Review of “No Asshole Rule”

Table of Content

“The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton effectively demonstrates the various negative consequences that abusive staff members can have on their colleagues.

The author, Sutton, extensively discusses various aspects related to identifying and dealing with certified and temporary assholes in the workplace. He also highlights the importance of preventing oneself from becoming an asshole. The discussion is supported by anecdotes and studies that emphasize how removing such destructive individuals can boost workplace productivity and eliminate the toxic effects they have on the work environment. Sutton also provides guidance for employees who are unable to find alternative job situations, advising them on how to survive and counteract the damaging influence of these individuals. By focusing on establishing a civilized workplace through the implementation of rules and guidelines employed by successful companies in the past, Sutton offers valuable insights for management regarding the negative impact these people have on both direct and indirect interactions among employees. A closer examination of the three theories of motivation, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment from an organizational behavior perspective will provide a deeper understanding of the problem of workplace incivility mentioned before.

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Topic 1: Motivation
Motivation is based on three schools of thoughts: Expectancy, Goal-Setting, and Equity Theory. In this book, both Equity theory and Expectancy theory are most applicable to understanding the concept of asshole employees in an organization.
Equity theory recognizes that motivation is not only influenced by one’s own beliefs and circumstances but also by how others are treated. On the other hand, Expectancy theory explains that employees expect to receive compensation based on their efforts.
Asshole employees disrupt equity by making others feel worthless and incompetent, which can lead to feelings of depression and decreased productivity for the affected employees. This is an example of underreward inequity.

According to the concept of expectancy theory, when an individual who is behaving negatively receives the same or greater rewards as other employees for their actions (such as aggressively securing sales clients), it can lead to two outcomes. Firstly, other employees may become demotivated and start shirking their responsibilities as they realize their efforts will not result in fair compensation. Alternatively, they may observe the effectiveness of negative behavior and choose to adopt similar actions themselves. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced when the person in a position of authority, such as the boss, exhibits negative behavior (Tepper, 2007).

The employees feel that their boss’s disrespectful and exploitative behavior undermines their value, making them believe that their efforts will not be acknowledged and rewarded properly. If the company permits this conduct to persist, it could lead to a decline in employee motivation to prioritize the company’s interests. This may result in a ripple effect where overall productivity decreases due to lack of motivation. As a consequence, either productivity declines or employees face reduced cohesion and reluctance to collaborate.

Sutton (2007) attempted to measure the decrease in productivity caused by tolerating an abusive employee using the Total Cost of Asshole (TCA) concept. The TCA highlights the various costs that arise from accommodating an unpleasant employee, such as the negative impact on coworkers resulting in consequences like increased mental health treatment and vacation days.

According to Sutton (2007), it has been observed that assholes can significantly lower motivation in the workplace. However, it is also possible that the decreased motivation of employees is actually a result of organizational policies, and they may attribute their problems to a problematic colleague. As Sutton (2007) pointed out, one way that companies contribute to the existence of assholes is by demonstrating indifference and tolerance towards their behavior.

Another option is for individuals with negative attitudes to hire more individuals with similar qualities. This brings up the issue of whether or not employees can still be motivated even with the presence of negative individuals. Instead of focusing on how negative individuals impact motivation, as shown by Sutton, we should explore the factors that enable workers to remain motivated in spite of negative colleagues. For instance, the idea of psychological contract breach offers a more detailed approach to measuring how negative individuals can impact employee motivation by considering the interactions between employees based on their personalities, rather than simply relying on the outcomes obtained.

Low productivity is used as a justification for the effects caused by assholes, also known as TCA (Tacit Contract Agreement). Psychological contract breach refers to an individual’s failure to fulfill unspoken obligations with another party.

According to Chiu and Peng (2008), breach of the psychological contract between employees or boss can have a greater impact on employee organizational deviance compared to employee interpersonal deviance. As an example, if an organization has a policy where only the top salesman receives a bonus salary, and the person who came second, regardless of how close their sales records are to the top salesman’s, does not receive any benefits, then employees might lose motivation to work harder or engage in actions that belittle others or aggressively compete for customers. In other words, it is important to consider the possibility that the company’s environment may promote negative behavior rather than attributing low productivity solely to individuals with negative characteristics.

In addition, instead of categorizing an asshole based on various negative characteristics, it is recommended to analyze these attributes separately and systematically. To identify assholes during job interviews, companies can use an attitudes checklist to predict their future behaviors (Bolin and Heatherly, 2001). Sutton has also mentioned that assholes can occasionally be valuable in motivating employees at work (e.g., [example]).

The text suggests that fear is used as a motivator for perfection and to keep lazy people in line. Assholes use the same tactics to intimidate both responsible and lazy coworkers, albeit in different contexts. This highlights the need for a comprehensive study on various traits and environments that contribute to low employee motivation. Another topic discussed is job satisfaction, which refers to the emotions one experiences when considering their current job situation.

Job satisfaction is the combination of emotional and cognitive feelings an individual has towards their job. It can be evaluated by considering values, priorities, and contentment with different aspects of work such as pay, promotion, supervision, co-workers, and tasks. Various research studies have demonstrated a significant connection between satisfaction with supervision and co-workers in relation to overall job satisfaction. Since individuals spend a considerable amount of time interacting with colleagues and superiors at work, those who hold unfavorable opinions about their bosses or peers are likely to have reduced levels of job satisfaction.

In 2004, a survey conducted by the conference board revealed that approximately 67% of employees are unhappy with various aspects of their job (Pfeffer, 2008). This dissatisfaction has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. The survey also found a strong connection between job satisfaction and affective and normative commitment, as well as a moderate correlation between job satisfaction and job performance. These findings emphasize the importance of maintaining high levels of job satisfaction for both individuals and the organization.

The book “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton illustrates how supervisors and coworkers can have a significant impact on job satisfaction. Numerous studies indicate that when bosses or coworkers intentionally demean and belittle colleagues or subordinates, it not only negatively affects the target but also those who witness it, including the bully themselves.

According to Pearson and Porath (2005, p. ), workplace bullying behavior leads to an increase in absenteeism, theft, psychological damage, employee turnover, and active disengagement, all of which are considered undesirable by management. They found that in a study of 800 employees in the United States, 10 percent reported witnessing incivility daily in their workplaces, while 20 percent said they were personally targeted at least once a week. These findings align with Sutton’s example in his book about how nurses are treated and their satisfaction and job performance, which is further supported by the Kaiser-Permanente medical group in Colorado. The group has implemented a zero tolerance policy for verbal abuse against its nurses.

The adoption of this policy was a result of research on the nursing shortage. It was discovered that constant verbal criticisms and abuse from doctors and supervisors caused nurses to leave their jobs in search of a better career or work environment. Implementing this policy had a significant impact on nurse retention and attracting new talent. It confirmed Sutton’s belief that how supervisors and coworkers treat those in positions lower than themselves greatly affects job satisfaction (Pfeffer, 2008). Bennet J. Tepper also conducted a study that supports Sutton’s perspective on the negative impact of supervisors with unpleasant attitudes.

Tepper (2000) conducted a study on 2,415 individuals over six months, examining various factors including job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Out of the participants, 362 responded to the job and life satisfaction scale. The findings indicate that individuals who perceive their supervisors as abusive experience reduced levels of both job and life satisfaction. In simpler terms, having terrible supervisors can negatively impact employees in their work and personal lives.

Sandy Hershcovis and Julian Barling conducted a study that used meta-analysis, involving various researchers and 66 samples, to investigate several outcomes, including the connection between supervisor aggression and job satisfaction. Their findings revealed a negative association between aggressive supervisors and job satisfaction (Hershcovis & Barling, 2009). The book The No Asshole Rule emphasizes the significance of employees enduring workplace incivility. While the author provides strategies for coping with a hostile work environment, the act of individuals tolerating daily mistreatment from coworkers or supervisors is commonly observed in Organizational Behaviour literature.

Studies suggest that daily incivility by coworkers or supervisors can have a more significant impact on an employee’s well-being than severe forms of harassment. While sexual harassment has a clear damaging effect, the subtle and ongoing mistreatment can gradually decrease job satisfaction and organizational loyalty. This supports Sutton’s viewpoint of promptly removing problematic individuals from the workplace. If uncivil behavior is tolerated, employees may eventually sever their ties with the company, leading to undesirable consequences. The unhappiness and negative emotions associated with one’s job are largely influenced by the duration and power of the instigator.

The studies reinforce Sutton’s idea that the power distance between the instigator and the one being threatened contributes to the phenomenon of workplace bullying. Additionally, Sutton argues that public embarrassment in front of colleagues serves as a strong deterrent, preventing individuals from fighting back or taking actions to address bullying and threatening behavior. Research shows that when a boss exhibits such behaviors, employees tend to respond by distancing themselves and avoiding the person as much as possible. However, in cases where power dynamics are more balanced, employees are more likely to retaliate. To prevent this behavior from negatively impacting employee loyalty and commitment, Sidle suggests implementing programs that make it clear such behavior will not be tolerated, aligning with Sutton’s concept of “The No Asshole Rule”. By proactively addressing workplace bullying and incivility, organizations can mitigate the detrimental effects it can have. (Sidle, 2009) Topic 3: Organizational Commitment refers to an employee’s inclination to remain a part of an organization.

There are three forms of organizational commitment: affective commitment, continuance commitment, and normative commitment. Affective commitment refers to the emotional bond employees have with the organization, which influences their decision to remain with it. Continuance commitment is driven by monetary factors and the absence of better job opportunities, leading employees to stay. Normative commitment occurs when employees feel a moral obligation to remain loyal to the organization.

According to employees, their organization has invested resources in them in the past and they should reciprocate by staying with the organization. In his book “The No Asshole Rule,” Robert Sutton does not discuss three forms of organizational commitment. He uses the word “commitment,” which presumably refers to affective commitment. This is evident as the book focuses on the negative impact of assholes on coworkers’ emotional well-being and interpersonal dynamics within the organization, both of which play a crucial role in affective commitment. Sutton states in his book that one of the many negative effects of assholes within an organization is a decrease in the commitment of both their victims and bystanders towards the organization.

According to Knippenberg & Sleebos (2006), distraction from tasks, absenteeism, and increased turnover are indicators of withdrawal behavior caused by decreased commitment. Robert Sutton provides several examples in his book that demonstrate the serious impact of bullying on withdrawal behavior. Individuals with affective commitment to their workplace exhibit a positive attitude towards work and are more inclined to go the extra mile (Knippenberg & Sleebos, 2006).

The No asshole rule mentions a study that shows that mistreated individuals are reluctant to go above and beyond to support their organization. During a severe snowstorm in Chicago, the most dedicated employees made the difficult journey to work, while those with low commitment used this as an excuse not to show up. The literature also backs up The No Asshole Rule’s assertion about the impact of supervisor bullying on subordinates, as seen in the work of Laschinger et al.

According to (2009), in a study of 612 Canadian staff nurses, it was discovered that both supervisor incivility and cynicism led to low commitment. Interestingly, (2009) also found that co-worker incivility was just as significant as supervisor incivility. This aligns with the definition of organizational commitment, which involves feeling like part of a family and having a desire to stay in the organization until retirement (Meyer & Delen, 1997). Therefore, positive relationships with colleagues are equally important as those with supervisors.

In his book, Robert Sutton provided empirical data on the prevalence of abuse among coworkers and factored in reduced commitment when calculating TCA (total cost of assholes). Bullying employees can lead to neglect of work, higher turnover and absenteeism, and can result in significant costs to organizations (Lewis, 2003). Sutton also shared an interesting example of a manager at Southwest Airlines who displayed a demeanor that was not necessarily nasty, but rather cold and impatient.

The manager openly acknowledged that his primary focus was on work and not on developing friendships with colleagues. While his dedication could be categorized as continuance commitment, it could potentially undermine the affective commitment of satisfied employees, considering the three forms of commitment. Therefore, he was promptly urged to seek employment elsewhere in order to avoid any negative impact on the interpersonal dynamics within Southwest Airlines. Sutton asserts that thanks to such recruitment practices, Southwest Airlines has managed to sustain a nurturing work environment.

The concept of perceived organizational support reflects the employees’ perception of how much the organization values their contributions and cares about their well-being (Knippenberg & Sleebos, 2006). In a study on a university faculty, it was found that perceived organizational support was positively related to organizational commitment (Knippenberg & Sleebos, 2006). The No Asshole Rule provides an example of this relationship, where units with supportive managers had fewer drug-treatment errors reported by nurses compared to units lacking leadership support (Knippenberg & Sleebos, 2006). Consequently, when employees feel that their organization is supportive and committed to them, they tend to reciprocate by helping the organization achieve its goals (Parzefall & Salin, 2010).

Employees are more inclined to prioritize self-protection rather than aiding organizational improvement when they lack perceived support from the organization and have abusive supervisors, as evidenced by the nurses’ example. Sutton proposed the concept of constructive confrontation, which aligns with the notion of organizational empowerment. Organizational empowerment involves providing employees with access to information, support, and growth opportunities (Laschinger et al., 2009).

Access to information refers to knowledge of organizational decisions, policies, and goals. Access to support involves receiving feedback and emotional support from superiors and peers. Access to opportunity involves access to professional development, which allows for increased knowledge and skills through participation in committees and task forces (Laschinger et al., 2009).

Various studies have found connections between structural empowerment and significant work factors such as job satisfaction and commitment (Laschinger et al., 2004 & Cho et al., 2006). Consequently, effectively implementing constructive confrontation allows employees to receive feedback on their ideas, participate in the corporate decision-making process, and align themselves with corporate goals. This ultimately bolsters commitment in a positive manner.

The No Asshole Rule by Sutton is a well-crafted book that not only offers valuable advice, but also offers companies a guide on effectively dealing with assholes. By choosing the word asshole for the title, the author creates a strong and impactful reaction from readers. This idea is often thought of, but rarely written about. The book is entertaining and easy to read, with a structure that keeps the reader engaged throughout.

Throughout the book, Sutton uses real-world examples to support and strengthen his arguments, specifically in analyzing the impact and consequences of assholes. He showcases his expertise in management science by drawing on solid psychological and sociological research. While the book covers various topics in organizational behavior, our focus remained on motivation, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

The negative impact of an individual who behaves like an asshole in an organization can be significant. This notion is emphasized by Sutton in his book, where he also discusses how such behavior can affect an individual’s motivation, satisfaction, and commitment to the organization.

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Review of “No Asshole Rule”. (2017, May 09). Retrieved from

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