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Jerks at Work by Tessa West



The workplace is a difficult beast of a place. A place where many of us spend more waking hours than we do at our own home with those closest to us. As a result, there can be something of a battleground scenario that grows over time; where ‘Jerks’ have the opportunity to thrive and grow. This is the exploration of Tessa West’s new book Jerks at Work comes into play.


As a Professor of Psychology at NYU, West has spent time researching and exploring the many types of ‘Jerks’ that exist in the work place environment and compiling them into something of a compendium and how-to guide for the rest of us. These toxic co-workers are named and shamed for their behaviour and their approach to the work that is required of them.


Each of the seven characteristics of the various Jerks (Kiss Ups/Kick Downers; The Credit Stealer; The Bulldozer; The Free Rider; The Micromanager; The Neglectful Boss; The Gaslighter) are given a chapter to explain the symptoms of said ‘Jerk-ness’ before explaining some of the science behind the behaviour and some of the coping mechanisms that can be incorporated into day to day life with these people, thus making the whole process a little more bearable.


However, West is keen to point out that it can be the behaviours in others that may well require us to take a close look at our own work persona. Some of us may, West suggests, be somewhat of a closest Jerk without even realising it. It seems it can be a fine line, or even a blurry line at the best of times.


As with many of these workplace non-fiction texts, there is a penchant for telling stories that illustrate a point. Sometimes these are a little distracting from the practical work and it certainly becomes easier and easier to skip through the preamble story and get to the nitty gritty details as the book continues. While meaning well, these stories often do little to help with the practicalities. If you have a ‘Bulldozer’ in a meeting (one who constantly takes over the narrative for their own purposes, or asks questions so specific to their own cause that it has very little relevance for anyone else) then chances are you don’t need a cute illustrative story to help you identify them. Having said that, some of the more nuanced Jerks (eg The Gaslighter) does benefit from the story.


Personally, the ability to recognise the various types has helped immensely in the handling of these people with a level of compassion and understanding - perhaps seeking first to understand rather than to judge. The book has been quite transformative in the way one can handle situations that arise with a fair level of regularity.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Penguin