Yes, you read it correctly – a**hole. It’s freeing to be able to say it out loud and in print (well, almost), thanks to Robert Sutton, the Stanford professor who wrote the 2007 book titled, The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t (Amazon). Sutton was able to use the double S in his book title. I, of course, can’t do that here because it won’t fly with LinkedIn, Facebook and other places where my blogs get posted.
The reason I bring this up now is that the other day I was talking with a senior manager who was remarking about what a great group he was leading. That came as a shocker since I knew that before he’d taken over the department last year there’d been no shortage of motivation killers at the managerial level. I asked how he’d accomplished this little miracle. His response? “We managed the worst ones out and now have a ‘jerk screen’ in place to weed out potential a**holes before they’re hired. I figured he’d read Sutton’s book but he hadn’t even heard of it. Looks like this guy didn’t need any advice about what to do with the trouble-makers. “I don’t for a minute tolerate bad behavior by anyone, no matter how brilliant,” is how he put it. Compared to what I’m seeing elsewhere, this is unusual.
Now you’d think, or at least I did, that since Sutton’s book hit the top of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Business Week best seller lists and was all the rage among the business community when it came out four years ago, that there would have been plenty of time to clean up the workplace. Apparently not. Except for the guy above, I know of no others who’ve been able to clear out the extremely difficult ones – or as Sutton put it, the “certifiable a**holes.”
Sutton distinguishes between “temporary a**holes” — those who on rare occasions fly into a fit due to stress or something like it, and the “certifiable” ones — the mean-spirited individuals who prey upon anyone lower than they are on the organizational totem pole. It’s the certifiable ones that cause the most distress in the workplace. Yet, they remain.
A relative of mine works for a guy who has a daily habit of psychologically torturing anyone in his path who’s below him on the org chart. And that’s just about everyone since he’s an SVP. Recently he phoned several of his staff at home late on a Friday night and demanded that they work the weekend because he ‘knew’ that they hadn’t worked that hard during the week. He warned that anyone who didn’t show up on Saturday morning would be fired. A few days before that he’d flown into a rage and swept everything except his computer off his desk and onto the floor because his admin hadn’t told him about an upcoming meeting. She had, and it was on his calendar. But he claimed that she should have reminded him. What is she, his babysitter? People have complained to HR, but to no avail. Since psychological harassment is practically impossible to prove in the state they work in, complainers as they’ve been called, have been told to figure out how to deal with the guy. What’s wrong with THAT picture?
I worked for a certifiable a**hole once who was a screamer and seemed to enjoy belittling underlings in public. I quit, but I was a student and only working part time so it was no big deal to move on. It wasn’t until a couple of years and several other dead bodies in the road later that the boss finally woke up to the problem and fired her. And that was only because the evil-doer went off in front of senior leadership so the boss had to finally do something.
Why do we stand for it? We’re afraid, very afraid. One wrong move and we’re out the door. And in this economy, where’s the next job? So we suck it up while little by little these monsters destroy our lives. The bigger question is why does management let this go on without recourse? Is it fear, cowardice, or are they simply overcome by the smell of profits? Mystifying.
We all should get Sutton’s book and collectively start an all-out campaign to rid our offices of this a**hole behavior. We’re falling behind as a country economically. What we don’t need are workplaces where we can no longer do our best while the rest of the world passes us by.
I’d say that social intelligence seems to be lacking among the perpetrators. To create a more civilized workplace and stop the mean-spirited in their tracks, a therapeutic injection of social awakening might be called for. But that’ll be the topic of another blog post.