I recently re-read the Robert Sutton article entitled Nasty People. This article, which helped lead the way to his recently published book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace, discusses the impact that employees who create a hostile work environment have on others and the organization itself. I immediately began to reflect on the various nasty people who I have worked with over the years.
I thought of two people in particular who didn’t know what a carrot is, but they have a mountain of sticks. They need a mountain of sticks because they wear them out so quickly – figuratively bashing those that don’t do exactly what they want, when they want over the head. More frustratingly they will often employ their clubs when they only have a small amount of facts, often clubbing an innocent person. And once proven wrong, they can not muster the strength to say “I apologize,” instead they are out clubbing the next person.
By clubbing I am referring to the nasty, accusatory and public emails (conference calls and face-to-face meetings) that a large number of us have had the displeasure to witness (or experience). You know the type – the one that has nearly every member of the organization on copy – and it serves to public point the finger at an individual(s). More often than not, its purpose is to cover the butt of the person sending it. This is because they are admitting that, while the subject of the email is near and dear to them, they couldn’t manage to stay engaged in the project to help keep it on track. But they will now cast blame, after the fact, where they believe it should lie. Go back and re-read these emails, as a key stakeholder do they accept any responsibility? I am willing to bet that in 98% of the cases the answer is NO.
What these individuals don’t seem to understand is that this behavior does not accomplish what they hope. My belief is that they feel that by publicly chastising people, it will motivate that employee to work harder the next time. While I am not a Psychologist, I have to believe that this actually de-motivates people as well as it creates bitterness and resentment. As Professor Sutton points out, it can often lead towards the escalation of this nasty behavior as people begin to lob verbal hand grenades at each other. I would also argue that as a result of these behavior productivity decreases, which is exactly the opposite effect that the “club” holder would argue they were trying to accomplish.
If there was no management intervention following a “clubbing” the employees learn that they need to “CYA” from this point forward. So they begin to document every step and wait for countless approvals and signoffs before they move forward. Projects begin to take much longer than they could or should, often because the employees are covering their butts by documenting where the problem has probably always existed – with the person(s) doing the clubbing. The net effect is that the mood of the group drops and so does productivity.
I disagree completely with publicly embarrassing a colleague and those that do it should be disciplined. And when it is done with a lack of evidence the penalty should be more severe – up to and including termination. People who are too busy to pick up the phone, or visit with a colleague that they “believe” missed the target, in order to gather data and possibly council them (if necessary) are too busy to continue to work for the organization.
Because of the nature of business, we ask employees to deal with a lot – from 50+ hour work weeks, nearly 7 day work weeks, and on and on. We should not hire or tolerate nasty employees who make work life even more difficult. And when you consider the price of unproductive behavior and possibly future legal activity, they can produce a very tangible negative financial impact on the organization.