Dealing With the Jerk at Work (cont.)

Like Michael Scott, the clueless boss on The Office, most office jerks have no idea that their behavior annoys co-workers, contributes to workplace stress, and disrupts the organization's productivity.

Mitchell Kusy, PhD, a Fulbright scholar and professor at Antioch University, has spent years studying the causes and effects of behavior by "toxic individuals" in the workplace—aka office jerks. "Most [toxic individuals] don't realize they're toxic," Kusy tells WebMD. When he and colleagues surveyed 500 corporate leaders identified by co-workers as "toxic," most admitted they had no idea how their behavior was perceived by others in the workplace.

Other experts echo Kusy's findings. "Don't assume that people know they're being challenging or difficult," says Julie Jansen, a workplace consultant and author of the book, You Want Me to Work With Who? Chances are, office jerks are surprised, even shocked, to learn how irksome co-workers find their behavior.

It may not seem fair, but often those of us on the receiving end of the office jerk's antics are partly to blame for the ongoing onslaught of insulting behavior. That's because most of us shy away from confronting the bully, belittler, cheater, backstabber, or other kind of office jerk who makes our work lives so miserable.

Office Jerks Are Rarely Called on Their Bad Behavior

Let's face it: Few of us enjoy confrontations. So as demoralizing as it can be to work with office jerks, most of us try to ignore them. Research bears this out. Surveying more than 900 people about their thoughts on "untouchable employees"—defined as poor-performing, rude, and/or obnoxious co-workers—corporate consulting company VitalSmarts found that the office jerk, although ubiquitous, is rarely confronted. An overwhelming 94% of respondents said that the problems these "untouchables" create in the office are no secret to peers and even bosses, but about three-quarters of respondents admitted that they avoid confronting these problem-makers, choosing instead to complain to co-workers or attempting to work around them.

Experts insist that if more people would call office jerks on their bad behavior—from actions as simple as poor office etiquette to those as serious as harassment—then the workplace would run much more smoothly. If only it were that easy.

Of those willing to muster the guts to confront an office jerk, few have a clue how to do it effectively. Such confrontations often have the opposite effect of what was intended, creating rifts instead of opening up honest and productive dialogue. But, say the experts, when done right, confronting the office jerk can work wonders.

How to Confront the Jerk at Work

Implement company values that squeeze out "jerk" behavior. Those at the top should take responsibility for stamping out poor behavior among office jerks, say experts. Think of unruly children whose parents provide them with no rules. Office jerks aren't much different. If a company lacks enforceable behavior standards, office jerks essentially have a green light to go about their business as they please.