No Jerks Allowed

Demand positive engagement from all employees to reduce turnover and drive profits

If you've spent any time in the workplace, you've experienced it—the mean-spirited moron at work who consistently left others feeling demeaned, angry, and stressed out, says Robert Sutton, PhD, professor of science and engineering at Stanford University, and author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. 

According to Sutton, bully behavior will cause the bottom line of any business to suffer through decreased productivity and morale, increased turnover, and a general breakdown of the organization's internal health. In his research, Sutton heard from many disgruntled employees who complained of jerk supervisors who yelled, demeaned, lied, and even one boss who stole his employee's food. "It's very clear that people, especially supervisors, who are nasty at work are eventually going to motivate others to leave the company. It's just not economically smart. Even the most productive jerks are not worth it," says Sutton.

How can a small business avoid the high cost of bad behavior? Start by creating a corporate culture that supports positive engagement in the workforce, suggests Sutton. Lars Dalgaard, CEO of SuccessFactors and manager of 400+ employees, creates a high-performing culture by asking all new employees to sign "rules of engagement" that demand respect, mutual accountability, and positive interaction from all employees. If an employee breaks the rules, any other employee, regardless of rank, can call them out on being a "jerk." An apology is quickly made, the behavior stops, and everyone returns to work feeling empowered. This approach has allowed Lars to triple the growth of his San Mateo, California-based performance and talent management technology company every year since inception in 2001.

“To transform your business culture, first look at yourself and make sure you are creating a positive environment in your words and your actions,” says Sutton. Let employees know that their performance will be judged by how they demonstrate the company's core values. Aim to treat all people in a civilized way. Admit that you, and others, will make mistakes, but when you blow it, you'll quickly take responsibility. If an apology is needed, make it public. 

Rules of Engagement

  1. I will be passionate and approach my work with fun and enthusiasm.
  2. I will demonstrate respect for others (play nice, listen and act with integrity)
  3. I will do what it takes to get the job done while respecting legal and ethical boundaries.
  4. I will recognize colleagues when we win. I will never leave them behind when we lose. 
  5. I will approach every day as an opportunity to improve, admitting to and learning from my mistakes.
  6. I will be a good person to work with—I will not be a jerk.

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