism, and decreased commitment to work.

Other work environments use tamer language to describe this concept, such as the Jerk-free Workplace. Regardless of how you label it, it’s the responsibility of every team member to create a civilized workplace. After all, treating your customers and teammates with respect makes good business sense.

If you prefer to work with a civilized website developer, give us a call and let us know how we can earn your business.


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