Does Your Company Have a "No Jerk" Policy? It Should.

Last week, a story in Bloomberg News shocked Wall Street. A successful senior banker was terminated from Credit Suisse after an internal investigation concluded the dealmaker had physically intimidated a male intern. It seems this banker was a longtime offender and was proud to be considered a bully. In the past, this kind of behavior was tolerated or even expected on Wall Street, but that’s no longer the case.

Workplace jerks are all too common, in part because businesses often let them thrive. Their bad behavior is expressed in a variety of forms, including condescending tones (written or verbal), sarcastic and insulting jokes, spreading rumors, personal insults or threats, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, public shaming, and marginalization from team members or projects. Many of these behaviors, outside of sexual harassment, are not necessarily illegal unless they occur in connection with a protected class (such as race, sex, or age), leaving little impetus to report or correct them.

However, the labor market is getting tighter and there are fewer candidates willing to put up with the negative behaviors of a workplace jerk. Moreover, bad behavior is costly: it reduces productivity, creativity, innovation, and even attendance—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are the top five ways companies can—and should—stop bad behavior from taking hold of their workplace:

  1. Have policies in place that represent the company’s values. More importantly, ensure all employees are familiar with and follow those policies.
  2. Routinely remind all employees, through words and actions, of expected behaviors, and consistently demonstrate that deviations from expectations have consequences.
  3. Provide training on the company’s culture to new employees, and make sure all employees receive ongoing training to reinforce appropriate behavior at work (and reiterate that bad behavior will not be tolerated). Trainings should provide tools that promote constructive conversations about behavioral missteps.
  4. Apply the rules equitably to everyone, including management, top producers, customers, vendors, and other outside stakeholders.
  5. Offer multiple ways for employees to stand up to and report negative behaviors, without fear of repercussions for whistle-blowing.

No workplace is perfect 100% of the time, but companies can achieve a positive working environment by cultivating its desired culture every day. After all, that’s the best way to keep the jerks away.

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