How Do You Fix a Jerk at Work?
You and your organization are probably using 21st Century assessment tools and other technologies to better vett job candidates for cultural, behavioral and mindset “fits” during the hiring process. You do this because you now know that “style fits” are as important as skill fits when filling a position.
But, hiring is still 80% art, 20% science. So chances remain good that you will hire someone who turns out to be a jerk.
What is a jerk?
- Someone who doesn’t integrate his or her behavior style into the company’s culture, and puts selfish needs first at all times.
- A person who behaves in self-centered ways that bother collaborators.
- Someone whose own agenda always comes first.
Your primary role as a boss is to create a productive work environment for your team, and resolve issues that inhibit productivity. So, it is your job to spot and eliminate the jerky behavior. It is bad for morale, and therefore inhibits productivity.
What makes a person a jerk? Here are the behavior drivers we see most often:
- Personal insecurities
- Issues in other parts of his or her life
- A lack of awareness of how particular behaviors annoy or insult other people
- Raw individual ambition that is not being channeled properly
- Self-imposed “busyness,” which blunts the person’s awareness of another person’s feelings
- “Martyrdom” where the person feels he or she is giving too much, more than everybody else (subconsciously) and has developed a creeping resentment toward coworkers
You first must confirm that external forces like leadership, peers or business challenges are not driving the behavior: If no one else is exhibiting similar behavior, your working environment isn’t the cause. (If you do uncover similar behavior from multiple people, you should switch your investigations to the environment!)
How do you fix a jerk?
- First, recognize that jerkiness has many causes, most of them reasonable and addressable.
- Second, remember that it’s cheaper to keep an employee and fix the interpersonal issues than it is to “fire the jerk” and hire a new person.
- Third, in our experience, it is well within your abilities as a boss to change behavior and turn a jerk into a star corporate citizen.
Steps to take to transform a jerk into a solid team player:
- Act promptly to nip the behavior in the bud. You cannot tolerate such behavior within your work culture.
- Create a non-threatening process of education for the person involved:
- Never label the person a jerk, nor the offending behavior “jerky”
- Think about embedding this project into a team-wide improvement initiative, as everyone has bad habits that could use fixing.
- Let the person know that being on the team is a choice and that you are fine with whatever decisions they make (stay or go), but that you as a the leader must make decisions about what is best for the team.
- Uncover and validate the underlying motivations for the jerky behavior.
- Use assessment tools to facilitate your collaboration. Have peers assess the person and share that feedback.
- Find out how aware this person is of the impact of their behavior (a key step!). Make clear the impact their behavior is having on others.
- Raise awareness of, and appreciation for, the diverse needs and motivations of other people.
- Specify very clearly exactly the behavioral changes needed. Identify the coworkers with which you most need to see relationship improvement.
- Create a sustained development plan to permanently embed better personal leadership habits.
- Find a coach and/or mentor to guide the person into a constructive pattern of behavior.
- Have the employee enlist some of the “victims” openly in helping them monitor their progress over the next month or two. (This is the magic that will cause the coworkers to notice the changes, and appreciate them more).
- Personally lead the process to track how well the person is habitualizing the better behavior patterns. Stand ready to adjust the plan as events unfold.
If some combination of these steps don’t work, it is not a performance issue, it is a character issue that might better be referred to an Employee Assistance Program.
Your goal as a boss is not to solve all personal issues outside of work, or get everyone on the team to become fast friends. It is to eliminate the interpersonal frictions that lower productivity. You do that by giving everyone the tools they need to better understand, and adapt to, the behavior styles and underlying motivations for each person they work with.
What do you think? If you were the boss, how would you fix a jerk on your team?