In 2007 Robert Sutton, a Professor of Management Science at Stanford University, published a book that (while not politely named), gives a hard-hitting account of the negative impact of nasty people on organisational performance. Sutton’s ‘The No Asshole Rule … Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t’ delivers a clear message – destructive characters damage people and ultimately undermine success. Today’s Karen Gately blog takes a closer look at nastiness, and why it’s not something to simply ignore in the workplace if you’re a leader.
While everyone is capable of having a bad day, those who regularly bring disrespectful, aggressive or arrogant behaviour to work have a profound impact on how others around them feel. Whether their nasty behaviour changes how we feel about ourselves as colleagues, the environment we are required to work in or the values of our employer, most people will in some way or another be impacted by nasty behaviours in their professional life. Depressed morale, disengagement, lack of focus and high staff turnover are common challenges faced by businesses who tolerate destructive behaviour. It is the role of every leader to ensure that they avoid hiring nasty people, and ensure that those who do slip through the ‘culture fit’ net are dealt with effectively and proactively. While everyone deserves a fair and reasonable chance to change their behaviour, those who are not willing or unable to let go of their nasty ways need to be moved out of the organisation.
Robert Sutton provides two tests that I have found to be useful in spotting nasty people:
Test One: After talking to the alleged nasty, does the ‘target’ feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energised, or belittled by the person?
Test Two: Does the alleged nasty aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?
It’s not simply about making sure we have the opportunity to spend time working with people we like. In some extreme cases nasties may inflict psychological abuse on staff through sustained hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviour. As employers we have a duty of care to provide work environments free of risks to health, which includes protecting our teams from the emotional and mental health impacts associated with working with horrible people.
Both Robert Sutton and I passionately believe that civilised workplaces are not a naive dream, and that a zero tolerance attitude to assholes can positively influence performance. Time to get that rule book out and eliminate nasties from your professional environment!