If you’ve worked for long, you’ve probably had a boss or co-worker who was a complete, flaming jerk. Maybe she always scowled as if she smelled something bad while reviewing your work. Maybe he never missed a chance to berate you in front of others. Or he interrupted constantly when you were talking. Or sneaked up behind you at your desk. Or helped herself to your food. Robert I. Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford Engineering School, has heard it all while working on his recently released best seller, “The No A—— Rule.” If that’s not possible, he suggests checking out emotionally. “Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.” The Associated Press interviewed Sutton, who describes workplace monsters with a mild expletive, which has been changed here to “jerk.” Excerpts: Q: First, let’s define who we’re talking about. You define work jerks as people who pick on those beneath them and leave others feeling belittled and sapped of energy. What are some other signs? A: To me, the main sign of someone who’s a certified jerk is someone who leaves a trail of people feeling demeaned and de-energized. It tends to be more often associated with power dynamics – they kiss up to those above them and kick down those beneath them. About a third of the time, bullying is peer on peer. Q: Since workplace jerks tend to pick on people below them, how can the victims, who usually don’t have much power, fix the problem? A: In normal organizational life, for people who have less power, the best thing is to get out. If you can’t do that, try to avoid contact with the person as much as possible. You can also learn not to care. The other thing is to find little ways to get control and fight back. One woman whose boss was always stealing her food reshaped Ex-Lax to look like candy, then her boss stole it. My favorite story comes from a former CEO who told me about her worst board member. When he’d call and scream, she’d lean back in her chair, put her feet on the desk, put him on speakerphone, turn off the volume and do her nails. She would check in from time to time to see if he was still screaming. When he was done, she would reason with him. She put herself in a relaxed position and did something she could control – her nails. Q: You describe ways to screen for jerks, such as Southwest Airlines Co.’s refusal to hire a pilot who was rude to a company secretary, and Virgin Group Ltd. founder Richard Branson’s ruse on his reality show, in which he picked up contestants while disguised as an arthritic old driver and ejected the two who treated him poorly. How else can an organization separate the monsters from the rest? A: In fields where there are relatively small and tight networks, people get reputations that are deserved. In my field of academia, we know each other. There are excellent scholars who are not considered because no one wants to work with them. Q: Is there such a thing as a sick organization? Can a workplace grow jerks? A: Some organizations are sicker than others. Exhibit One is Hollywood. I have a cousin who works in the industry. I asked her to name the nice people in Hollywood and there was this long pause, and she eventually named Steven Spielberg and Danny DeVito. Maybe the worst occupation is doctors. Based on studies, as far as a high rate of abuse, nurses really have a brutal time. Ninety percent of nurses report six to 12 incidents of verbal and emotional abuse per year. Q: You suggest companies perform an audit, quantifying in dollar figures how much a jerk’s poor behavior costs. Then you give an example of a company that did, and figured one salesman’s bad behavior had cost it $160,000 a year. Instead of firing him, the company took about $100,000 out of his bonus. Can you tell us about a company that purged its jerks instead? A: I can’t name the company, but it was a Fortune 500 retailer. As part of a turnaround, the new CEO came up with a mafia-style hit-list of 25 of the biggest jerks. He wanted to get rid of them all at once, but human resources said, “Let’s get rid of them through the performance evaluation process.” The company did and my informant said you could see, even at the store level, less nastiness. Q: One of your solutions to workplace jerks seems to be to stop hiring them. Other solutions include (one similar to) giving referees at youth soccer matches the power to “red card” abusive parents and eject them from the game, and shaming jerks when they behave poorly. What do you consider your top solution to the problem of jerky behavior? A: First thing: I believe that some polite self-awareness helps. There’s a test you can take; we put this on Guy Kawasaki’s blog, http://electricpulp.com/guykawasaki/arse/. Second, there should be consequences. People should know it’s not efficient and it’s going to cost them. My wife is a lawyer. She said with the more aggressive attorneys at her firm, in compensation discussions with them, the partners tell them they should cool it a little bit or it will cost them.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The book grew from a piece he wrote for The Harvard Business Review in 2004 under the headline, “More Trouble than They’re Worth.” The piece, he said, inspired an outpouring of jerk-boss e-mails from around the world. His correspondents included the manager of a roofing company, the CEO of a money-management firm and a researcher for the Supreme Court. Since the book came out, he said, he gets at least 15 e-mails a day from people with horrible bosses. “I feel like Dr. Phil,” the talk-show therapist, he said. He argues that companies should screen for jerks as they hire and purge the bullies already in their ranks because, in almost all cases, they cost more than they contribute. One of his other solutions may deflate anyone who works for a jerk: Leave the job.
WHITTIER – The Presidents’ Council, a pro-business and development group, has established a political action committee to raise money for City Council candidates.Allan Nakken, the council’s founder, said the 100-member group already has decided to support Councilwoman Cathy Warner and Councilman Joe Vinatieri in the April election and Councilman Greg Nordbak in 2010.“We’re going to fund people who want to see our city change, get better and get cleaned up,” Nakken said.Left off the endorsement list are Mayor Owen Newcomer and Councilman Bob Henderson. The lawsuit is pending in Norwalk Superior Court.Both sides have swapped offers, but no settlement has been reached.Nakken criticized the conservancy’s decision at the time, saying it was potentially stopping the development of a Portillo’s Restaurant.The restaurant is expected to gross $5.8 million annually, Nakken said. That would mean $58,000 annually in sales tax to the city.“I think we’re missing a great opportunity,” he said.Henderson pointed out that the restaurant was asking the city for a subsidy – as much as half the sales tax that would be generated.“While it was never settled, the only way it was coming in was with a subsidy from the city,” he said. “We would give away at least half that sales tax over four years. I don’t think that economic argument makes much sense.”Still, Henderson and Newcomer said they’re not bothered by the Presidents’ Council deciding to raise money and give it to candidates – possibly in opposition to them.“It’s a good thing for people to be involved in the political process,” Newcomer said. “Hopefully, we can find some common ground and make Whittier a better place to live.”Vinatieri said he, too, thinks it’s a good idea for more involvement.“I think what it says is the Presidents’ Council is very serious about what they’re doing and making a difference for the community from their philosophical viewpoint,” he said.Dorothea Boyd, president of the conservancy, said she isn’t surprised by the Presidents’ Council’s entry into city politics.“I would expect them to do it because I know their agenda,” Boyd said.The PAC’s steering committee consists of Don Alvarado, senior counsel for Smart and Final; Leighton Anderson, an attorney and Whittier Union High School District board member; Jeff Ball, president of Friendly Hills Bank; Bob Haendiges, an attorney; Nakken; and Ron Ridout, owner of Cornerstone [email protected](562) 698-0955, Ext. 3022160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre But Nakken said as of now he doesn’t know of any other candidates running in 2008.“Our game is not to bring candidates in,” he said. “We will fund existing candidates in 2008.”The Presidents’ Council was founded last spring in response to the controversy over whether three California Domestic Water Co. buildings across from the Whittwood Town Center should be considered historic and saved.The City Council in May voted 3-2 – Henderson and Newcomer dissenting – to allow the buildings to be demolished.A couple of weeks later, the Whittier Conservancy sued the city, seeking to prevent the demolition of the three buildings.