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While it might seem like an odd question, it’s certainly something association leaders should be asking themselves as organization leaders face rising resignations and declining retention. The reality is in a post-COVID-19 world, employees are making mental health and happiness top priorities in their job search – jerk-filled culture is only pushing them to start that search sooner. 

Jerk bosses are not a new phenomenon and have been affecting workers for years. What is new, however, is organizations actively working to fix the problem. Even Harvard Business School has launched a course for M.B.A.s on “Leadership and Happiness,” which has become so popular it’s hard to even get a spot.  

So how do you fix your jerk problem? First step: Figure out if you have one. 

6 common jerk behaviors 

Being a jerk is more than just saying the wrong thing. As a leader, your behaviors and the dynamic you have with your team can also dictate whether you’re seen as a jerk. So if you’re trying to figure out if you’re that leader – here are some characteristics. 

  1. You Micromanage: Do you have a hard time letting go of work duties? Do you require all your staffers to send detailed notes of every meeting and project they’re working on? As a leader, chances are you don’t need to be in the weeds of every project – and if you are – that’s a problem. 
  2. You’re Passive Aggressive: Backhanded compliments, ignoring workers and negative body language can all be passive-aggressive behaviors. And in a world where tons of our communication is sent via email or instant messaging, tone can quickly get lost and the things you say can stress and hurt your staffers.  
  3. You’re Never Wrong: Mistakes happen – they’re an opportunity to grow. However, if you take these issues personally or simply blame them on your team, you’re part of the problem. Anyone can be wrong; sulking when it's you is jerk behavior. 
  4. You Don’t Recognize Your Team: While praise might not have been needed in past generations, the reality is that it's important today. You (should) appreciate your staffers and they need to know it. If you never give them thoughtful kudos – chances are they might even feel like you dislike them. 
  5. You’re Not Invested In Their Future: Professional development is an important tool to keep workers invested in your organization. Are you stopping them from learning new things? Do you ignore opportunities for mentorship and growth? Red flag alert. 
  6. You Keep Them In the Dark: A good working relationship is a transparent one. Do you keep your staffers in the dark about upcoming changes? Do you have a hard time trusting the people on your team? This behavior can quickly isolate your staffers and lead to stress and anxiety. 

Sound familiar? While many of these behaviors are obvious to see, it’s the subtle friction points that can also have an impact. The Hustle recently polled their readers on what boss behavior led them to quit

While there were some wild anecdotes, including a boss who brought baby food jars and pacifiers to meetings because everyone was “acting like babies,” the publication found that 76% of people cited demeaning comments and another 59.9% pointed at micromanagement as the cause for quitting. 

The true cost of bad bosses

For many organizations, outdated thinking could be a reason why jerks thrive, and more often than not, they became that way because of their own experiences. However, while “tough love” might have been a pervasive culture in the past, these tough working conditions are having a major impact.

According to a SHRM study, 58% of people who quit their jobs because of culture blamed it on a bad manager. And these losses are also affecting the bottom line, with $223 billion in losses in the past five years.

Workers want culture, not perks

As many organizations look to get their workers to come back to the office, they have shifted their focus on perks. According to The Wall Street Journal, businesses are “spending more than ever on upscale workspaces, reaching deep into their pockets to pay high rents for modern, amenity-rich buildings.”

Whether that means fancy lounges complete with fire pits, “fun” table games or even the ability to order lunch from your desk, perks are their first leverage point. 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Retaining Talent Learn More >

While perks are great, the big improvement most staffers are looking for is culture, and this is where those jerks in leadership could be causing the most disruption. When it comes to retaining talent, workers want support from their organization, flexibility in their workflow and the ability to grow. 

It takes work to root out jerks 

Jerk behavior can be contagious and in many cases, upper management is leading the charge. For associations and organizations looking to make an actual dent on workplace culture, it starts with a few steps. 

  1. Make anti-jerk behavior a part of your workplace policies
  2. Keep it in mind when hiring
  3. Call someone out when they are being a jerk
  4. Make it a part of your management training
  5. Listen to your staffers

The last point might be the most important. Your organization should have a sense of transparency, and workers need to feel comfortable talking to you about any issues they face. Not only will this oust any jerks, but over time, you won’t even bring them on to begin with.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
February 16, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.