Before starting Bonehook eight years ago, I worked for seven agencies in five states and freelanced for a dozen more. You might say, I’ve had ample opportunity to work with both assholes and all stars. Anyone who’s been in the game long enough has had to find more than one creative way to work around the jackasses.
Ernie Schenck is an industry-famous freelance writer, creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. He doesn’t like assholes much.
…If you’re working with an asshole, go find another partner. If you’re working for an asshole, go find another place to work. Whatever you’ve got to do. Wherever you’ve got to go. Don’t try to tough it out. Don’t try to reason with her or him. Assholes will not change. They will not listen. If your career is just beginning, they will eat every dream you ever had. If you’re brilliant, they will snuff out your light for fear of being lost in your shadow.
Ernie knows the score and I fully embrace the no-asshole rule. But what constitutes asshole status on the job? Sexual harassment and personal insults for certain, but also eye rolling, refusal to listen, and a litany of other personal offenses. In the agency business, there is also:
- The asshole who steals your ideas or claims them for his own
- The asshole who responsible for you working past 10:00 p.m.
- The asshole who kisses the bosses ass so hard he leaves a mark
I agree with Ernie that it’s best to find a more respectable place to work, but I don’t agree that assholes can’t or won’t change.
How many assholes are challenged by their peers to be better people, especially better people at work? It’s a rhetorical question that we all know the answer to. No one wants to speak up and challenge the asshole, particularly when the asshole has authority.
If we learned anything in 2017, it’s that widespread complicity will never move the culture forward. Letting assholes be assholes is passive behavior that has no place in the modern workplace. Therefore, my twist on Ernie’s advice is to confront the assholes, gently at first, then with more and more force. You can find a new job at the same time, but the asshole(s) will be identified as the problem for all to see.