Essays

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Don’t Hire Jerks (or pass me the fallopian tubes)

O.K., so you would never intentionally hire a jerk. Unless, of course you are one. But that is another article. Corporate America has come to realize that hiring a jerk is bad business. As the old proverb says, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” Or in this case one bad jerk.

        So, what to do? As an organizational psychologist, I can tell you that you can test for them. It’s kind of like drug testing. Jerk testing is problematic because a real jerk is pathological to the point that they can easily game the tests. I once took a Briggs-Meyer test in a class for my masters. I realized what the profile was for perfectly balanced and I gamed the test. Guess what? I tested as perfectly balanced – which I am not.

        So, what to do now? Well, I have a suggestion. If you hire a jerk, then their co-workers are the best judge. So, put them on probation! Oh, you already do that. But I knew that. I suggest that as part of their probation you make them work in several parts of your organization and let your employees do a kind of 360 degree evaluation. Put him or her on the assembly line, on the shipping/receiving dock, in the mail room, etc. You get the idea. Have them spend the first 3 months of their probation working at the subordinate level, followed by 3 months in their new job.

        You will be surprised what you find out. If a jerk is on the assembly line for one week, they won’t be able to fool their co-workers. For example, one or two co-workers may make pull a prank on them. Jerk can’t stand that and can’t hide their resentment. Nothing drives a self-centered, jerk crazier than to have a lesser human being make fun of them.

        It’s kind of like the new kid in the auto repair garage being asked to hand the mechanic a left-handed monkey wrench. This happened to me. My mother was a microbiologist at a well-known cancer research hospital. And at the tender age of 16 she got me a job there – in the morgue. Yes, you are wondering what kind of mother would do that to her son. Let’s not go down the Dr. Freud mother-son relationship, psycho-sexual, Oedipus Complex thing. The manager in the Pathology Unit asked me to the Supply Department and fetch a dozen fallopian tubes. Remember, I was a 16-year-old boy. I was at the “breast” and “vagina” stage. Well, that isn’t what we boys called them. Anyway, this is what pathologists find funny. I didn’t. Since I was only 16-years old, the pathologist didn’t end up on the morgue table.

        Pranks aren’t funny or healthy because it creates a situation where one person feels happy by humiliating another. Also, pranks have a wave of escalating into a cycle of worsening payback. But even the friendliest kidding will make a psychology insecure person or pathologically entitled person angry and resentful. And co-workers can sense resentment. That’s the feedback you need. You don’t want to hire some Harvard MBA who secretly resents others. Others being his or her co-workers. This kind of resentment plays itself out in different forms of payback that are seen or unseen. Either are bad for a healthy organization.