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Am I a Jerk at Work?

This article was written by in Career and Work. 16 comments.

Last Thursday, Dallas/Fort Worth got more snow in one day than had ever been recorded before. People who had never seen a snowman before were suddenly able to roll their own, traffic was terrible, and offices were closed.

The next morning, when nobody was going anywhere, my employer (who is the second-best employer I’ve ever had, not counting Flexo) did a confusing thing. All my co-workers got an e-mail around 10 A.M., with the subject: SNOW DAY!!!! It went on to describe the record amount of snow, the beauty of the landscape, and encouraged us to go make snow angels and take pictures and stomp around, etc. Then in the last paragraph we were similarly encouraged to get some work done, since we were warned in advance to bring our laptops home.

A few hours later, my immediate supervisor followed up to explain that it was in fact an actual snow day, and if we found ourselves not working, it wouldn’t be deducted from our PTO / vacation time. So, the problem has been resolved, but not before I found myself complaining about it on Twitter (the gist of which was to explain to Texans, of which I am not a native, that a snow day clearly means “no work today”).

This was the latest of incidents where it seems like I’m forced to act like a jerk in order to explain basic concepts of how to be efficient, profitable, or improve employee morale, depending on the situation. Normally, I think I’d love to work from home, but when the whole area is shut down due to snow, we won’t be doing much consulting, since all of our clients are also out of the office.

Another example: seven of my co-workers spend two hours each week determining who will be responsible for which weekly milestones, and then at the end of the week, most of the milestone information is thrown away. Inefficient, right? So I tried to describe how foolish that looks to my manager, and our debate got more testy than it should’ve, and I ended up feeling like a jerk. I don’t feel wrong, just rude.

I try to communicate things in a diplomatic and polite way, but no matter how it’s sugar-coated, you can tell when someone is saying “You’re doing it wrong.”

The odd thing is that while I feel like I’m frequently challenging a broken status quo, regardless of my employer, I never really “get in trouble” for it. I was in a “quit or your fired” situation once, and in hindsight, I’m glad they made that decision for me, because even after I left, that boss didn’t get any better until he ended up in the hospital for stress. But aside from that, my employers love me, and they’re always telling me of the speed and high quality of my work. So why do I feel like a rusty wrench in the works?

Does this situation seem familiar to you? If so, what did you do about it?

Published or updated February 15, 2010.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Why do you think you feel rude, if you’re being diplomatic about it? Without being in the situation, all I can think is that maybe you feel forced to explain things, but in reality people are fine with the status quo, and you feel rude because you might be picking up on some resentment?

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avatar 2 Anonymous

“Weekly milestones” sounds like a contradiction all by itself. As for being a jerk at work; if you’re inside the process tweaking and suggesting changes, no you’re not. If you’re outside complaining about it – you probably are. ;-)
BTW: I have been to DFW on occasion for business and I remember when they had ice pretty bad. It was built up on the interstate where the road dips to pass under the other roads. I stood outside the hotel and watched a lot of people who didn’t hit their brakes until they got to the ice. I thought they were just fooling around a trying to experience a “loose” car but after a couple of them smacked the guardrails I changed my mind.
Oh, speaking of being on the outside – I love retirement.

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avatar 3 Anonymous


You shouldn’t feel like a jerk unless you were one! Seriously though, I hate that feeling of uneasiness in employment…where is the line of constructive criticism from a subordinate meets challenging your boss to a duel of business savy?

Its a fine line and I have found with different bosses/supervisors that line may move dramatically. Know who you work with!

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I’ve been there..and it really is the worst because you feel like you are between a rock and a hard place. You don’t want to sound arrogant but how can the others not see how inefficient their work method is? Even if the work gets done, it’s a huge money pit and could be done far better if things were changed but no one wants to change those things because it means more effort. After working with that on my mind for a year, I decided to let it go with my current job, and just go with the flow. I no longer stress about it and I just do what I’m told. I still offer my opinion whenever I see something horribly wrong but I do it in a very easy going way and don’t take it personally if I’m shot down. I have grown to really enjoy where I work, though I still have to bite my tongue here and there, and I am far less stressed about this.

Just remember, people are different. Snow day to a Texan is another sloshy work day here in Utah.

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avatar 5 Smithee

Today, people are stopping me from Project A so they can ask me questions about Project B. At least half the time, the answers are already in the documentation I made for Project B.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

This is tough & I often experience the same thing, and it’s hard to figure it out except on a case by case basis.

It sounds like mostly you’re just frustrated that people aren’t picking up on the same messages as quickly as you are. For example with the snow day, there was a miscommunication & you were already frustrated by several other incidents so you immediately got ticked off & started twittering.

In the case of working on Project A & people asking you about Project B when it’s already in the docs. I hate to say it but your docs are bad. Even if all the info is in there it’s in there in a way that makes people not want to read it. Maybe you need to do a power point presentation to cover the bones of the info and a meeting, or re-write the docs in a more user-friendly way.

When you are trying to get people to change lots of things, especially lots of little things you have to do it in a way that’s appealing to them. It’s not enough just to be right, you have to be compelling as well. For example with the weekly milestone meeting, it’s not enough to just say this is stupid & this is why, we should get rid of it. You have to figure out what purpose that meeting is serving for them & address that need. Maybe it’s just the need to feel like they are setting & meeting goals, even if it’s artificial. Maybe they just like touching base about what everyone is working on each week. Whatever the real need, not necessarily the stated goal of the meeting, something is being assuaged by that meeting & if you want to get rid of that meeting you have to figure out another way to meet that need.

It sounds like there’s frustration with the way you are communicating your ideas which is making you feel like a jerk at the end of the day. You have lots of good ideas, but need to address the human side of these problems in addition to the way it all plays out on paper. Especially when you are trying to change several things at once.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I disagree that the docs are automatically bad. They might be, but people are lazy and would rather just ask (easy) than look it up (hard).

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Seems like great advice from Jesse,

Try to advocate for change when you see a need but after a while of doing that you will begin to be able to easily identify the types of change that they are willing to make and those that they are not. Fighting to change those they are not willing to do will likely make you frustrated and might bring out your inner jerk. It’s best to say I gave my opinion and now it’s in their hands.

Ultimately they are in control and you cannot force people to change things they don’t want to. If you want to force change you have to be in a position of authority. Otherwise you are merely in a position of persuasion and my experience has told me that authority is far more powerful than persuasaion. Persuasion can work but often it does not. If you let that get to you, you will be regularily disappointed and frustrated — which is jerk food. Stay off the jerk food. :)

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I am not sure what any of this has to do with personal finance. Regardless, here goes!

Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. If you have already read it, read it again.

You have to frame the discussion from their point of view.

Learn the basics of NLP (mirroring especially) and use them. There is a book called “How to Read a Person Like a Book” by Gerard Nierenberg that is worth picking up and reading.

Finally, there is an excellent book by Bob Burg called “Winning Without Intimidation” that touches on this as well.

Once you read any of these books, do a review of them and how they’ve helped you on this site. All three are amazing books.


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avatar 10 Smithee

Thanks for the recommendations, Erica. It’s funny, I grew up thinking that “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was a joke name for a book, since it sounds so disingenuous and sneaky.

I like to think that everything I write here is at least indirectly related to one’s finances. In this case, I’m wondering whether I’m cut out to work for other people, or if I should make the incredibly scary leap to being self-employed. But I needed to start the discussion somewhere.

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avatar 11 Anonymous


“…but not before I found myself complaining about it on Twitter…” That was a jerky thing to do. Publicly complaining about your boss or department does not win friends or influence people and could come back to haunt you. Keep it in the family.

“I’m wondering whether I’m cut out to work for other people…” If you are thinking of going out on your own, get the interpersonal issues worked out first. Much of working for yourself is networking. Also, it is much harder to fire an employee than cancel a contract.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

You don’t have to be a “jerk” at work. Give suggestions or constructive recommendations in a polite manner if necessary. Theres no “jerk” needed to improve things. Complaining on Twitter about work is not a good idea.

Why not ask a simple question: “We haven’t had a snow day here before. Just to be clear is this snow day going to count against PTO or vacation?” No “jerk” required.

Its hard to say how much of a “jerk” you are really being. I don’t know if your’e being serious there or what. If you’re getting in arguments with your boss then thats probably not good. There are few employers who really like their underlings arguing with them about how to do things.

I have an ex-coworker who had an arrogant attitude and would argue about everything and make cynical comments. He thought everyone was doing everything wrong and needed him to fix it by having him tell everyone the right way things should be done. He was the first in line to get laid off.
Maybe he was brilliant, we’ll never know cause his attitude turned everyone off.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

My most frustrating experience managing someone else was having him constantly want to revise a process, even if the process had grown organically for very particular reasons. I found myself saying, “We were there last year, and here’s why it was done this way” *all the time*. You don’t sound like you’re being a jerk, but just remember that this is all new for you, but some people have probably heard it a thousand times.

+1 for asking in a non-aggressive way. I’d also recommend saving up your suggestions for a good time, so you’re not coming off as a nitpicker 24/7.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

To all the other great advice you’ve gotten, I would add…

Make sure you are not laying blame on others. Make suggestions to fix “the system” not the people.

On the other side, kudos to you for trying to improve. In this country most management philosophy used is the command and control approach. Managers rarely take kindly to advice from subordinates. The reality is that those who are doing the work often know it best and are in a position to make lasting and effective change.

Keep trying, just work on the approach.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

This is what my co-worker calls “stirring the pot”. People don’t know things are inefficient, broken, or could be done in a completely different way – unless you bring it up. The very act of discussing things like that gets the right people people thinking.

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avatar 16 tigernicole86

I know I can definitely be a jerk at work. Especially when I’m to explain a fairly easy process.

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