Most of us have worked with a jerk. You’ve probably had to put up with someone whom you didn’t like, was disruptive in some way (Loud? We’ve had those. Entitled? Definitely. Arrogant? You bet), and made work unbearable. Saturday Night Live had Chevy Chase, Kanye pretty much disrupts the Grammys every year and you’ve got Joe the Jerk in the cubicle two rows down.
It can feel like those people have something you don’t that allows them to behave this way without getting fired. Sometimes, their workplace crimes catch up with them and they get the boot. Other times, even a formal complaint from multiple people isn’t enough to get them fired. You ask your supervisor why this person hasn’t gotten kicked out, and they reply with “Well, he does good work."
But is “doing good work” really worth keeping a jerk around?
Keeping Jerks Around
If it were easy to evaluate who was and wasn’t a jerk, they wouldn’t stick around very long. “Jerk” is subjective, and what can seem arrogant and forceful to some could look confident and aggressive to others. There aren’t many solid statistics on what a “Jerk” could be, unless they’re continually sucking productivity out of the workplace with their attitude.
Most of the time, jerks are kept around either because the boss took a liking to them, they’re there for a some reason that’s harder to get them kicked out (nepotism, for example), or they’re high performers. The first two reasons are a little harder to work around, but with high performers capable of outputting 400% more productivity than the average workers, it can be tough to dissuade some bosses from firing them.
The issue here is that these high-performers, especially those with huge egos (like jerks sometimes have), aren’t as loyal as most would hope. They work well, but do it for the money: 66% of them value compensation above all else in the workplace. This is fine and all, but this means that they’re less likely to stick around once they have a better offer on the table. One in five high performers plan to leave their current job in the next six months. So while these high performers can do good work, it isn’t worth it in the long run to cater to them. If they’re damaging a team with their attitude, cut them loose.
The Case for Hiring a Jerk
Of course, “jerk” can be as much a good thing as bad, depending on your culture. Some company cultures like to have these people around because they show initiative, and sometimes it takes an aggressive tact that not everyone acquiesces to in order to push good ideas through. Dawn Hrdlica-Burke (@dawnHRrocks), VP of People at DAXKO, offers a few examples of when jerks can work out:
"But some cultures really do need [jerks] to thrive. Their cultural “differentiator” is valuing high rules and compliance (nuclear power plants, coal mines) or astronomical, world shifting product-developments which demand mind-numbingly, aggressive results (Apple and Amazon). Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were (Jobs) and are (Bezos) notorious [jerks]. They likely bred [jerks] employees, too. They may have even hired those that valued results and ambition over “deep conversations about career growth.”
Not everyone will jive with these people, but if they can get the job done and your company’s built around that culture, why not keep them?
When Jerks Spread
Though some companies do encourage their employees to take their job by the horns, crafting a culture around this isn’t always a sound idea. Sometimes, as JWT CEO Matt Eastwood (@matteastwood) can attest, keeping jerks around isn’t worth it.
"I only try and hire nice people. I think I’ve passed over really talented people because they’re [jerks]. I made the mistake of hiring an [jerks] once, and while we did do some great work, he was so disruptive to the company that I realized it wasn’t worth it. He ruined the culture and made people hate the place. So I start with that."
There’s also the danger of a company of jerks being seen as such. Uber, for example, was created as company whose service (taxis not run under a uniform contractor) at first violated the laws of the areas they served in. In order to get over this hump, they had to think like jerks, elbowing their way into the market. Now, however, they’ve developed a problematic brand image, and are seen by many as bullies in their market who stifle competition, attempt to silence journalists, and violate their customer’s privacy.
High-performers are great for business. Aggressive company cultures can strike gold. But unless you’re gauging the waters of what your company might be like with a jerk on staff, it generally isn’t a good idea to hire one just for the sake of it.
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