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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 attack.

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