Monday, January 07, 2008

Jerk Free Jobs? Can there truly be such a thing?

With the  publication of Bob Sutton's "call it like it is" No Asshole Rule - nearly a year ago, now - which I had quite a bit to say about, it's no surprise that someone has hopped on it and has set up a site for jobs in companies that are certified to be jerk free.

Asher Adelman is that someone. He recently launched a site called JerkFreeJobs, in which he provides job posting from companies that have been certified as Great Workplaces. JerkFreeJobs is a sub-site of eBossWatch, an anonymous manager-rating service that Adelman founded.  According to Adelman, his site: offers the only job board which limits its job listings exclusively to companies who are certified great employers.  At Great Workplace Jobs, users won't find companies with jerks, bullies, or abusive managers.  All companies are certified jerk-free before being eligible to post jobs on our site.

In order for companies to be eligible to post jobs on eBossWatch, they will need to demonstrate that they have either received a "great workplace" award, or an external consultant will need to confirm that the company provides a great working environment free of toxic and abusive bosses.

My quibble with this is not that there aren't such things as great workplaces where part of the culture rests on providing a non-abusive and toxic-boss-free work environment.

My quibble with Asher Adelman's JerkFreeJobs is a semantic one.

Jerk is way too neutral and mild a term for what he's talking about.

Jerk-free job?

No such thing.

That's because we're all capable of being jerks, at least on occasion.

Jerk-free work at Cisco, Microsoft, AFLAC, Genentech, Starbucks ? (I recently asked a relative who works at Cisco and she assured me that, as wonderful as it is, there are definitely jerks there.)

No way!

Which is not to say that these companies don't take abusive and toxic behavior seriously, and do what they can to weed out those who make life miserable through policies that they rigorously enforce.

And wouldn't we all rather work for companies that had such policies?

I've been fairly fortunate in my career in that time spent in truly toxic situations were brief.  But most places I've worked have had a few people, generally in senior positions, who by anyone's definition of the word (other than, perhaps, their own) are what, as Bob Sutton  has so well pointed out, can only be characterized as assholes. 

What's the big difference?

In my book, jerk-ish behavior includes occasional transgressions like:

  • Snapping at a junior person because you're in a bad mood
  • Not piping up at the "big meeting" to make sure the right person gets credit
  • Blabbing about something you weren't supposed to
  • Doing a little more politicking than is really and truly required
  • Grabbing a plum assignment when the other person who might have liked it is distracted
  • Making a request that we really know is unreasonable
  • Sweeping some dirt under the rug
  • Etc. (I'm sure we can all fill in plenty of our own blanks on less than noble and wonderful things we've done at work.)

On the other hand, an asshole is one who makes work life miserable for those around him or her - and especially for those who are beneath them in the pecking order. Assholes go on tirades. they make tyrannical requests. They put people down. They're disrespectful of people - of their privacy, their space, their time, you name it. They subtly and not-so-subtly undermine those around them. They make people, in general, feel terrible about themselves and the work they do. Etc. (I'm sure we can all fill in plenty of our own blanks on assholish behavior.)

Of course, it might have been difficult for Adelman to get job listings on his site if it were called "AssholeFreeJobs", but jerk-free just doesn't do it for me. As I've written before, when it comes to calling an asshole and asshole, accept not substitutes.

So from a marketing perspective, my advice to Adelman would   be too rethink his name. Abuse-free, toxic-free, Great Place to Work - any of these would better express what he's talking about here.

I could also use more information on just how a company gets certified. I would think that he could get some mileage out of having companies proudly bear a seal of approval on their approach to creating and maintaining a civil work environment.

But I do think that Asher Adelman is on to something important here. Life's too short and we spend too much of it at work to put up with abuse in the workplace.


Here's some links to a few of my posts on this topic:

The LIttle White Book


All Worked Up

Building a Civilized Workplace


Anonymous said...

I currently work with such an asshole. He is retired military. While I have nothing against this, my headache is that he still thinks he's in the military. He is hypercritical of me. Puts me down, badgers me constantly to do things he should be doing for himself, makes cutting remarks about me and others who displease him. Because he is a "golden boy" the company will do nothing about it and I am the one who is looking for a new job.

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