Jerks at Work: Yes, You Really Do Get What You Pay For

Just last week I wrote about bullies in the workplace, saying the only thing you can do with bullies is to exit them from the organization. If your goal is to create a culture of recognition and appreciation in your organization, there is simply no room for those who believe bullying tactics work.

Bullies are culture killers and must be exited. Full stop.

But what about jerks? There’s two sides to the jerks at work story. First up, a limited study showing that working with jerks can cause early death. Then The Wall Street Journal followed up with a story that nice guys finish last – those awful jerks actually earn more over the course of their careers.

Why do organizations reward jerks?

Employee Benefits magazine out of the UK picked up on this news and asked me my opinion:

This is certainly a headline-grabbing survey: the meaner you are, the more you are likely to earn. What is particularly worrying about these findings is that they suggest organisations are actively rewarding bad corporate behaviour, or disagreeableness, rather than trying to instill more positive values.

Every organisation has a series of values, which it expects its staff to align with, and it is highly unlikely that rudeness falls into that category. Why, therefore, are organisations choosing to reward these employees over others?”

Food for thought for leadership, certainly, who must consider do they want to go the lazy route and keep jerks on board or ignore their bad behavior without taking the steps necessary to reform their actions. Do you want jerks on staff who cause strife and distraction or do you want to create a culture and work environment in which committed employees who just want to get the job done can do so in a helpful, supportive and appreciative culture?

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The latter culture of recognition is proven to increase employee engagement by double digits in less than a year. Since numerous organizations have proven the bottom-line value of increased engagement, why would management consider for a second keeping the jerks around?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


1 Comment on “Jerks at Work: Yes, You Really Do Get What You Pay For

  1. Hi, Derek, I was curious if you have any thoughts about Steve Jobs who recently was written about as behaving like a jerk.  What does being a jerk really mean?  Was Jobs a real jerk or more the coach that elicited people’s “personal best” out of them?  Suppose we’ll never know that – but we can take a look at what “jerk” behavior really is and how to manage it.  

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