“Jerks at work” vs. workplace soul stalkers

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

Earlier this fall, the Washington Post‘s Jena McGregor wrote a snappy piece titled “A field guide to jerks at work,” where she identified and commented upon five types of individuals who fit the description:

  • “The lone ‘bosshole'”
  • “The powerful bully”
  • “The clueless jerk”
  • “The petty tyrant”
  • “The overbearing client”

I’m sure that many who are familiar with bullying, mobbing, and incivility at work can recognize such characters from real life. I’ve used the term “jerks at work” myself, on many occasions. In fact, way back in 1998, invoking that phrase resulted in my first-ever quote on workplace bullying in a national publication (USA Today).

However, I now grasp that “jerks at work,” along with “bosshole,” “tyrant,” and other terms, can underplay the nature and impacts of the most virulent strains of workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment. These targeted, malicious behaviors are frequently perpetrated by individuals who demonstrate traits of severe narcissism, sociopathy, or psychopathy, enabled by organizations that either actively validate such behaviors or conveniently look the other way when they occur.

Instead of “jerks,” I find myself sometimes associating the term “soul stalkers” with these types of workplace aggressors, borrowing from the title of Dr. Marie-France Hirogoyen’s Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity (English ed., 2004). Dr. Hirogoyen, a French psychiatrist and therapist, provides an important analysis of emotional abuse in private lives and in the workplace.

I know that I’m beating a familiar drum here, but I again want to urge that we not confuse incivility and being a jerk with abuse and being an abuser. Our souls can usually survive dysfunctional bossholes and the like, however unpleasant and stressful they may be. But bonafide abusers may exact a much greater toll, and we need to figure out how to neutralize their toxic powers in the workplace and elsewhere.

5 responses

  1. Interesting choice of words as my union rep who helped me with a settlement agreement told me, “You are protecting your soul by leaving…” The were/are soul stalkers, and there is a difference between a jerk and a sociopath/narcissist.

  2. Workplace Bullying…………..take reality and throw it out the window. You are now exposed to whatever they want to throw down in front of you! The corporate version of bullying has a lot of muscle behind it $ Bossholes are bred by a corporate culture to place targets on the backs of working Americans. It don’t matter what field your in…….it’s disabling the competent. Why?

  3. Totally relate. the narcissistic, pathological person I worked under prompted me to retire three years ahead of my schedule. This resulted in a reduced pension and a lot of soul searching.
    Another result: I penned a novel about two men bullied at work. They dealt with the bullying in far different ways, but were thrown together by circumstance, resulting in positive growth. Being bullied does build character, if you mange to get away from the workplace situation.
    Love the new word, bosshole!

  4. Postscript:
    Writing and publishing my workplace bullying novel was great therapy. It’s titled, ONCE TOO MANY — A Bullied at Work Novel. Published Oct. 28. Can find in Barnes & Noble stores and on its website. Amazon also carries paperback and ebook. Apologies, in advance, for the commercial.

    Physical exercise helps, too. Whatever floats your boat.

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