NO JERKS ON THE JOB
Excerpt from No Jerks On The Job by Ron Newton
Chapter One: Help, I’m Surrounded by Jerks
The ringing of the telephone disrupted the peace of my Colorado camp office one day in 1992. For several years, the office had been my headquarters as I organized and led wilderness trips to rehabilitate delinquent youth. Looking out my window at the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountain range as I reached for the phone that day, I was totally unprepared for the direction the call would take—and the new direction it would give to my life.
“Are you the camp program that helps troubled kids?” asked the voice on the other end of the line.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Good. I have some for you—they’re my employees.”
My caller identified himself as Art Rollins, the general manager of a trucking company. Art proceeded to tell me that his drivers were acting irresponsibly, dragging morale down to a level that affected safety performance and caused high rates of personnel turnover. Nothing he had tried seemed to stop their dangerous immature behavior. He needed help, and he needed it soon, before one of his truckers precipitated more than a crisis of immaturity.
I had heard the same type of complaint and plea for help hundreds of times before—from parents and authorities talking about delinquent youngsters. It was uncanny how much Art’s employees sounded like the kids who participated in my camp program.
But, until I heard Art’s plea for help, it had never dawned on me that corporate America needed what I was doing to help troubled youth. My curiosity was piqued. Was Art’s business really filled with troubled adolescents in adult bodies? And if so, was his company a rare case, or were there many other businesses in the same situation all across the land? There was only one way to find out, and so I answered yes to Art’s plea.
I find that many managers across industry boundaries agree with Rollins. The emotional maturity and moral veracity of today’s workforce—employee honesty, loyalty, compassion, teamwork, patience—have declined steadily, exposing the workplace to aberrant employee behaviors that derive from a substantial erosion of personal values. In turn, this lack of personal values is reflected in a growing number of soulless businesspeople and business practices, annually costing businesses billions of dollars in revenue. Some of this loss is publicly evident and counted; but much of it, like the effects of Art Rollins’s dishonest truck driver, exists in the uncounted squalor of jerks on the job who behave as if there are no rules in life.
My term for workers who exhibit the character of delinquent adolescents is adult brats. Jerks on the job are adult brats. By creating this name, I am saying in effect that it is okay, in fact crucial, to identify and talk about these workers. If we do not, then we choose to naively ignore the foremost management crisis facing American business today: the harmful influence of an increasing number of emotionally adolescent, irresponsible adults in the workplace.
Like the kids who attended my camps, adult brats act irresponsibly. They have difficulty seeing beyond their noses. Though they may be far into adulthood chronologically, adult brats live in an emotional state of prolonged adolescence; and as adults, they attempt to get away with behavior that a teenager might think is justified. The problem is, teenagers are thinking impaired.
Lois Lerner of the Internal Revenue Service, Bernard Madoff of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, Angelo R. Mozilo of Countrywide Corporation, Henry T. Nicholas III of Broadcom Corporation, Jeffrey Skilling of Enron, and many other business leaders who have been dragged before the courts of law or of public opinion were adult brats.
So were many of the truckers in Art Rollins’s company, as I found out during my consulting time with them.
And so, probably, are some of the people you know. In fact, I’ll bet you understand just what I mean when I refer to adult brats. Or do you?