Saturday, May 17, 2008

Identifying Jerks With De-merits

In previous blog entries I suggested that jerks and abusive people shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace. Some have noted that it is difficult to define jerk behavior. Even if we could define jerk behavior should we be permitted to ban it?

In terms of definition, I suggest that jerk behavior involves the abuse of other people, particularly subordinates. But why not throw this open to people in their workplaces and let them provide definitions? Workers are perfectly able to define behavior that should not be tolerated. I suggest jerk-defining focus groups.

Now, how about the libertarian argument that we shouldn’t regulate behavior? Well we do regulate behavior. Duels such as the one between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton are quite effectively banned these days. Also, there are very few gun fights like in the old west. We reframed the issue and said that consensual duels and six-gun face-offs are not self-defense or a matter of honor. We decided to call it murder.

However, even if we define jerk behavior to specific work environments, one major problem remains. How do we identify jerk behavior when it occurs? I suggest anonymous jerk de-merits.

For example, let’s give every employee 100 anonymous de-merit points each month to spend on anyone who has acted like a jerk. Each employee would make a list of people that they interact with and they could assign de-merits in any amount to anyone on that list. Totals would come in at the end of each month.

Should the cumulative list be public? I’m not sure. Should you take action against those who get consistently high scores? Good question. All I am saying here is that it is possible to define jerk behavior and it is possible to identify it.

It is best not to hire jerks in the first place, but if you have them in the workplace you need to decide what you can do about it. See:

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