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Five Jerks You’ll Meet at Work Based on Characters from The Office

BU experts weigh in on how to cope with five unpleasant coworker types


It’s not your imagination: there are so many jerks in the workplace that they inspired a recent book by Stanford management scholar Robert Sutton, The Asshole Survival Guide (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Whether you’re heading for an internship or that first postgraduation job, you should know what unpleasant personality types are most common, and how you can cope with them. We asked BU experts, including one cited in Sutton’s book, and illustrated their examples with characters from that TV primer on workplace jerks, The Office.

The Office character Angela

The “validation-hungry worker.” This person needs “lots of acknowledgement and may become competitive with others, brownnosing the boss and getting upset when others get credit,” says Danielsen Institute Research Director Steven Sandage, the School of Theology Albert and Jessie Danielsen Professor of Psychology of Religion and Theology. “Try not to be pulled into the inevitable us-versus-them dynamics,” says Danielsen Institute Executive Director George Stavros (GRS’98), an STH clinical associate professor. Center yourself with exercise, rest, supportive relationships, or solitude “before engaging critical tasks,” he says, then “do your job. Never underestimate how much supervisors notice someone who can do a good job while avoiding the fray.”

The Office character Dwight

“Oddball eccentrics” and “dramatic, emotional, erratic” types. These people have personality disorders, including paranoid, schizoid, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic. They share a tendency to personalize and overdramatize situations, says David Shim, a College of Arts & Sciences lecturer in psychological and brain sciences. “Don’t let these folks get into your head,” he says. “In minor situations, scan for the truth in what they say, agree or agree to disagree, and ask for their assistance. Validating their perspective can bring the emotional tone down.”

The Office character Michael Scott

“Podium pigeons.” That’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lingo for bosses who excessively monitor workers, says Michel Anteby, a Questrom School of Business associate professor, whose research into the TSA Sutton cites. Excessive surveillance, foisted on workers ranging from physicians to call center workers, is best handled by alerting managers to it, hoping they’ll back off and see that it’s unnecessary, Anteby says. But since workers fear such direct approaches, “the common way to deal is trying to become invisible to management.”

The Office character Ryan

The nondisordered, run-of-the-mill jerk. “Many people will be on the extreme end of some traits that will make them more challenging to work with,” from arrogance to overconfidence to grandiosity, says Andrea Mercurio, a CAS lecturer in psychological and brain sciences.

With some research suggesting that young adults are ever more narcissistic, she says, “it is almost inevitable that you will have to interact with individuals who possess some of these traits, and in some cases, your ability to succeed will become dependent on whether you can find effective ways of communicating and interacting with them.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

7 Comments on Five Jerks You’ll Meet at Work Based on Characters from The Office

  • Alum on 02.13.2018 at 8:50 am

    ??? There are only four distinct items on this list (I guess the second item is being counted as two but it’s lazy), most of the gifs are astoundingly low quality, “cookie” in the first gif refers to sex in its original context, and the second item of this list is stigmatizing of mental illness. I’m surprised this was published by BU Today. An attempt to be like Buzzfeed, I guess?

    • Rich Barlow, BU Today on 02.13.2018 at 9:36 am

      Our second example actually has two jerk types. Thank you for reading!

      • Just another BU Parent on 02.13.2018 at 10:32 am

        It is unfortunate that the second example lumped two very different types of people. Although I have no need for dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior, I do value people who are deemed oddballs and eccentrics since add diversity to the workplace.

        • Rich Barlow, BU Today on 02.13.2018 at 11:00 am

          “Odd, eccentric” behavior are the words used by psychologists when the behavior crosses into personality disorders, as the story noted. Those disorders are outlined in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the mental health field’s gospel. Thank you for reading and for commenting.

    • Jonathan on 02.13.2018 at 9:41 am

      Your whining over this piece is hilarious. This is in part why Trump won the election, because normal people are sick of hypersensitive left-wing crying over non-issues. Go work in an actual office for a decade and then come back and comment again lol, this article is spot on.

  • Hannah on 02.13.2018 at 9:28 am

    As a huge fan of The Office and someone who enjoys reading articles from BU Today, I am very disappointed to see a link made between mental health and jerk employees. People diagnosed with a mental health challenge face stigma in the workplace already. By normalizing that someone who may have these traits is a bad employee furthers the stigma and discrimination they already face. To say that that someone who is an “oddball eccentric or dramatic, emotional, or erratic” has a personality disorder and linking it with the DSM is just offensive.

  • Mike on 02.13.2018 at 9:34 am

    For the most part “work” is pretty much like middle school, except people dress a little nicer.

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