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Jerks at work don’t just get under your skin, they damage your job performance and ultimately hurt the bottom line.

Gretchen Spreitzer, a business professor at the University of Michigan, said her research shows difficult co-workers actually “de-energize” those around them.

“They leave you feeling depleted, fatigued and exhausted,” Spreitzer said in an interview.

Her paper — titled “Destructive De-energizing Relationships: How Thriving Buffers their Effect on Performance” and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology — was co-written with Alexandra Gerbasi and Andrew Parker of Grenoble Ecole de Management, Christine L. Porath of Georgetown University and Rob Cross of the University of Virginia.

The researchers asked information technology employees at an engineering firm to evaluate their relationships with each other, and then they looked at each employee’s performance reviews, controlling for prior performance. They found the more a person had to interact with so-called de-energizers, the lower that person’s own job performance.

In a separate study, they asked employees of a management consulting firm similar questions but followed up with an additional survey to measure how much employees felt they were thriving.

Thriving is that feeling where you are on your game, making progress in growth and development, and energized, Spreitzer said. And that psychological resource helps buffer workers from the impact of de-energizers.

The research found those who felt they were thriving fared better on their job evaluations despite exposure to de-energizers.

So how can workers use that to immunize themselves against the jerk in the next cubicle?

Spreitzer suggests that employees:

Limit interactions with de-energizers.

Make sure their own work is meaningful and has purpose. Even in mundane jobs, people can think about the places where they make a difference in the lives of their coworkers and customers, Spreitzer said.

Increase the time they spend with people who make them feel good. If you have a meeting with a de-energizer, try to book time with more positive colleagues the same day.

“I don’t think it should be about the negative interaction,” Spreitzer said. “It’s not so much about venting,” but rather about creating an emphasis on the positive. “Venting doesn’t create good energy; at best it leaves you neutral.”

Why do managers put up with difficult people who create havoc in an organization?

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