how being a jerk can hurt you at work, most people don’t want to be managers, and more

Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: how being a jerk can hurt you at work, data showing most people don’t want to be managers, and more. You can read it here.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Jake*

    I was thrown in a management role. I’m happy with it, but it doesn’t surprise me that people don’t aspire to manage others.

    In regards to #3, karma, in a practical sense, is definitely a thing.

    1. Matthew Soffen*

      But companies that wish to retain their talent need SOME way for people to advance.

      Technical Manager roles, or something similar…

    2. Jennifer*

      Yeah, one of my ex-bosses was thrown into management and I really don’t think it was his thing. As another ex-boss of mine said, never feel bad that you don’t want to be a manager.

  2. K.*

    I have a few friends who have said flat-out that they don’t want to manage people ever and have gone so far as to turn down management roles, and others who do manage people and say it’s by far their least favorite part of their job. I manage two people and they’re both pretty easy to manage, but it’s not my favorite part of my job either.

  3. Scott M*

    Since organizations are becoming flatter, many people already find themselves doing much of what used to be considered ‘management’. Leading project teams, creating budgets, and making high-level decisions.

  4. Hermoine Granger*

    I like being an individual contributor but I personally don’t have any interest in managing others. Yet, it seems like in a lot of cases once you move out of entry level positions there’s an expectation of becoming a manager or taking on some of those responsibilities to move forward with your career. I think this is part of why there are so many terrible managers. Some people are really good at what they do as individual contributors but that doesn’t mean that they have the necessary skills (or interest) that it would take to be a good manager of people.

    If we’re all adults, why can’t individuals just being held accountable for their contributions if the team is small? I can understand if it’s a huge company or department but why are there so many levels of management in a department with like 10 people? Especially if the head of the department isn’t involved with day-to-day work and just manages? How effective are these layers of management?

    I’ve been wondering about management stuff for a while. I don’t have experience as a manager or with efficient management structures so I’m just wondering if anyone can explain the rationale behind these kinds of management structures.

    1. Vicki*

      > “If we’re all adults, why can’t individuals just being held accountable for their contributions if the team is small? ”

      I worked in a small self-managed team for several months. It worked very well.

      Then the VP hired a “director” who had a command & control management style. Ugh.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        It really is about the different types of leadership at play – servant, emergent, hierarchical – and they can conflict mightily with each other. In my world, servant, emergent, and tribal leadership is edging out traditional and hierarchical, but the adjustment can be painful.

  5. ThursdaysGeek*

    I work in a distributed team and I’m allowed to telecommute part of the time, if needed. But I’ve noticed that there is a level of communication that doesn’t happen when we aren’t working around each other, and I’m not sure it’s something that technology can really solve.

    Pair programming is when two geeks sit together and work on the same problem together. One of the advantages to that, or just collaboration at someone else’s desk, is seeing how they have something else set up, how they solve or handle other tools that you’re not directly working on. We’re working on this problem with this tool, but she quickly checks something else and I say, “whoa, what did you just do? I didn’t know you could do it that way!”

    I’ve had a little of that when we are sharing a desktop and talking on the phone, but there is so much less than if we were physically together. It’s accidental collaboration, positive collaborative damage, that happens when we’re doing something else.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I find that’s really important. One of my main staffers does a fair amount of telecommuting, and we talk about ways to surmount that problem. It helps that we’re both really, really email ready, but ultimately there is something about physical availability that enhances a lot of work.

      That being said, I’m also a big fan of telecommuting being available. It would have cost my employer a ton if they’d forbidden telecommuting these last few weeks, since I really couldn’t make it into the office–it’s so much easier just to let me get what needs to be done at home than to figure out how to replace me on job that only a handful of people do. But it’s also brought home forcibly to me how different it is than being in the office and what a challenge it is to keep on top of what everybody’s doing if I’m not in there. Even with technology, there’s a price for distance.

    2. the gold digger*

      Yeah, I work in a non-HQ office. Almost everyone I need is in HQ or in Europe. It would be so much easier if I could just walk to someone’s desk and spend ten minutes talking about something rather than having to schedule a conference call or email and then not get the answer I need and emailing again and again.

      1. MaryMary*

        I think one of the reasons OldJob was so comfortable with telecommuting and CurrentJob is not is that OldJob had teams spread across different locations for years. When technology advanced to the point where nearly everyone could work from home, it wasn’t that big of a mindshift. Working with Dave from home was no different than working with Kara in St. Louis and Luis in the downtown office when you worked at Corporate. CurrentJob has one office and puts a huge value on face time.

  6. Rat Racer*

    I really enjoy coaching and developing people. Having had some really soul-crushing managers in my past, I feel a sense of both obligation and pride to do my part to make my little corner of the corporate world a place where people feel they are recognized for their hard work, given constructive feedback on how to improve, and have their voices heard. All the same, I am new to management and I really REALLY wish my employer (huge fortune 100 company) would offer some management training. I often feel way over my head, and rely on this blog, other manager colleagues and occasionally my own manager if I’m really desperate for advice. Is there such thing as effective management training? Or is it really something you just learn by doing?

    On the whole “Jerk” front: The jerks I encounter are less the loudmouths who steamroll their colleagues and more of the “pass the buck” and “not my job” type. I wonder about the success of these people in the workplace, and whether altruism in the workplace is just for suckers like me.

  7. Sharon*

    This is timely! I had my performance review today and one of the questions that came up was if I was interested in growing up into management over the next few years. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that (strangely I’ve never been “voluntold” into management like some people I hear about), I assume because now that I’m older I am better at demonstrating leadership and people skills. I was a software engineer for 20 years and now am a business analyst. So the question I’m leading to is how do you make that choice? I enjoy analytical and problem solving work, am very good in client-facing roles and want always be in a role where I’m learning a lot. I can see all that being possible whether I’m an individual contributor subject matter expert/lead guru or a manager. (In this company, the managers have to have a lot of business domain expertise.) Thoughts? Anybody else have to puzzle this out for their own career? I worry that I may be missing opportunities for growth by being indecisive, but on the other hand I’m afraid of Peter Principling myself. :)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think that management is more people focused and a little less work focused. For example: Let’s say Joe repairs cars for a living. He does well and gets promoted. He’s not going to be repairing cars so much any more. He is going to be more focused on scheduling, ordering, customers, department financials and perhaps some trouble shooting once in a great while.

      This is only a problem if Joe just wants to repair cars. But if Joe has a keen interest in helping the shop run smoother, offering the best customer service and that sort of thing, then Joe will probably be okay.

      Personally, I think it helps to find people interesting. I mean that in the context of you don’t know what some one can achieve until you give them a chance. And you don’t know what people can figure out until you ask them about a problem or situation. I have had bosses/coworkers/ subordinates that have blown me away with what they thought of to say regarding things that have come up. I get a real kick out of that. Enough so, that it carries me though the rough parts of managing people.
      Just my opinion but I think you find something that carries you, and it can’t be the size of the paycheck. That won’t carry you on the bad days. Back to the example of Joe, if hands-on repairing cars is what carries him through his day then he might be better off staying put. However, if he has an interest in seeing how a shop runs, then managing a shop might be for him. I think that most people just make their best guess about going into management, they aren’t usually 100% sure.

      1. fposte*

        “Personally, I think it helps to find people interesting.” Seconding this, and I don’t even think it has to mean that you’re a “people person”–I think that for a lot of people who like managing, it’s like an absorbing puzzle to figure out how these people can work their best. A good friend of mine just got put in a management position, and I was unsurprised to find that it’s right up her alley–she’s really getting a kick out of the problem-solving.

      2. Clever Name*

        This. My company is establishing different career tracks, and I’ve made it clear that I don’t even want to do project management. I’d like to focus on a technical expert track. I completely agree about the finding people interesting thing. I’m the type of person who finds information and things more compelling than people. Luckily, upper management recognizes my analytical bent.

    2. AnotherTeacher*


      I’ve been offered or asked to apply for management roles in nearly every job. For the most part, I didn’t accept/apply for the positions because I enjoy the hands-on work, both in teaching and academic administration. In my previous position, though, I began thinking about leadership roles because our department was so poorly run. Colleagues often look to me for for advice, too, (yes – I’m older), and I’m good at building relationships, even though I am not a “people person.” So, I’ve wondered how to address this in a cover letter or interview if I were to apply to a senior role, since my resume only hints at my management skills.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      One thing you may want to consider is to approach your boss about delegation – handling her role when she is out of the office. I’m doing this with my director as I get more comfortable with my inevitable move to leadership and it gives me a better idea of what the job entails and the different types of requests that come in.

      I’ve had leader positions before where I felt like I could get better performance from 5-year-olds given the team dynamic and purpose. I’m scared not because I’m uncomfortable as a leader, but because I don’t want to feel like I’m wiping snot from noses and kissing boo-boos all day. I’m in a completely different atmosphere than before, so these stints show me how trustworthy my org is, and proves their level of talent. And I discuss my decisions with my boss when he returns, so he learns my style and knows he can trust me.

      Another benefit – visibility. Sometimes, it’s not enough to be in with your direct leader, you have to be known in the upper layers of management before being seriously considered for leadership here. Being a delegate gives you that visibility that you’ll need if you decide you want this path.

      Final note, you never get to know who is *really* a team player until the boss is out of town. Then you’ll see who responds when you call or email, and see where you stand in the group. That kind of unspoken feedback can tell you a ton – quick responses are usually a sign of great respect, whereas multiple ignored calls to others….well, not a good sign.

  8. Clever Name*

    I’m really curious how “jerk” is defined in the study. I mean, we all know what a jerk is, but there must have been some objective definition of the behavior. I’m wondering if it’s the kind of thing that disproportionately affects women, like being called “strident” or “abrasive” in reviews, when the same behavior in men is seen as “assertive”.

    1. fposte*

      I haven’t looked at the original study, but the Pacific Standard article that Alison links to in the QuickBase piece says the subjects first took a personality test, and jerks were those “indicated by lower levels of the agreeableness trait on the personality test.”

      It looks like the experiment was focused very specifically on getting an idea heard among equals, though. That’s an interesting thing to look at, but there’s a lot of jerkish behavior that’s outside those parameters, and I wouldn’t assume that it has equal disadvantage in other situations.

    2. fposte*

      And now I’m reading Rat Racer’s post and thinking about different kinds of jerks at work–I wonder if there are “jerk scholars” who’ve identified types of work behavior that are perceived as jerky. I know there are people who study individual behaviors, but I’m thinking about the overall ways people can be high-friction in the workplace.

    3. themmases*

      The abstract is up (I’ll post a link in my next comment). If you Google “Journal of Business and Psychology” and go to their page at Springer, it’s currently one of the three recent articles.

      1. fposte*

        Huh. I’m looking at that issue through my university account, and the ISSNs match and everything, but that article isn’t in the December issue. I wonder if this is some kind of pre-release or something? (The journal has some really intriguing stuff–“Effects of Applicant Personality on Resume Evaluations” and “The Experience of Failed Humor: Implications for Interpersonal Affect Regulation” especially caught my eye.)

        1. fposte*

          Okay, and now I’m reading an article in the December issue and it’s dated June 26, so the December date on the abstract doesn’t mean it’s the December issue and is probably forthcoming.

  9. Raine*

    There are two scenarios I’ve witnessed where telecommuting works: (1) When the person is basically self-employed and doing the work as a freelancer or contractor instead of being a member of full-time staff or (2) in situations where the productivity is immediately evident — a reporter can’t really fake it, either there’s an article or there isn’t — or is monitored through technology almost 24/7 and the hitting of metrics, like call center employees who now work remotely.

    I currently work in a white collar office setting where much of the work could be done remotely. The simple truth of the matter is, here anyway, it’s so glaringly evident that the people who take their laptops home to work remotely aren’t working at all — in fact, they’re using it essentially as a day off or are even going on job interviews. So yeah, no. I can see why a whole bunch of employers might have tried this and quickly realized it’s not going to work for them.

    1. Mike C.*

      Those sorts of employers should do their job and punish those who take advantage rather than screwing everyone else over.

      1. Hermoine Granger*

        I agree and I think it falls in line with mangers / employers failing to manage.

        In a past position, myself and another co-worker asked and received approval to work from home for one day per week. However, she consistently had serious attendance issues that were a problem but our manager was uncomfortable addressing them with her. Her attendance issues got even worse and she started not showing up to the office on random days, sometimes for multiple days without any advance notice. Our manager felt she was taking advantage but didn’t want to speak to her directly about it so he revoked both of our work from home privileges. I was so po’d.

    2. MaryMary*

      Well, the article in the link is saying that working remotely needs to be proactively managed and employees should be held accountable. You can be unproductive in the office or at home. It’s a tiny bit easier to notice if someone is chating all day or surfing the internet in the office, but if it’s evident to you that your coworkers aren’t productive when they’re remote, it should be evident to their managers. Letting people use the ability to telecommute to slack off is just bad management.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Telecommuting seems to work well at my workplace. We are a very large company with worldwide offices. My boss is actually in Europe, so technically we almost always catch up via computer or phone anyway. We have freedom to work from home if we like, my boss is open to it on Friday’s and on other occasions such as bad weather or just needing to be at your house for maintenance, etc. As long as projects and your work gets done (and you are available) you can work at home, so there are no actual “rules” in our case. Some people work from home a lot, I tend to just do so once a week or if bad weather. I think it all really depends on the type of work you do too. For me, design/graphics/communications can be done anywhere so it works out fine.

  10. Mike*

    Regarding telecommuting: I’ve been at both ends. I found that when everyone is in the office you have more frequent and deeper collaborations. Trying to get a hold of someone that is telecommuting, dealing with tech issues (person’s connection dropping, bad audio, etc), etc make it harder. Plus it is harder to have a team environment. The best environment I was in was when we had a core set of hours (10-5) with the ability to telecommute if we needed to (appointments, I’m sick but can still work, traffic is horrible today, etc). I have good memories of playing various games at lunch and I really believe it helped the team to do so.

    Right now I’m at doing 3 days at home and 2 days in the office. It has some nice perks but it does make it harder to improve the team.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I agree, the “social” aspect of work can’t be accomplished telecommuting. I willingly choose to be in-office most of the time for this reason, even though most of my work can be done anywhere. But it’s nice to have the option!

  11. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I work remotely, as do many (most? I’m not sure) of my colleagues. Our staff of ~100 is spread out around the country, with clusters of folks in a few major cities. I’m the only person who works in my state.

    In general, it works well, and it has huge upsides. But I really miss the kind of easy collaboration that happens when you’re in an office working together. My best work has been done when a group of us have gathered together for a few days to work on something together.

  12. Ali*

    I have been working from home for over four years and feel split about it. I miss being in an office at times and would love to be in one at my next job to form better relationships with my coworkers and generally feel like one of the crowd. I also sometimes I wish I could get up, put on a nice outfit and go to the office. But then at the same time, there’s days where I just am content in my comfortable clothes and wouldn’t care if I never had to invest in work clothes again. There’s also times when I don’t really want to work in an office and could see myself doing remote work, even going to full-time freelancing, the rest of my career. I’m a bit introverted, so being around new people makes me nervous, as does dealing with those who I may not get along with or fit in with.

    That said, I do try to make sure I have plenty of out of the house time, even if it’s just going to the gym a couple times a week and making weekend plans. I’ve nearly isolated myself before, which has hurt me personally.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    Where did the idea come from that jerks are more creative? I never understood that. What surprises me is that this seems to be a widely held concept. With that added, I am depressed. How did this misconception get perpetuated?

    It seems to me that jerks promote their ideas by snuffing out everyone else’s ideas therefore creating an illusion of super creativeness. It’s just an illusion.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a really interesting question. I’m thinking it’s related to the trope of the jackass artist–he’s a brilliant musician/painter/writer but treats humans like crap. But even if you accept that as true for artists, that doesn’t mean that it’s true for people working in group pursuits in an organization, or that what they bring to the situation is worth the damage they cause. I wonder if people don’t fall under the spell of the artist myth and assume that because somebody’s a jerk they *must* be brilliant.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ugh. Brilliance precludes people skills. Yet this sits in conflict with the concept of a classical education that was supposed to produce a well-rounded individual. We appear to value well-roundedness and yet in applied settings the one who wins is the one trick pony, who is perceived as doing one thing very well.

        It boggles. Our talk does not match our walk. No wonder so many people have issues with what goes on out there.

        Interesting topic, I have seen this one play out so many times but I have never seen people talk about it before.

  14. voluptuousfire*

    After reading the bit about most people not wanting to be managers, it makes me feel much better about my own choices. I never saw myself in management and would prefer a role where I can leave work at work. I’m much better as a worker bee in the back office than out front and client facing, being the MC of the show.

  15. bob*

    The problem with jerks at work is that most of the jerks don’t know they’re jerks (some go out of their way I know…) and when someone tries to enlighten the jerk they just get defensive and/or jerkier.


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