Dealing With the Jerk at Work
You can confront the office jerk and reclaim your sanity at work. Human resource pros show you how.
Office Jerks Are Rarely Called on Their Bad Behavior
Let's face it: Few of us enjoy confrontations. So as demoralizing as it can
be to work with office jerks, most of us try to ignore them. Research bears
this out. Surveying more than 900 people about their thoughts on "untouchable
employees" -- defined as poor-performing, rude, and/or obnoxious co-workers --
corporate consulting company VitalSmarts found that the office jerk, although
ubiquitous, is rarely confronted. An overwhelming 94% of respondents said that
the problems these "untouchables" create in the office are no secret to peers
and even bosses, but about three-quarters of respondents admitted that they
avoid confronting these problem-makers, choosing instead to complain to
co-workers or attempting to work around them.
Experts insist that if more people would call office jerks on their bad
behavior -- from actions as simple as poor office etiquette to those as serious
as harassment -- then the workplace would run much more smoothly. If only it
were that easy.
Of those willing to muster the guts to confront an office jerk, few have a
clue how to do it effectively. Such confrontations often have the opposite
effect of what was intended, creating rifts instead of opening up honest and
productive dialogue. But, say the experts, when done right, confronting the
office jerk can work wonders.
How to Confront the Jerk at Work
Implement company values that squeeze out "jerk" behavior. Those at
the top should take responsibility for stamping out poor behavior among office
jerks, say experts. Think of unruly children whose parents provide them with no
rules. Office jerks aren't much different. If a company lacks enforceable
behavior standards, office jerks essentially have a green light to go about
their business as they please.
"Managing performance isn't going to be as effective if systems that consist
of concrete, behaviorally specific values aren't in place," Kusy tells WebMD.
Take integrity, for instance. If a company's leadership doesn't openly
communicate the requirement that all employees maintain integrity, they can't
in earnest admonish the employee who talks trash about co-workers behind their
backs. But if upper management has made clear that integrity is a company value
to be upheld, co-workers who breach this value should be held accountable.
To ensure all employees are invested in upholding company values, get
everyone -- office jerks included -- involved in the process of developing
behavior-oriented workplace standards, suggests Kusy. "It's that much
more valuable to individual employees if you involve them in creating these
values," he tells WebMD.
Establishing workplace values simplifies the sometimes sticky business of
confronting an office jerk. "There's no easy way to have the discussion. But
it's easier to have the talk once those values are designed and communicated
throughout the organization," Kusy says. That way, whoever initiates the
confrontation with the jerk -- whether it's the boss or a co-worker -- can
point to a breach in specific company values. Subsequently, the target of the
confrontation can't reasonably construe the conversation as a personal