The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t

Who should read this book: Anybody that is dealing with assholes at work, or anyone that feels like they might be an asshole themselves.

In his book The No Asshole Rule, professor Robert Sutton describes explores the existence of a universal phenomena: the asshole at work. He answers questions like “how do assholes damage the workplace?” and provides tips on stopping your inner jerk from getting out. The book is outlined as follows:

  1. What workplace assholes do and why you know so many
  2. Why every workplace needs the ‘no asshole rule’
  3. How to implement the rule and enforce it
  4. How to stop your inner jerk from coming out
  5. Tips for surviving nasty people at work
  6. The virtues of assholes
  7. The no asshole rule as a way of life

Here are two ways to spot an asshole: 

Test one: after talking to the alleged asshole, does the target feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

Test two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

If you are about to join a company or can’t test if someone is an asshole, he suggests one full proof way to find out:

the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as a good a measure of human character as I know.

The asshole can be found in every profession, from medicine to law to government. Nursing, for example, can be an extremely demeaning job. A study of 130 nurses found that 90% of them reported being verbally abused, victimized, ignored or treated condescendingly. In this case, the assholes were typically the doctors. Did the doctors know they were being jerks and did they know that by being jerks, ignoring the nurses caused more patient error, resulting in physical harm to society? Apparently not.

The total cost of assholes

Employees with difficult bosses checked out in the following ways:

  1. 30 percent slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  2. 27 percent purposely hid from the boss, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  3. 33 percent confessed to not putting in maximum effort, compared with 9 percent of those not abused.
  4. 29 percent took sick time off even when not ill, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  5. 25 percent took more or longer breaks, compared with 7 percent of those not abused.”

Sutton provides a few antidotes to “asshole poisoning” to those who suspect they might be infected (and ways to avoid it, too):

  1. Resist at the beginning. If you’re about to join a company or a new team, be highly critical of the people you’re going to work with before joining. If you suspect there might be toxicity in the company, save yourself the pain and just don’t join.
  2. Walk out. Most visits to the doctor nowadays are stress-related; stress has become an epidemic. If you find that you’re stressed, unhappy and frustrated at the toxicity of your company — or just unhappy about the impact you’re having — then leave.
  3. Reframe. If you find yourself competing with others, just let it go; a little competition is fine but when taken too far can skew your perception of reality and what’s important, affecting your mental health. Don’t replace numbers with people.
  4. Seek feedback. Do a 360 degree review with your team and company and make it anonymous. What are others thinking of you? You’ll find out quickly if you’re an asshole.

More memorable quotes and big ideas

Digging their own grave

Demeaning jerks are victims of their own actions. They suffer career setbacks and, at times, humiliation. A hallmark of assholes is that they sap the energy from victims and bystanders. The effects of assholes on turnover is obvious and well-documented.

Assholes start young

approximately 60% of boys who were identified as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the time they were 24, compared to only 10% of kids who weren’t bullied.

The MIT Jerk o Meter

The Jerk-O-Meter (or JerkoMeter) is a real-time speech feature analysis application that runs on your VOIP phone or cellphone that remedies precisely that experience. It uses speech features for activity and stress (and soon empathy) to measure if you are ‘being a jerk’ on the phone. The phone displays messages in case you are, and can also be setup to inform the person on the other end of the line that you’re extremely busy.

Walking away from a bad job

“Bill Lazier’s advice means that you ought to do your homework before taking a job. Find out if you are about to enter a den of assholes, and if you are, don’t give in to the temptation to join them in the first place. Leonardo da Vinci said, “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end,” which is sound social psychology. The more time and effort that people put into anything—no matter how useless, dysfunctional, or downright stupid it might be—the harder it is for them to walk away, be it a bad investment, a destructive relationship, an exploitive job, or a workplace filled with browbeaters, bullies, and bastards.”

Costco is great

Consider James D. Sinegal, co-founder and CEO of Costco, a warehouse retailer. His salary in 2003 was $350,000, which is just about ten times what is earned by his top hourly employees and roughly double that of a typical Costco store manager. Costco also pays 92.5% of employee health-care costs. Sinegal could take a lot more goodies for himself, but has refused a bonus in profitable years because “we didn’t meet the standards that we had set for ourselves,” and he has sold only a modest percentage of his stock over the years. Even Costco’s compensation committee acknowledges that he is underpaid. Sinegal believes that by taking care of his people and staying close to them, they will provide better customer service, Costco will be more profitable, and everyone (including shareholders like himself) will win.

Sinegal takes other steps to reduce the “power distance” between himself and other employees. He visits hundreds of Costco stores a year, constantly mixing with the employees as they work and asking questions about how he can make things better for them and Costco customers. Despite continuing skepticism from analysts about wasting money on labor costs, Costco’s earnings, profits, and stock price continue to rise. Treating employees fairly also helps the bottom line in other ways, as Costco’s “shrinkage rate” (theft by employees and customers) is only two-tenths of 1%; other retail chains suffer ten to fifteen times the amount. Sinegal just sees all this as good business because, when you are a CEO, “everybody is watching you every minute anyway. If they think the message you’re sending is phony, they are going to say, ‘Who does he think he is?”

A visual representation



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