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

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
  • 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
  • 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.