Assholes are a pain in the workplace

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
How to deal with difficult people in the workplace is a continuing theme in management writing and training. What sort of people do we mean? Bullies? Selfish or dishonest individuals? Smarmy folk who undermine you, or spread lies?

Such is human nature that it's all or most of those things, and if we worked in the United States we would be able to describe them with the satisfying portmanteau word "assholes". It's the only word Professor Robert Sutton of Stanford university, California, feels is adequate to describe a colleague we have all come across. He tells us all about them in his book, splendidly titled The No Asshole Rule.

He first used the phrase in an article in the Harvard Business Review in which he said one of the best things any organisation could do was enforce the "no asshole rule". He got a big response from people describing to him the pain and humiliation they suffered: the pregnant officer worker in Scotland forced to dock her toilet visits from her lunch hour; the manager watching his work torn up by his senior in view of an embarrassed office.

But it's not just bullying. Some assholes drive customers away, or are just rude or can't work selflessly with their colleagues. Professor Sutton says there is an easy economic argument to show that assholes have a cost. Good people leave, customers stay away, work doesn't get done. That's why you need a zero-tolerance policy. He gives examples of managers who have had the courage to sack highly talented people because of their attitudes and then seen others' performance shoot up.

Are there assholes in teaching? Just read some of the posts on the TES online staffroom forum (I'm thinking of some of the contributors as well as those they are complaining about). Implications for recruitment, appraisal and performance management are clear. How long will you tolerate the brilliant administrator who is rude to parents? Or the head of department whose newly qualified teacher is always in tears? What price will you pay to keep that hard-to-replace specialist?

The No Asshole Rule: building a civilised workplace and surviving one that isn't, by Robert Sutton (Sphere), price pound;9.99

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