Weekly Wrap: Not Hiring Jerks Is a Workplace Trend I’m All in Favor Of

by  John Hollon on
You know it and I know it, so it is hardly worth stating again, but there are a lot of jerks in this world.
This isn’t any great revelation. I’ve written about jerks at work a lot over the years, and Stanford professor Bob Sutton even wrote a great book about it a few years back titled The No Asshole Rule I wrote a review of Prof. Sutton’s wonderful book, and a lot of people seemed to enjoy my review, but good luck finding it online now because some jerk over at my former employer seems to have wiped it clear out of the archives for some reason. So it goes when you’re dealing with jerks in the workplace.

Saying “No” to hiring jerks

This all came to mind this week when a friend sent me a CNBC story titled Help Wanted: Successful Candidate Must Be NiceIt digs into a new (and sensible) workforce trend of “specifically recruiting workers that aren’t, well, jerks.” The story pointed to companies like Limeade and Panera Bread that go out of their way to NOT hire people with boorish personalities. As the story notes, Limeade actually posted a job listing “for a communications manager (that) specified that the applicant must be “Nice: Life is too short to work with jerks.” It goes on to say: “(Limeade CEO Henry) Albrecht said the idea to specify that they were looking for nice candidates came after talking to company managers about which employees were the highest performers. The company executives found that the positive, generous employees seemed to do best, while the negative complainers were the most problematic. “It’s a little bit better to say ‘no jerks’ than to say ‘we don’t permit complaining,’” he said. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in a good mood all the time, Albrecht said. But in general, he said, a positive attitude and a willingness to go above and beyond to help your co-workers seems to lead to high-performing employees who don’t need much management oversight.”

Bad employee erodes the business

Earlier this week, we published a story here at TLNT about how bad behavior in employees frequently gets rewarded in the workplace while the team players and nice people get overlooked. TLNT contributor Chuck Csizmar asked, “Does your management really care if an employee leaves bodies strewn across the corridor on the way to their own personal success? What does that say about the priorities of the organization, and how leadership values people? Does that culture become visible outside the company? Does that environment become an impediment to attracting the right caliber of people? Yes, it does — on all counts. And over time, the organization will slowly evolve in a manner that’s ultimately harmful to the business.” It seems to me that these forward-looking companies like Panera and Limeade are on to something. They know, as Chuck Ciszmar pointed out, that jerks in your workforce not only make it hard to hire good people, but they slowly erode the business, too.

A slow-growing trend, it seems

I wish I could say that this trend of saying “no” to hiring jerks is gaining steam in the workplace, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As the CNBC story also noted: “Not many companies appear to be following in the footsteps of companies like Panera and Limeade by overtly advertising for employees who are “nice,” “kind” or “not jerks.” … Suzanne Lucas, who writes the career blog Evil HR Lady, pointed to a study showing that nurses were more likely to want to quit if they worked with a bully — whether or not the employees were bullied themselves. She thinks many companies unintentionally end up recruiting people who aren’t that nice, because they think those personality traits are a sign of ambition. “They do want the aggressive go-get-’em kind of person, and you can be an aggressive go-getter and still be nice,” Lucas said. “But there are a lot of people that think ‘go-get-’em’ is stepping on someone else’s head to get there.” I’m all for ambition, but “stepping on someone else’s head to get there” is counterproductive to building a high-performance workforce. Here’s hoping that this slow-growing trend of avoiding job candidates who exhibit jerky behavior gain some traction, because a more civil workplace is ultimately a more functional workplace where everyone has the opportunity to succeed AND do a great job. Of course, there’s more than not hiring jerks in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How to lose your best employeesFast Company recently had a story on 10 Ways to Lose Your Best Employees, and it was very similar to this TLNT post by frequent contributor Mel Kleiman on Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit. One of the points on Fast Company‘s list that really jumped out at me this week was this — “4. Place Jerks in Management.” Hmmm, we seem to be on to something …
  • Legislating flexible work schedules. I’m all for more flexible work schedules whenever possible, but can there be a worse idea than trying to legislate something like this? Leave it to the city of San Francisco to try, and as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Employees who take care of children, parents or other family members should have the right to at least ask for a flexible work schedule, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday. The legislation  … would require employers in San Francisco to consider workers’ requests for flexible hours, telecommuting, job-sharing or other changes to accommodate caregiving … it would apply only to businesses with 20 or more employees and would allow employers to reject the request if they had a “good faith business reason” for doing so.”
  • Freelancers sue for being misidentified as independent contractors. There has been a big crackdown on employers who label workers as independent contractors who are actually doing the same work as employees, and this lawsuit against The Hollywood Reporter will probably just fuel more of that. According to the website The Wrap, “ assistant editor David Simpson filed a class action lawsuit on Friday against the publication’s parent company Prometheus Global Media, accusing it of “willfully misclassifying their freelancers as independent contractors and denying them the wage and hour rights and protections of employees under the California Labor Code and applicable Wage Order.” According to the suit, though Simpson, “one of numerous freelancers at THR,” performs duties for the outlet that are “indistinguishable” from full-time employees, he does not receive the same benefits or protections.”
  • Goodbye voice mail? This HBR blog post makes the case that it’s time to kill the office voice mail. “Who writes with fountain pens? When did you last prepare transparencies or exchange faxes? RIM? RIP. Sic transit gloria mundi. When once-innovative technologies descend — decay? — into anachronism, it’s time to put them out of your misery. Disconnect enterprise voice mail. Now. Be honest — you don’t really want to leave a 90-second message after the beep and you certainly don’t care to listen to one. You’ve got faster, better and friendlier ways to communicate.”
John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and An award-winning journalist, he has written extensively about HR, talent management, and smart business and people practices. Contact him at[email protected], and follow him on Twitter at