Thursday, July 22, 2010

We are devolving into a society of assholes (and what it means to your workplace)

I went to a concert last night—Jack Johnson to be specific, which, by all accounts, was a low-key and mellow way to spend an evening. Or, at least the music was. But as a I sat and watched the people around me, I was surprised at how apologetically rude people have become. Smoking in clearly marked no-smoking areas, poaching a ticketed seat and scoffing when you have the nerve to ask for it back, and leaving vomit marking a breadcrumbed trail to the exit. Trust me, I’m no shrinking violet. I’m an employment lawyer, and I deal with people at their absolute worst (and often relish in it). But I look at my kids (4 and 2), who I am trying very hard to raise with manners, politeness, and respect for others, and I am starting to think that I have no chance once they get out into the world. And it makes me sad, angry, and scared.

I write this not because I think it will change anyone’s behavior. The fact is, people are who they are. How they act at a Jack Johnson concert is likely how they will act at home, and how they will act in your workplace. Sure, they can put on a mask and try to hide it as best they can, but ultimately who they are will rise to the surface, and it will cause you a problem. Take, for example, the recent story about an altercation between two attorneys outside a courthouse (from the ABA Journal):

A 46-year-old Philadelphia area lawyer was briefly jailed and manacled last week after allegedly punching an opposing counsel who reportedly called him stupid, bald and an unprintable word.

The bottom line is that we need to adjust to the incivility in our society and make the best of it, because I don’t think it’s going to get any better. We can’t legislate niceness. Laws (like the anti-bullying movement) will not change behavior for the better, but will merely make it more difficult and more expensive for businesses to manage their workforces.

For more thoughts on assholes in the workplace, I highly recommend the thoughts of Bob Sutton, who has written extensively on the issue in his book, The No Asshole Rule.

I leave you with the (maybe) apropos music of Jack Johnson and his song, Good People:


Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

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