The Era of the Jerk Manager Is Over

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Jerk managers – that belittling, dismissive, self-preserving bunch – have officially outstayed their welcome in the hierarchy of the corporate org chart. Managers who do not contribute to workplaces of civility and respect are not good for business.  

Movements like #MeToo and a millennial generation with an appetite for civility and activism are giving employers every incentive to prevent, amend or remove jerk managers.

Just 20 or 30 years ago, it was common for managers to yell at employees across the office, to berate them and to be generally unpleasant. But a few things happened over the years – notably the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the subsequent litigation, and the increasing professionalization of HR departments.

Today, employee empowerment is weeding out the jerk manager. This is with help from the organization, or despite it. Movements like #MeToo and a millennial generation with an appetite for civility and activism are giving employers every incentive to prevent, amend or remove jerk managers.

Being a Jerk May not Be Illegal, but It’s Still Expensive

Being a jerk manager isn’t always legally actionable, provided it doesn’t affect a person’s protected status. Most employees however don’t have the legal background to know what comprises a valid claim. They simply know they feel wronged, and file a claim or a lawsuit accordingly.

Even if the employee’s claim is legally baseless, it can be expensive for an organization to prove that. A defense attorney might be confident in a win, but it can cost the organization a lot of money to get there.

Employees have higher standards for workplace treatment than they once did, and the jerk manager no longer fits into the equation.

Along with legal fees, there is the long-term cost associated with reputational damage. This is accelerated and amplified in our age of social media where employees can share their displeasure about a jerk manager much more easily than they could have a decade ago. That hurts recruiting, performance, productivity and the bottom line.

Employees have higher standards for workplace treatment than they once did, and the jerk manager no longer fits into the equation.

How to Weed Out a Jerk Manager

For organizations who think they could be doing more to ensure their management ranks are jerk-free, here are some tips:

  • Organizations must have 360-degree reviews of managers that allow for anonymity. This is a key way to surface problems, but only works if employees feel their confidentiality is truly protected
  • Automated hotline systems can be extremely useful. This is most effective when organizations calibrate their intake to surface reports that indicate reoccurring incivility and situations of disrespect
  • Employees should also have regular check-ins from managers who aren’t their immediate supervisors
  • When jerk-manager allegations arise, they need to be investigated and addressed as necessary. It’s possible that routine bad behavior from managers will be revealed, leading to a decision to part ways with the manager for the good of the organization
  • The organization’s leadership should create a vision statement attesting to their commitment to a good work environment. This is part of a comprehensive code of conduct
  • It’s also essential to train managers at all levels about proper behavior with supervisees

Not that long ago, organizations could look past jerk-like behavior if the perpetrators were top performers. This is because immediate financial results were put ahead of the organization’s two most valuable assets: its people and its reputation. Today, the long-term financial benefits of protecting those two assets far exceed those of a jerk manager or high performer.

Read More: Creating a Culture of Ethics and Respect: It’s all about Who You Are and Who You Want to Be


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