There’s a co-worker in your office you just don’t get along with. They frequently miss deadlines, and you’ve been told they sometimes talk about you behind your back. But are they just having a bad day or is there something more complicated going on?
What is a Toxic Co-worker?
Before we dig in, we want to outline what a toxic co-worker is. As defined by a study put out by Harvard Business School, a toxic worker is one who “engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people.” So, someone that acts in such a way as to cause emotional or physical damage to the company, it’s property, or most often, other co-workers. It doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person; just that, for whatever reason, they’re hard to work with. Here are a few warning signs to look for.
- They might make you choose sides.
Watch out for a co-worker who doesn’t seem to have friends at work but opens up to you in your first week on the job. They might start warning you about troublemakers in the office, or gossip about management. But at the first sign of trouble, they won’t have any qualms about saying you were actually at fault for their mistakes.
- Nothing is their fault.
A co-worker like this rarely takes responsibility for their own failings. Instead, they’ll detail how their shortcomings are actually the fault of their manager or other co-workers. They might even blame trouble ontheir personal lives or customers/clients.
- They gossip.
If a co-worker often talks about other people behind their back, they might be talking about you the same way. They might feel powerless in the workplace and talk badly about their co-workers to feel stronger.
- They have two sides.
Troublesome co-workers can often be agreeable and understanding in their dealings with management, but difficult to work with when it come to interacting with peers at their own level.
- They hand work off to newer hires.
Some toxic co-workers tend to pass off their work to more inexperienced workers. This might be something their superior one did to them, but if you find someone giving you work that isn’t related to your job and it’s interrupting your workflow, ask your manager about it. It’s more than possible it isn’t your responsibility.
- They have a tendency to complain.
Complaining is normal; we all do it from time to time. And sometimes it’s warranted. Maybe the workplace kitchen microwave has been broken for three weeks, or the vending machine keeps eating dollar bills. But a toxic co-worker might complain about minor things every day. Their computer is too slow, the workplace is too hot, the workplace is too cold, they don’t understand the new company technological systems, the new hire never knows how to do anything, etc.
When it comes to dealing with troublesome co-workers, you really only have three options. Ignoring them (which can sometimes only work to a point depending on how destructive their behavior is), confronting them directly, or speaking with your manager. If you do decide to confront them, make sure to be up front: tell them what behavior is bothering you, and ask them if there anything you’re doing that bothers them as well. If that doesn’t work, that’s when it’s time to talk to your manager.
Have you ever encountered a toxic co-worker? Let us know in the comments section below.