It is a universal dilemma. What to do with the "jerk" at work, the person who is so disliked by their colleagues that no-one wants to work with them?"
Well, the answer according to an article in The Economist (sub req) is to "tolerate them if they are at least half-competent – on the grounds that competent jerks can be trained to be otherwise, while much-loved bunglers cannot."
The jerk at work has become an issue because the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review publishes new research by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo, academics at Harvard Business School and the Fuqua School of Business, that shows work partners "tend to be chosen not for ability but for likability." This is the HBR's summary:
Drawing from their study encompassing 10,000 work relationships in five organisations, the authors have classified work partners into four archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant; the lovable fool, who doesn't know much but is a delight; the lovable star, who's both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who...well, that's self-explanatory. Of course, everybody wants to work with the lovable star, and nobody wants to work with the incompetent jerk. More interesting is that people prefer the lovable fool over the competent jerk. That has big implications for every organisation, as both of these types often represent missed opportunities. Lovable fools can bridge gaps between diverse groups that might not otherwise interact. But their networking skills are often developed at the expense of job performance, which can make these employees underappreciated and vulnerable to downsizing. To get the most out of them, managers need to protect them and put them in positions that don't waste their bridge-building talents. As for the competent jerks, many can be socialised through coaching or by being made accountable for bad behaviour.