Jerks at Work

Tim Herd 2024
Posted by Tim Herd at 05/05/2023

I’ve been a fan of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons since their start. And this particular one tells me that not only does God love diversity, he’s also got a sense of humor!

Unfortunately, humoring a jerk doesn’t prevent the problems they create. And when you work with a jerk, it’s not just irksome—it can be a major career-disrupter!

Of course, the first, best way to deal with jerks is to be certain you’re not one of them! Many people learn to become jerks at work by mimicking their managers and their coworkers. So the fewer who act like jerks, the less their contagion will spread.

But of course, there are always plenty of jerks to go ‘round. No matter what their role or relationship, you need to know how to manage them for your own (and possibly mutual) benefit. Once you make sure that you have a clear understanding of their questionable behaviors, you can then tailor your response to fit the particular person and situation. Some cases call for swift, direct and assertive action, while others call for more subtlety, patience, and persuasion.

The book Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People by Ken Lloyd, is a wonderful resource offering hundreds of real-life workplace questions with practical considerations, suggestions and insights to employ in all sorts of jerk defense and management. Because the author says it all so well, I quote from his introduction and summary:

“Jerks can be present in every aspect of work life, from the first contact in the employment process to the last day on the job, and all points in between. For example, jerks can clearly highlight their presence when conducting job interviews, and in the way they treat new employees. At the same time, there are applicants and new employees who feel compelled to demonstrate that they, too, can act like jerks. With every assignment, task, chore, meeting, project, deadline, objective, and interaction, jerks are always seeking that special opportunity to let everyone know who and what they are.

“In leadership positions, jerks can truly come in into their glory. They can be invisible, omnipresent, inequitable, intransigent, nasty, unfair, unethical—the list goes on and on. And interestingly, jerks as subordinates can be just as outrageous, as can jerks as co-workers.

“One properly placed jerk at virtually any level of an organization can be linked to a vast array of problems that include leadership ineptitude, widespread unfairness, abysmal teamwork, resistance to change, twisted feedback, conflict escalation, pointless meetings, communication breakdowns, employee stagnation, muddled decision-making, inequitable rewards, staff rebelliousness, and a very uncomfortable environment. And as the number of jerks increases, so increases the number of problems.

“Although there are no automatic or canned solutions for the problems jerks create, there are some strategies that can help, provided that every problem is analyzed individually, and specific steps are developed to handle each. With a solid strategy in mind, many actions taken by jerks can be stopped and prevented, or at the very least, avoided.

“There are some key pointers that anyone at any job level should keep in mind in order to be a positive role model, rather than a model jerk:

  • Treat people with respect and trust.
  • Listen to what others have to say.
  • Be fair and honest.
  • Set positive expectations.
  • Recognize the value of diversity.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Be a team player.
  • Keep furthering your education.
  • Establish realistic plans and goals.
  • Look for solutions, not just problems.
  • Try to understand others as individuals.
  • Give thanks and recognition when due.
  • Keep quality and service in clear focus.
  • Encourage innovative and creative thinking.
  • And most importantly, remember that only a jerk ignores the Golden Rule.”

Invest in yourself and your future. Jerks at Work can arm you with the knowledge and sensitivity to combat jerk behavior in your employers, coworkers, employees—and most importantly, in yourself.