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Oct 4, 2013

You know it and I know it, so it is hardly worth stating again, but there are a lot of jerks in this world.

This isn’t any great revelation. I’ve written about jerks at work a lot over the years, and Stanford professor Bob Sutton even wrote a great book about it a few years back titled The No Asshole Rule

I wrote a review of Prof. Sutton’s wonderful book, and a lot of people seemed to enjoy my review, but good luck finding it online now because some jerk over at my former employer seems to have wiped it clear out of the archives for some reason.

So it goes when you’re dealing with jerks in the workplace.

Saying “No” to hiring jerks

This all came to mind this week when a friend sent me a CNBC story titled Help Wanted: Successful Candidate Must Be NiceIt digs into a new (and sensible) workforce trend of “specifically recruiting workers that aren’t, well, jerks.”

The story pointed to companies like Limeade and Panera Bread that go out of their way to NOT hire people with boorish personalities.

As the story notes, Limeade actually posted a job listing “for a communications manager (that) specified that the applicant must be “Nice: Life is too short to work with jerks.” It goes on to say:

(Limenade CEO Henry) Albrecht said the idea to specify that they were looking for nice candidates came after talking to company managers about which employees were the highest performers. The company executives found that the positive, generous employees seemed to do best, while the negative complainers were the most problematic.

“It’s a little bit better to say ‘no jerks’ than to say ‘we don’t permit complaining,'” he said.

That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in a good mood all the time, Albrecht said. But in general, he said, a positive attitude and a willingness to go above and beyond to help your co-workers seems to lead to high-performing employees who don’t need much management oversight.”

Bad employee erodes the business

We also published a story here at TLNT about how bad behavior in employees frequently gets rewarded in the workplace while the team players and nice people get overlooked. TLNT contributor Chuck Csizmar asked,

Does your management really care if an employee leaves bodies strewn across the corridor on the way to their own personal success? What does that say about the priorities of the organization, and how leadership values people? Does that culture become visible outside the company? Does that environment become an impediment to attracting the right caliber of people?

Yes, it does — on all counts. And over time, the organization will slowly evolve in a manner that’s ultimately harmful to the business.”

It seems to me that these forward-looking companies like Panera and Limeade are on to something. They know, as Chuck Ciszmar pointed out, that jerks in your workforce not only make it hard to hire good people, but they slowly erode the business, too.

A slow-growing trend, it seems

I wish I could say that this trend of saying “no” to hiring jerks is gaining steam in the workplace, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As the CNBC story also noted:

Not many companies appear to be following in the footsteps of companies like Panera and Limeade by overtly advertising for employees who are “nice,” “kind” or “not jerks.” …

Suzanne Lucas, who writes the career blog Evil HR Lady, pointed to a study showing that nurses were more likely to want to quit if they worked with a bully — whether or not the employees were bullied themselves.

She thinks many companies unintentionally end up recruiting people who aren’t that nice, because they think those personality traits are a sign of ambition.

“They do want the aggressive go-get-’em kind of person, and you can be an aggressive go-getter and still be nice,” Lucas said. “But there are a lot of people that think ‘go-get-’em’ is stepping on someone else’s head to get there.”

I’m all for ambition, but “stepping on someone else’s head to get there” is counterproductive to building a high-performance workforce.

Here’s hoping that this slow-growing trend of avoiding job candidates who exhibit jerky behavior gain some traction, because a more civil workplace is ultimately a more functional workplace where everyone has the opportunity to succeed AND do a great job.