Kick Ass Home Office Setups

September 16, 2011

Kick Ass Home Office Setups

How to Spot Workplace Bullies and Creeps
By Kim Droze, Special to LifeScript
Published November 06, 2007

Jerks are like bathrooms: Every office has them. They’re the insensitive clods whose actions leave colleagues feeling stung. And they’re rampant in today’s workplace. Now a book aptly titled The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t (Warner Business Books, 2007) offers help for those with co-workers from hell. In this LifeScript exclusive, author Robert Sutton shares guidelines for identifying the office jerks and mastering effective strategies to deal with creeps, tyrants, egomaniacs, and other undesirables…

They come in all shapes and sizes. They cover every age range and both genders. They hold entry level, management and executive positions. They are the office jerks – the people who demean and demoralize their fellow workers, according to Stanford professor and organizational psychologist Robert Sutton.

In his new book The No Asshole Rule, Sutton addresses the age-old problem of social tension created by workers who inflict misery on others. Blue-collar or white, no workplace is immune.
“There’s demeaning behavior and [there are] crazy people at every level,” Sutton tells LifeScript.
However, the “boss from hell” figure, like Meryl Streep’s tyrannical magazine editor in the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” is all too real. According to Sutton, the higher up the corporate ladder you look, the more jerks you find.

“A lab study showed that those in positions of power become more focused on satisfying their own needs and less focused on the needs and reactions of others,” Sutton says. “People also start acting as if the rules don’t apply to them.”

What role does the pecking order play? “It does tend to roll downhill,” says Sutton of bullying and other bad behaviors. “Fifty to 60 percent of abuse [involves] higher-status people whomping lower-status people. At least 35 percent is peer to peer, and 30 percent of the people kick up.”

“When you start looking at occupations like universities, law firms and hospitals with very powerful professionals, there tends to be more kicking down,” says Sutton.

The Makings of a Meanie
Although it’s usually a cinch to figure out who the office bully is, Sutton has compiled what he calls the dirty dozen – a list of 12 tactics jerks use. They include:

1. Making personal insults
2. Invading a colleague’s “personal territory”
3. Making uninvited physical contact
4. Using threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
5. Using sarcastic jokes and teasing to couch insults
6. Sending withering e-mails
7. Making status-related jabs to humiliate victims
8. Publicly shaming others or using “status degradation” rituals to humiliate people
9. Rudely interrupting
10. Launching two-faced attacks
11. Throwing dirty looks
12. Treating people as if they are invisible (in other words, ignoring them)
Jerks use a variety of approaches, Sutton says. There are the blatant bullies who scream, yell and insult others. Then there are the closet terrorists with more subtle styles.

These covert operators inflict their harm through political and social systems. They’re the textbook two-faced backstabbers – civil on the surface, but underhanded when it comes to launching an attack. Because they’re skilled and restrained enough to strike when their victim isn’t looking, they’re harder to stop.

Bad for Business?
As the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch. An office bully can shatter morale. And the damage goes beyond emotional bruising. Office jerks can actually cost companies money.

Sutton gives the example of “Ethan,” a high-earning salesperson who worked for a Silicon Valley company. Although Ethan was one of the top producers in the corporation, he was temperamental, belittled his co-workers and often fired off scathing e-mails at night, Sutton says.

Needless to say, no one wanted to work with Ethan. He couldn’t even keep an assistant, which forced his employer into a long search process to find a qualified candidate.

After spending five years mediating between Ethan and several of his colleagues, the company decided to find out how much his antics had set them back. They tallied up the time Ethan’s direct managers, HR professionals, senior executives, and various counsel spent dealing with issues related to his behavior; added it to the cost of recruiting and training an assistant for him; factored in the overtime costs associated with his last-minute demands; and calculated the cost of his anger-management training and counseling.

All told, Ethan’s outrageous behavior had set the company back a whopping $160,000.

Fighting Back: The Best Ways to Battle BS
It’s a company’s responsibility to create an ass-free environment, Sutton says. Hence, all employers should enforce a “No Asshole Rule.”

Firms can take plenty of measures to protect themselves. Among them: having a written policy of acceptable and unacceptable workplace behaviors, weaving the rule into hiring and firing policies (what constitutes a fireable offense), getting rid of jerks who slip through the cracks, treating the weasels like villains rather than heroes, and teaching constructive confrontation to those who are being jerks.

In reality, though, the burden of battling a bully may fall upon you. So how do you deal?

1. Do your best to ignore it.
Most likely, if you’re dealing with an office jerk you’re already trying to do this. In which case, you may need to step up your efforts. “If you can’t get out, learn not to care,” Sutton recommends. “Practice indifference. Learning not to care is as important as it is to be excited about what you’re doing.”

2. Build a case against the jerk.
What if you’re mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, but you can’t quit? “If you’re in a situation where you’re feeling constantly abused, you don’t want to make accusations without facts or you’ll end up in trouble,” Sutton says. “Systematically document your case so you’re in much better shape.”

3. Consider quitting.
It’s the most extreme option and not something to take lightly. However, being subjected to verbal or emotional abuse makes you more likely to get physically and mentally ill – not to mention miserable. It can also turn you into a jerk; you may stoop to a jerk’s level by adopting the tactics you’ve been subjected to in order to defend yourself.

And victims aren’t the only ones who suffer. One British study revealed that 73% of people who witness verbal and emotional battering suffered increased stress and 44% worried they might meet the same fate.

Hostile workplaces often have high turnover. Research shows that 25% of victims and 20% of witnesses to bullying quit their jobs. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the luxury of walking away from an abusive job.