Recently, I started a discussion session on the HR website called ERE and the address is http://www.ere.net/forum. The topic was “Should HR be Pro-Actively Anti-Jerk?” I even cited the book, “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” by Robert I. Sutton. This book describes the high costs of jerks in the workplace. It goes on to describe how jerks are personally abusive and that they tend to treat subordinates with derision and superiors with some respect.
About eighty percent of the comments tended to agree that jerks are costly and that HR should do its part to bring tranquility to the workplace. However, about twenty percent of the comments demonstrated a fair amount of tolerance for jerks.
One comment asked (in Latin) who is going to watch the watchers. My Latin is non-existent so to add insult to injury, I had to look up the quote on Wikipedia. Another person said that “One man’s victim is another man’s whiner.” Someone else said “The purpose of HR is to serve as a protective device. Make sure everything is legal, fair and compliant and quash anything likely to result in litigation. When you are done with all that then by all means, you may devote a few minutes per day to your Utopian ideals on human potential.”
Others have suggested that jerks are necessary to shake things up and to keep people on their toes and that if someone is really good at their job then jerkiness should be tolerated.
There you have it, some justifications for tolerating jerks in the workplace: (1) who has the right to judge; (2) their victims may just be whiners; (3) the anti-jerk idea is utopian; (4) people need jerks to motivate them; and (5) and some jerks are so important that we need to tolerate them.
This is an old debate, but I agree with James Madison’s sentiments when he said, “If men were angels, government wouldn’t be necessary.” In other words, certain actions should be taken to guard against the worst instincts of some people. Even gun rights advocates tend to agree that hand-grenades and bazookas should be regulated. I’ll grant that some people would disagree, but they are jerks. See http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/