Maintaining a Jerk-Free Environment

How to ensure a positive, team-oriented environment

At Red Door, one of people’s favorite core values is “100-percent Jerk-Free Environment.” If we tell someone about it who doesn’t work here, they laugh as if it were a joke, wait for us to laugh (which we don’t), then say,
“Seriously? Wow, that’s cool.”


The next part, delivered with a knowing, confident smile, is: “We don’t
tolerate jerks.”

I have worked at some unbelievable (taken both ways) places in my career and one of the hallmarks of each can be that jerks have ruined good days and great people have made me feel good about tough days. A jerk can make anyone dread coming to work. Those jerks can be on the other end of the phone, such as clients, vendors or partners, or those that work around you including managers and colleagues. It doesn’t have to be that way; it wasn’t what I
wanted my days to feel like.

Working in creative environments, I have run into my fair share of jerks. There was always an excuse as to why they were kept around. They are entitled because they are the client. They were highly talented at what they do and we couldn’t produce great work without that talent. You don’t have to deal with them much, so just grin and bear it. Those excuses either fuel jerks or they force great people out; the team is more important than one talented or
even bill-paying jerk. Great people get the job done while jerks detract from the team a little bit each day.

I’m of the firm belief that while job role and responsibilities are important parts of keeping employees happy and motivated, fostering a team oriented environment remains the most critical component to recruiting and retaining a quality work force. So, we’ve even gone so far as to implement a “100 percent Jerk-Free Zone” policy at our company to make this part of our culture.

It’s easy to overlook something as intangible as someone who’s “a jerk,” but I’ve found that if we do, we pay for it. So before making the same mistake, I thought I’d offer up some things I learned about keeping jerks out
of the office:

  • Ask a job candidate what they like to do when they’re not working.
    While not posing inappropriate or private questions, the answers to this could indicate if a person enjoys working with others in a collaborative and mutually-beneficial setting. Things like getting involved in team sports or volunteering time at local community activities are good indicators.
  • Conduct 360 peer reviews.
    I also appreciate honest feedback from other employees as a secondary gauge to how I and my managers feel about an individual. The perspectives obtained can be invaluable in identifying potential issues within the company.
  • Establish and maintain conflict resolution policies and procedures.
    Even the best of people with good intentions will still tick someone off every now and then; it’s human nature. From the outset, we at Red Door Interactive have clear, workable ways to resolve these issues before they become bigger. Moreover, it’s not simply just to satisfy a legal or insurance requirement, but rather because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Lead by example. Anyone in a leadership or management position needs to realize that they’re on display and are an example. However, in this case the “jerk” value is a tricky one, because good, honest, constructive feedback is not necessarily being a jerk, rather is critical to employees’ growth. Therefore, the onus is on the leader or manager to provide feedback at a higher level rather than bark an order or inappropriately admonish someone. This sets the tone for our future leaders and managers.
  • Have fun.
    One great way I’ve found to make the office and the work we do inspired is the make sure we’re having a good time. We’ve got several ways at our company; including setting up happy hours, museum trips, Halloween potlucks and various cultural lunches throughout the year.
  • Keep it real.
    We have to live this one as we do any others. The “jerk” one is probably the hardest, though, because nothing is more difficult than to terminate people or to show clients the door. However, if I don’t live up to the creed that we’ve all signed up for, then we’re not going to build the company in the vision we’d originally established.

I recognize the pressures put on companies to perform means that hiring managers may try to put the most technically-skilled person in a role even if the team suffers from it. But building a productive, positive workforce means more than just placing a proverbial cog inside a wheel. The best office environments are ones that comprises qualified people that work well together. I’ve learned–at times the hard way–that keeping the jerks out is the best way to retain happy and motivated people.