Let’s face it.  We’ve all worked with an asshole or two at some point in our careers.  You’re probably thinking of one right now.  Maybe you’re too nice to call him an asshole.  But you know he’s a jerk, everyone else knows he’s a jerk, and he probably knows he’s one too.  And yet, many companies tolerate this offensive behavior and allow it to erode the foundation of an otherwise great business.  Why are they allowed to get away with treating people like crap?  Asshole is not a protected class.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Do you see the word asshole anywhere in that definition?  I don’t either.  So why do so many companies tolerate these destructive employees and their behavior?

We teach our kids about bullying at home and in school.  We explain what bullying is, how to identify it, and what to do about it.  We teach them to stand up for themselves and their friends who may be the targets of bullies, and we teach them to talk to a grown-up who will help resolve the issue.  We teach them about respect, kindness, and treating others the way that they would like to be treated.  Unidentified or unaddressed, those bullies grow up to become assholes at work (and life).

Assholes tend to stick together.  That means if you have one  in your company, he probably has a friend or supporter who protects him.  Maybe it’s because he’s the CEO, or the top salesperson in the company, or maybe there’s another reason he’s protected – typically fear.  Regardless of the reason, it’s important to know that your company will never realize its true potential as long as it tolerates that asshole.

Your company will never realize its true potential as long as it tolerates horrible behavior.

In his book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert I. Sutton explains the story behind the no-asshole rule, which generated from a discussion on whether or not to hire a new faculty member to his department.  One team-member said, “I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize…I just don’t want any assholes ruining our group.”  From then on, asking whether or not hiring a candidate would violate the “No Asshole Rule” became part of their decision making process.

Sutton describes the physical and mental health damage done by destructive bosses and co-workers, the ways they undermine learning and organizational effectiveness, and the negative financial impact of continuing to employ them. Most importantly, he shows how to build organizations that screen-out, reform, and banish these jerks and bullies.

“At the places where I want to work, even if people do other things well (even extraordinary well) but routinely demean others, they are seen as incompetent.” ―Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t

Several law firms have adopted a no-asshole policy as part of their employee handbook.  Some call it a no-jerk policy, but regardless of the censorship, it satisfies the same need.  It allows firms to address behavior is not aligned with culture, client service standards and expectations.  Samuel G. Harrod, an attorney with Schaumburg, Illinois based Meltzer, Purtill & Stelle LLC explains his firm’s philosophy related to its hiring and retention efforts:

“Our firm will not consider or retain anyone who places their own interests above the interests of the firm or whose actions display a lack of professionalism or respect for the dignity of other people.”

If law firms can adopt such a stance, why are so many corporations afraid to do so?

Building an outstanding corporate culture takes time, cultivation, nourishment and inspiration.  Companies that understand what it takes to be great work very hard to get there, and they are unwilling to let anyone sabotage what they have created. These companies give thoughtful and deliberate consideration to hiring, developing and promoting people who fit their culture, and recognize individuals whose values and behaviors are aligned with those the company promotes.  They set expectations, hold bullies accountable for their behavior and help them to either reform or exit the building.  Great companies understand that one asshole can tarnish a brilliant culture.  And they appreciate that there is no asshole worth eroding their culture, reputation and bottom line.

How do you address the jerks, bullies and assholes in your company?