Jerks at Work

How should you deal with a jerk at work? The answer may surprise you.

IT IS a universal dilemma. What to do with the jerk at work, the person who is so disliked by their colleagues that no one wants to work with them? The traditional answer is to tolerate them if they are at least half-competent—on the grounds that competent jerks can be trained to be otherwise, while much-loved bunglers cannot.

An article in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review suggests that such an approach seriously underestimates the value of being liked. In a study of over 10,000 work relationships at five very different organisations, Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo, academics at Harvard Business School and the Fuqua School of Business respectively, found that (given the choice) people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a "lovable fool" than with a competent jerk.

Work is more about relationships than people realize. Asshole bosses sometimes think that by being mean, they get the most out of their employees. But that isn't true. People rarely go above and beyond the call of duty for a jerk.

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