The No-Assholes Policy

Disclaimer: Yes. We went there. Even members of our own team questioned our use of the word “asshole”. But to truly make an impact with this topic, the word must be used.  Robert Sutton (New York Time best selling author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t) insists upon the use of the word since other words such as bully or jerk “do not convey the same degree of awfulness. There’s an emotional reaction to a dirty title. You have a choice between being offensive and being ignored.”

It was early in the life of The CFO Suite that we determined we would have a “No Assholes” policy.  We just wanted to work in an environment where everyone was valued and treated with respect. I’m sure most of us have experienced workplace-assholery sometime in our career so this concept won’t be new.  Primarily thought of as an employee issue we extended it to include contractors, vendors and even customers. This article provides some insight into what we have seen and some advice on how to handle these individuals.

What is a Workplace Asshole?
It’s not difficult to define. It’s a workplace bully or toxic person. Someone that has a negative impact on morale and productivity. They regularly demean and damage others, especially those with less “power” than themselves. They constantly blame others or complain and believe they can do no wrong. Most significantly they may invade one’s “personal space” and threaten through intimidation. Of course, others are more subtle by delivering status slaps intended to humiliate their victims, or often rudely interrupt or treat people as if their opinions don’t matter or they are invisible.  Remember, as we highlighted above, this doesn’t have to be an employee: contractors, vendors, and even customers can be assholes.

What Happens When Assholes Run Amuck?
It is very clear the damage that can be done. We see the impact primarily through higher staff turnover at our clients. This comes with a high cost of not only a fractured workplace but also the direct cost of replacing those that leave.  Furthermore, team members are often less engaged and distracted from their responsibilities when assholes are around—especially when they are in charge.  We have also seen that workplace can become toxic; it literally makes people sick resulting in further inefficiencies and financial costs.  

Why have a No-Asshole Policy?
Simply put, this negative behavior significantly contributes to a culture of fear, intimidation, and negativity. We have all heard the expression, “people don’t quit companies they quit managers”, well often it’s really because those managers are assholes. Although people may complain about their actual work, commonly they’ll complain more about their workday and how their day was a nightmare due to a coworker or boss. Great things start to happen when workers have less to complain about, are respected, united in a common goal and enthusiastic about going that extra mile.  

What Is the No-Asshole Policy?
Many companies have this as part of their stated values where bad behavior is not tolerated, period. While typically an informal policy, when outlining this to your organization here are a few things to consider:

  • If you’re a leader … lead with empathy and compassion. Be equal and fair. Create a safe and open team environment where everyone feels comfortable to provide input and opinions.
  • Manage the “moments” by downplaying or eliminating status differences, a good leader can make all the difference.
  • Don’t move someone out of one team and onto another hoping it will solve the problem.
  • Treat assholes as incompetent employees or contractors, or unworthy vendors or customers. Even if people perform extraordinarily well and achieve great results, persistent meanness or negativity should be equated with incompetence. As such do not promote, pay big bonuses, or give power to these people, especially over others.
  • Model and teach constructive confrontation. Make sure people know when and how to argue respectfully.
  • Say the policy, write it down, live by it and most importantly act on it!
  • If you’re a coworker… act as an ally. Though you may have the least direct influence, stand up for your peers and give them the support they may need.

So, now what?
First be aware that some assholes don’t always stop at passive aggression. Sometimes they can ramp up the level of abuse, sexual harassment, or threatening behavior. Having a zero-tolerance policy will reduce a lot of headaches for your team and HR department.

Don’t ignore workplace assholes or pray they will leave by themselves. Good leaders do not envision a climate of fear and dread for their employees. Eliminating or removing these entitled individuals from your workplace environment, whether employees, contractors, vendors, or customers, will create a positive culture that your business can thrive in.

You want to be happy. Your team wants to be happy. There’s no reason why work can’t be a place of both productivity and joy. With the no asshole policy, you’ll find that the people you see in your office are genuinely happy to be there. Life’s too short to spend eight hours a day working with those that make you miserable.