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Do You Work for a Jerk?

Updated on January 6, 2017
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

Is your boss a liar?

It's often said a man's handshake is as good as his word - but is it really?
It's often said a man's handshake is as good as his word - but is it really? | Source

Do you work for an a$$hat?

Do you ever ask yourself if your boss has integrity? Honesty and ethics are touchy subjects that everyone seems to think they understand, but when pressed, they can't define.

Add to that the specifics of a setting or corporate culture, and if you ask 10 people who is ethical in your company or agency, you might get 10 answers. On a bad day, you might get even more.

Worse yet, if you ask who doesn't play fair, you might get more answers than you bargained for.

Many ethics guidelines are written into policies and mission statements, but adhering to them might be a factor of the overall corporate or organizational culture. Spotting those who cut corners or don't follow rules can be tough; people who violate policies deliberately are usually good at covering their tracks.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand what the expectations are in your work environment if you go through your organization's policies and procedures with an eye to the underlying values. Then, take a look at those around you and above you to see who fits the written profile of a good employee or manager.

Maybe your boss follows the rules, and maybe not. You might have a boss who makes up his or her own rules (not an unusual thing, sadly). Or maybe you work for "the boss from hell." Aside from translating policy into ethical action, though, you can adopt some standards for your own behavior that might help you fit in. And might also help you sleep better at night.

A cute video about business ethics

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The unwritten rules of office behavior

Policies might list some expectations about honesty and behavior, but not all rules will be so openly shared. Especially the 'unwritten rules' we learn the hard way. Here are some common but unspoken rules of behavior that might help you assess whether your colleagues or managers are ethical:

  • Don't take credit for someone else's work: Yes, this happens all too frequently. You have a casual conversation with someone, and share your ideas, and the next thing you know, they're heading up a project on it. The best way to avoid being the perpetrator is to always (always) give credit where it's due. You'll gain the respect of others, and be seen as an honest, up-front person. As for avoiding those glory-thieves, make notes of those conversations and, if needed, follow up later to document a truly egregious theft. Follow up casual brainstorming with an email, if valuable information was shared. And don't be shy about confronting the person just a bit to let them know you realize what they did.
  • Don't be a backstabber: Despite the need to protect yourself, don't stoop to underhanded behaviors in an attempt to hurt someone. Most jerks eventually bring about their own undoing. You can document things and use those records appropriately, but if you're tempted to go tell the boss about something, evaluate whether you'll come across as a tattletale. We didn't like tattlers as kids, and as adults, they're even more repulsive.
  • Be honest with expenses, budgets and purchasing: Getting a few dollars by padding your expenses is not a free way to get money. You've just sold out your ethics when you do that. Similarly, follow corporate guidelines for purchasing (no, don't give the deal to your best friend's brother), and be a good steward of your budget. Unless it's your own firm, you're dealing with someone else's money - either the shareholders, the taxpayers, the investors, or the owners.
  • Report dishonesty: Corporate culture and ethics should not extend to overlooking outright dishonesty by others. If you see behaviors that violate the law, in some cases, you could be held liable for not reporting them. It's never comfortable to be a 'whistle blower,' but it's almost always uncomfortable to silently allow dishonesty to go unreported.

Take This Poll About Office Courtesy

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Office courtesy is important during lunch and breaks

Bosses who are jerks will needlessly interrupt employees during lunches and breaks. You deserve courtesy, even on your break and at lunch!
Bosses who are jerks will needlessly interrupt employees during lunches and breaks. You deserve courtesy, even on your break and at lunch! | Source

Courtesy in the office

Some 'ethical' expectations are merely courtesies or other forms of respect for others.

Here are some common courtesies you might encounter, or you might notice they're lacking in your workplace. These are important but subtle ways to tell if someone is a jerk, and they're also good tips for being a great coworker or employee:

Who sits where?

Pay attention to the culture and atmosphere in meetings. Don't be the first one to take a seat, if you are a newcomer. You know how everyone has their favorite chair in the living room at home? It's the same thing at the office. Out of respect for your managers, for those who have been there for a while, and perhaps even for those with mobility issues, watch where people normally sit, and fit yourself in naturally rather than displacing anyone.

Always offer to help:

You'll be seen as a team player, and as someone people can count on. I once had a huge project to do at work, and I asked some coworkers if anyone could help. The project involved gathering extensive documents and records, and we had ordered special leather-looking folders for everyone who would participate. Almost all my coworkers pitched in to some degree, except for one - she was too busy. Okay. Fine.

However, sometime later, she rushed over and wanted an 'extra' one of our folders, and of course I asked why. She was headed to a meeting, and the brown folders we had "matched her outfit" better than the black one she owned. Yes, really. Needless to say, I didn't give her one. In fact, I'd almost have thrown any "extras" away rather than let her have one.

A good boss will also be a team player. Take note of how and when your boss shows support or pitches in.

Speak well of your workplace:

This is where you get your income. You owe them the courtesy of respect. If your boss bashes the management, the eventual fallout might trickle down to your level.

Coffee and breakroom etiquette:

Would you like to find the coffeepot empty? Nobody else likes it, either. If you have a community coffee pot, do your share to keep it filled (if you drink coffee), and contribute supplies if needed. Don't pack your giant-sized thermal lunch case into the refrigerator - take your lunch out and put it in, or better yet, keep it out of the fridge completely (it's designed to keep the food cool, remember?).

If you make a mess, clean it up. Another anecdote - I once worked at an office where someone made oatmeal every day, and then left the dirty, sticky container in the bathroom, on the counter. Yuck!

Respect others' workspaces:

Don't intrude into someone else's space without being invited. Stand at the doorway until you're acknowledged, or wait at the opening of the cubical.

Don't open doors without knocking:

This is especially true with your boss's door. If it's closed, there's probably a reason. Your boss should also respect your workplace; if he or she doesn't, perhaps there are other reasons to evaluate the jerk-factor.

Vintage Public Domain film on office etiquette

Important reasons to watch out for "Office Jerks"

Perhaps your business or agency has developed a written "Code of Ethics." If so, you can learn a lot about the corporate culture by reading it and understanding the foundations of belief it represents.

Perhaps you have the misfortune of working for The Boss From Hell, or another nightmare manager. If this person compromises your ethical beliefs, you will likely have to move on in order to retain your own sense of dignity and honesty.

Local, state and federal laws are clear about many ethical issues, but in some cases, the information is general rather than specific. When in doubt, go to a trusted senior manager and ask what they would do in a given situation, or ask for clarification on policies and procedures. Everyone has to learn, and you'll be respected for asking the right questions.


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