Every Organization Needs a No-Asshole Policy

No assholes. That simple statement should be emblazoned on every corporate site that attracts warm-blooded humans into its workplace. The expression communicates to would-be employees to check themselves at the door and head straight for the exits if they get their jollies off pissing on others bonfires.

You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, simply nod if you agree, you too wish the assholes you work with would get whisked away in a strong gust of wind, vanished without a trace, banished to some obscure place. I know that sounds terrible but when we are in the throes of anger our unbridled emotions scheme lesser-known nice things.

Instituting a no-asshole policy in the workplace might be the most important step to restore morale and keep the hallways buzzing with people who actually want to be there, instead of coffee guzzling zombies who mysteriously get a new lease on life as soon as the alarm sounds time-to-get-the-hell-out-of-here o’clock.

Jennifer Breheny Wallace highlights in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Cost of Rudeness in the Workplace, that incivility can harm an employee’s well-being and job performance. A McKinsey study also shows that hurtful workplace behavior can depress performance, increase employee turnover, and even mar customer relationships.

Still, we hire jerks anyway. They breach our fortressed screening barriers like fruit flies and get their bad vibes all over our stuff.

People don’t quit companies they quit managers who are assholes. Reason numero uno why the freelance economy is on the rise and most employees leave thousands of dollars in referral fees on the table because referring anyone to a dysfunctional workplace may just be the surest way to lose a friend in 90 days.

But what if jerks are slipping through the cracks into our companies disguised as decent people? According to a recent HBR article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Could Your Personality Derail Your Career, the author implies we might be getting a 2-for-1 deal when we onboard new people to the organization.

The article suggests there are dark sides to some of the positive character traits we seek in new hires. Referencing research conducted by psychologists Robert and Joyce Hogan, Chamorro-Premuzic discusses 11 positive character traits “that when taken to the extreme, resemble the most severe personality disorders.”

Most employees display at least three of these dark-side traits and about 40% score high enough on one or two to put them at risk for pervasive dysfunctional behavior at work, says Chamorro-Premuzic.

Evidently, we all have some degree of dormant assholeness within us and there’s no true scientific way to predict whether we will one day tap into our latent hubristic predispositions, it is all a big gamble.

Jerks come from all walks of life, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. My toddlers are the biggest little jerks in our zip code and that’s a conservative guess, but they are kids and kids have more compelling reasons to be assholes, for one, it’s cute when they do it (at least sometimes) and their ability to attune to others is usually zilch.

Psychologist Alice Walton believes too much praise can turn kids into little narcissists, the same is true for adults. While research says praising employees can boost productivity and improve engagement, a Gallup report states praise and recognition can do more harm to an individual and a workgroup than none at all, in some cases.

The ego feeds on praise and recognition which often becomes fodder for arrogance. Therefore a little too much pat on the back could release surges of dopamine in the brain of an employee that can send him from zero to jackass in a split second.

What is this good for? What can we do about incivility in the workplace? We can’t beat them with kindness so we join the fracas and exchange blow for blow, right?


Fighting fire with fire will just leave everyone burnt out and unproductive. It appears the slow healer of workplace rudeness is time and a dose of unrequited kindness, and if you are like me, it helps to find a little solace in the fact that ‘they too shall pass.’

In his book, The Asshole Survival Guide, Stanford University Psychology Professor, Robert Sutton says that not giving a shit takes the wind of asshole’s sails.

But if Chamorro-Premuzic is right then most assholes will bypass our recruiting systems and the cycle of incivility continues to haunt everyone to a slow and painful death.

Letting it known that assholes are not welcome at your organization might turn away a few individuals who are keenly aware of their larger than life hubris and communicate to them that the organization has a zero tolerance for hurtful behavior regardless of their position and past performance.

Empowering recruiters to become true ‘protectors of the realm’ (pardon my GOT reference) can also help to insulate the company from jerks. By improving the screening process, recruiters would be able to spot candidates with certain telltale signs, in which case a stress interview format with the goal of getting the candidate near his boiling point can shake the asshole right out of his pinstripe suit.

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