Jerks at Work and Your Career Suicide

Jerks, jerks and more jerks. They could be a friend, acquaintance, family member, colleague, industry, boss and even the CEO. Jerks are everywhere (so are nice people but this post is about jerks).

I attended a fantastic meet-up yesterday morning that was hosted by leading Toronto-based employee engagement software company TemboStatus. By the way, if you don’t know about TemboStatus you should check them out (if you need an intro let me know and I’d be more than happy to make one). The meet-up was called “The Real Cost of Jerks“, and was facilitated by long-time network peer Daneal Charney of MaRS.

I really enjoyed the session because we talked about the definition of a jerk, what the observed behaviours may be with jerks at work, calculating the financial costs of employing a jerk, and how to potentially deal with jerks with the objective of resolving the negative impact of having one. Needless to say I have unfortunately worked with, and for, several jerks. I don’t think there’s a clear cut definition of what a jerk at work truly is, but I think we can easily describe the behaviours of one. Perhaps a jerk at work is disrespectful, rude, dishonest, disparaging, discriminatory, inconsistent, demeaning, hostile, confrontational, lacks strong communication skills, arrogant, and the list goes on.

An interesting part of the conversation was around how HR professionals can help the organization deal with a jerk at work. How you would approach dealing with one would be relatively the same as managing many other conflicts at work. I’m not going to list the methods that an HR professional could potentially use to effectively deal with a jerk at work but if you know anything about managing employee performance at work you can figure it out.

what if the jerk at work is the CEO?

The CEO holds the most power and authority in any organization. What if the CEO is the jerk at work, and is the reason why it’s so difficult at work? Can you just employ the same performance management methods as you would for any other jerk at work that is not the CEO? I doubt it.

Think about this. While we talk all the time about employee engagement, open and transparent communication in our organizations, bringing our whole and true selves to work, the true reality is the majority of people who work need to work in order to live. We work to earn an income so that we can live our lives; covering the many costs that are associated with life. What if you took it upon yourself to attempt to tackle problems that are being caused by the CEO jerk? What goes through your mind when you’re making this decision on whether or not to act? You’re obviously thinking of your job, whether or not “rocking the boat” so to speak will yield the result you want. Is it worth it? Or, is it better just to stay quiet, manage as best you can, and protect your job?

What do you think?

It’s no secret that humans prefer to take the safer route in all aspects of life. Why would you not want to do that? No one wants to risk job security, stature, clients, relationships, or ‘things,’ so the safest path is to do nothing, until a situation implodesYou would probably engage in some self-talk to assure yourself that “things will get better so just soldier on and stay the course”. But the reality is this does not happen. Things only get worse. 

Like any negative situation in life it’s often better to deal with a problem head-on earlier than later before it becomes a massive problem. Your personal health will also thank you for it. Trust me, I know first-hand, and I also know it’s easier said than done. I also know that the consequences of taking action and standing up could potentially be severe, but they could also be truly rewarding.

I chose to go into the HR so that I could make a difference by helping organizations doing great things thrive and succeed. It does not matter how good a product is, strategy is, website is, the external brand is, the stock price is, or anything else you can think of. If the CEO is a jerk at work you will eventually see a decline in all important aspects of the business. You may not see it tomorrow, next month or in 6 months, but you will see it. The jerk at work CEO will slowly intoxicate the organization and it will implode.

Case in point: Uber. Need I say anything more? 


    • You bet Steven. It’s been a topic of interest for many years, and while I have worked with many organizations to help improve employee performance the challenge of managing a CEO jerk has been a bit of a mystery.

  • Brings to light the concept of having courage at work to do the right thing. More of us need to confront this issue head on. Great read Jeff! Made me think….

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