Jerks need not apply: 7 ways to a skirt a toxic work environment

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We live in a time when acrimony and resentment seem to be at an all-time high. These days, individuals feel comfortable hiding behind screens to voice their opinions without giving much thought to the repercussions or the feelings of others.

I freely acknowledge that there have always been mean-spirited people in our lives, workplaces, schools and communities. However lately, it seems as if there is carte blanche to act like a jerk. Maybe this is why kindness seems a bit harder to come by, and why I find myself mentoring young people on how to deal with difficult colleagues more than usual.

I am certainly not immune to jerks. We’ve all dealt with them — the mean-spirited colleague who thought they knew everything. The person who did not like to share their toys in the proverbial sandbox. The team member who jumped at every opportunity to claim credit for success, plow over others or immediately blame others for failure. Simply put, we’ve all worked with jerks.

While jerks can be highly effective at delivering results, don’t confuse value with productivity. By this, I mean that the toxicity jerks infuse into a team and their work environment can significantly outweigh their contributions. These folks tend to be mean-spirited, manipulative, and can often undermine both the organization’s work and their colleagues’ productivity. They cause strife and, in some cases, drive excellent colleagues away from an organization. At the end of the day, they do far more harm than good, and they make the work environment an unpleasant place to spend the day.

Throughout my career, I have managed a few so-called jerks. While it has not always been easy, and I have certainly made my share of mistakes, I’ve learned to effectively deal with these personalities along the way. Beyond that, I’ve developed some management techniques for how to handle them.

As far as I’m concerned, jerks need not apply to positions within my organization. I have adopted a strict “jerk-free” policy for every organization I lead. From the moment I walk in the door on the first day, I articulate that jerks are not welcome. Personally, I would much rather work with a less experienced person who is kind-hearted and receptive to training than an arrogant jerk, any day of the week.

So, how do you move from simply putting up a “jerks aren’t welcome sign” to creating a jerk-free culture? How can you cultivate anti-jerk behavior across your team and coach others to do the same?

1. Communicate. Talk it out from the outset. You need to communicate, communicate and communicate again. Let your teammates and colleagues know what you need and what you expect. You want to set expectations from the outset, so everyone is on the same page, and there is no room for confusion or deniability. You should also be open, transparent and honest. While there are times it is not the easiest thing to do, the payoff is huge and will keep things running smoothly.

2. Lead by example. Jerks gravitate to jerks. Do your best to be kind, helpful, open and honest. It will do more to inspire others and generate positivity than anything else.

3. Build trust. You build trust and inspire loyalty when you foster an environment where differences of opinion are welcomed and encouraged. Where there is trust and good feeling, it makes it harder for jerks to thrive.

4. Let them know. If someone is a jerk and you feel uncomfortable, let them know. Don’t let behavior that bothers you fester. You want to nip it in the bud. In a positive non-judgmental language explain to them how their behavior is not working for you and reflect on how things can change. I always say the first approach to any situation should be: acknowledge, reflect, move forward.

5. Value differences. It’s important to celebrate differences and the wide variety of skills team members bring to the table. If folks feel they have a unique niche to fill and special skills to contribute, they are less likely to be passive aggressive and will feel confident in their contributions.

6. Celebrate. Having a good time is essential. Work is hard, and it’s important to let off a little steam sometimes. I can’t encourage enough the opportunity to have fun and facilitate opportunities where colleagues can get together outside of the office.

7. Coach it out. I have found that all is not lost when it comes to jerks. There is hope. Some jerks can be rehabilitated. They just need effective coaching to turn their attitude around. Of course, there are rare cases when a jerk is, and always will be, a jerk. Unfortunately, there are times when you will have to make the tough call and leave them behind.

A jerk-free workplace certainly has numerous benefits. Not only is your space more enjoyable and pleasant, but a no-jerk policy also attracts and contributes to retaining the best possible team members — those who are incredibly productive, highly effective and extremely positive.

What team member wants to sign up to work with jerks? A positive environment drives productivity as time is not wasted battling destructive behavior or playing pointless games. It also enhances quality and helps delivers excellent customer service, because team members are happy in their work. The ripple effect of that is that they pass it along to anyone with whom they interact.

Think about it: Your team is like a family, and frankly, we often spend more time with them than anyone else in our lives. While we all enjoy a wacky cousin or a wisecracking uncle, no one likes to engage with the family member who is always complaining or rude to others. So, do you and your fellow team members a favor and say goodbye to the jerks. Make more room at the table for positive and enjoyable folks. Everyone will be glad that you did.




The Top 10 Talent Trends of 2019

If 2018 was about who was getting jobs, 2019 may be about how jobs work. Indeed, this may be the year that organizations start retooling how they find, evaluate, and even pay employees. Chalk the shifts up to, among several factors, the tight labor market and a massive influx of data, says Jeanne MacDonald, global co-operating executive and president of global talent solutions for Korn Ferry’s RPO and Professional Search business. “To succeed in attracting, developing, and retaining top talent as we head into another year, it’s critical to be agile and forward thinking,” she says.

Korn Ferry canvassed talent acquisition specialists, compensation experts, and HR professionals from around the world to identify 10 emerging talent trends in 2019.

(Don’t) Mind the Gap!

It has always been a red flag—the “hole” in a candidate’s resume, a period of time where a candidate wasn’t working. But an increasing number of organizations are realizing that those holes are there for very legitimate reasons, such as taking time off to care for children or aging loved ones. Many firms are now actively seeking out people with these types of gaps, MacDonald says. Firms are using workshops, customized landing pages and microsites, and other means to find these people.

Making Artificial Intelligence More “Intelligent”

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been touted as the new holy grail in recruiting. However, experts worry that its “intelligence” could create a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion. Even when resumes are anonymized by removing candidate names, AI often can figure out a candidate’s gender by analyzing the phrases used. For instance, “takes charge” and “tough task master” are often associated with men, while “leads persuasively” and “committed to understanding” are often used by women.

One way to help alleviate the issue is to feed the artificial intelligence with non-partial data, such as talent assessment data, that highlights success factors. The AI also needs to be trained to look more for the skills needed for a specific role instead of focusing on subjective modifiers, says George Vollmer, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global account development.

Personalized Pay: Go Ahead, We’re Listening

There are four generations now in the workforce, each with different expectations when it comes to pay and rewards packages. Forward-thinking firms are using social listening, focus groups, and surveys to figure out what each generation actually wants. With that information, they are able to tailor rewards packages, offering different mixes of pay, flextime, paid time off, international assignments, student loan repayment, and other benefits. This is turning the pay and rewards discussion from a company talking to the entire employee population to a one-to-one discussion with employees.

Rethinking the Annual Performance Review

In the United States, the average job tenure is a little more than four years. Experts say that with such short tenures, annual reviews are no longer the primary way to help employees develop professionally. Many employees already recognize this. In a recent Korn Ferry survey of professionals, 30% said their annual review had no impact or was ineffective at improving their performance, and 43% said it had no impact or was unhelpful at making them understand what to do to improve future performance.

Firms are starting to consider real-time feedback as, at a minimum, a supplement to annual reviews, if not a substitute. Ongoing feedback can help employees learn and stay engaged.

Digging Deeper into the Diversity and Inclusion Pipeline

Around the world, there have been growing mandates for more women on boards and other senior leadership positions. While that’s a good development, firms need to maintain focus across all levels of an organization to create an ongoing pipeline of diverse talent, including women, people of color, disabled persons, and LGBTQ employees. To measure their progress, many organizations have begun using applicant tracking systems to find out what percentage of minority applicants were hired.

How Are We Doing?

For years, consumer product companies and retailers have been surveying customers about their experiences with the brand. Increasingly, that practice is becoming part of the recruiting process. Technology is allowing for real-time feedback from candidates about their experiences during the recruiting cycle. The survey tools seek feedback at all points within the process, which gives recruiters and hiring managers data-driven insights and intelligence.

With the data, they can amend recruiting practices, including specific job requirements and interactions with candidates, to successfully hire the best people.

That’s Really a Title?

Chief happiness officer. Data wrangler. Legal ninja. They may sound like off-the-wall job titles, but roles like these are emerging across many industries to meet the changing strategies of organizations.

For example, healthcare, finance, and other firms are increasingly looking to hire a chief experience officer. These businesses realize that the need is stronger than ever for customers to have positive experiences at every touchpoint, MacDonald says. Another emerging C-suite role is chief transformation officer, who is usually tasked with change-management initiatives, often during times of mergers and acquisitions.

Some names are also popping up to attract younger employees. For instance, data wranglers are responsible for organizing and interpreting mounds of data, and legal ninjas are the new generation of legal aides.

Talent Analytics Is Becoming Just as Important as Business Analytics

Traditionally, business leaders set their strategy by analyzing business analytics to determine cost and operational effectiveness. However, experts say they may fail because they don’t find the right type of talent. Increasingly, firms are incorporating talent analytics into the mix. This data measures things such as competition for qualified talent in a region and compensation norms.

Talking Talent Holistically, From Hire to Retire

With the massive influx of data, one would assume organizations would have an integrated way to analyze all elements of talent decisions, including recruiting, compensation, and development. Unfortunately, in many organizations, each of these functions is operating under a different “language,” often unable to talk with one another.

Experts say there is a trend toward a more foundational, data-centric approach that creates insights from organizational, team, and individual perspectives. That allows for a calibrated approach to talent that is tightly linked to business outcomes. For example, the data garnered during the recruitment process can be used to help create a customized development program once the candidate is hired.

Managing Short-Term Hiring Needs with Long-Term Business Goals

The speed of technological advances and changing business priorities makes knowing what’s going to happen next year—or even next month—extremely difficult. In fact, in a recent Korn Ferry survey of talent acquisition professionals, 77% say they are hiring for roles today that didn’t even exist a year ago.

Leading organizations are taking a holistic approach to talent acquisition. In the short term, they are speeding up hiring by figuring out the right mix of short-term contractors, gig workers, and full-time employees to do the work that currently needs to be done. At the same time, they are focusing on a longer-term approach by taking a deep dive into business imperatives to create a total strategic plan that has clearly defined goals, but one that can be amended as needs change.