Carnival of Human Resources #12 is Up.....
Is Google Smarter Than Your Company With Talent?

Why Companies Keep Jerks Around...

Saw the following article on the "no Ass#%e rule" as a formal policy at an American company - and it got me thinking - why do companies keep problematic, abrupt, explosive, jerk employees around?  I thought back to my own experiences - those employees I have known who remained with companies even though they fit the definition.

The answer I came up with was pretty simple - the company, or managers representing the company,Knight thought they needed them.

They are the Chemical Weapons of corporate America.

Remember chemical weapons in the cold war?  When stockpiles of conventional weapons/nuclear arms/etc., weren't enough, even civilized countries like the U.S. developed weapons using chemical agents like Sarin Gas.  We're now disposing of these in places like Anniston, AL (Side note - I once hired a PR guy who's prior gig was to do PR to the local community regarding the benefits of having a chemical weapons incinerator in Anniston.  Needless to say, doing PR for a cable company didn't sound so bad compared to that).

Why did countries like the U.S. develop these weapons?  The same reason that corporate America tolerates problematic employees who fit the definition.  Corporate America thinks they need these employees "just in case".

Like chemical weapons, corporate America keeps problematic employees (or in simpler terms, jerks/ass$#$es) for a very specific reason.  The employee usually has a very specific skill set that the management team in question values.  For this reason, all the negative behavior and impact is tolerated.

Many times, the jerk employee isn't even contributing day to day.  But if you need the skills in question?  Nice to know they are there.  Just like the stockpiles of Sarin Gas during the cold war, but the toxic effects happen daily instead of when delivered in a weapon payload.

The "no Ass#%e rule" is a great idea, but won't spread virally because it is hard to quantify.  It's hard to quantify what constitutes a jerk, and much harder to quantify the bottom effect of removing jerks from the workforce.

Keep working on the "value of removing jerks" metric.  If legit, you could make a lot of money in the HR space.



I've seen this kind of thinking even with relatively unskilled positions. It happens like this - Employee A does a certain job for so long, no one aside from her really remembers how to do it. On top of this, she's developed relationships with all the key players needed for the job, some of whom are outside of the company. Finally, she's never bothered to create a manual so that someone else could learn her job if she left.

After a while, it's so painful to replace Employee A that management is willing to put up with her antics because they are unwilling to suffer through replacing her.

Clearly the solution is to prevent this situation from developing (a little redundancy never hurt anyone). Once Employee A is entrenched she's a plague on the whole team.

John Hollon

Quantifying what is a jerk is like the Supreme Court definition of pornography -- you know it when you see it. Jerk behavior is as broad as the universe of humans, but the bottom line is, you know a jerk when you see one, especially in a business setting ...


In my company, jerks are tolerated because it's very difficult to get rid of them. A manager has to work with HR for months to document all instances of unacceptable behavior, all conversations / coaching with that person, etc. Even with going through all that, the chances the person will remain and just rotate to a different assignment are strong.
It's a lot of work to go through with often no great result at the end.
So, many managers just try to deal with the situation and get the employee off their team when possible.

Chris H.

None of us wants to work with a jerk. But this whole notion is faulty - I mean, what is a jerk?

Classically jerks are loud and outspoken and very visible. However, many many jerks I've known have been quiet, passive aggressive types who fly undercover. And, what constitutes bad behavior in one person is seen as passion, for example, in another. Also, psychologically, everyone is triggered by different things, depending on their background, makeup, etc and with certain people they might be wonderful and others not. (Have you ever a boss you get along famously with, and have a peer who you also like, who doesn't?) Point is, we're all different. I think it's pretty dangerous not only to the individual but company performance to bring in lay psychology, or a CEO solely defining what a jerk is. It's very very difficult to measure jerkiness.

My fear is that some of the most outspoken, innovative and passionate thinkers of our time are tagged as "jerks" simply becaue they express what others won't - and passionately. What about all those A-D-D types? Should we shun them from the workplace? They may not have good listening skills, (which can and should be improved upon), but as innovators they are tremendous. What about those who exude confidence, and in doing so, intimate those less confident who see them as jerks - where do you draw the line?

I think it goes back to this: do what mom said. Do unto others. Golden rule. That's as far as you can take it, but even doing that go a LONNGGGGGGGGGGG way. Having the group support and check this for individuals, too is a good idea. If people really had to check in and ask themselves (and perhaps be accountable in that regard) would I have liked to have been told or behaved towards a certain way, maybe I"d think twice. Maybe I'd just be nicer, or more emphathetic to others.

Bottom line, let's just be clear that one person's idea of a jerk is through their rose-colored lenses, and may only apply to a particular situation at a particular time. Therefore, we must be careful not to codify and measure worthiness of an individual based on one person's definition. We are all individuals, who all probably need to learn better how to relate. Let's not tie being fit to be a great employee to a narrow definition none of us can meet in every circumstance, or maybe not even at all.


Some companies, as part of their culture, do not like to admit when they are wrong, so firings are extremely difficult to make happen.

The comments to this entry are closed.