Many people complain about toxic coworkers regularly. You might even have one or more at your workplace. Now, if your coworkers are often running late or gossiping a bit, that’s not necessarily toxic. Sure, those individuals probably aren’t your favorite coworkers. However, those traits are more annoying turn-off than full-on toxic behavior.
Read on to learn some traits of toxic coworkers. If you notice these behaviors, you’ll equally realize the productivity level of your workspace is suffering. What can you do if you have a toxic person at work? Here are proven ways to spot a toxic coworker right away. And more importantly, what you can do about it.
32. Are All Coworkers Somewhat Toxic?
There are usually ups and downs in every work situation that we find ourselves in. We all have bad days when things generally don’t go well. For example, we find that we’re short with others and don’t understand why. Bad days are regular and expected. There are also things we may not like about our workplace. Maybe you don’t think you’re getting paid enough or are being asked to take on more than your fair share (via Daily Mail). Those are normal problems that are part of life, yet toxicity is something else (via Daily Mail).
31. A Toxic Workplace Is Like A Dysfunctional Family
In most workplaces, you’ll find that not everyone is always on the same page and may not like each other. However, normal, effective workers are professionals who are willing to put their differences aside to work together to get the job done. A toxic workplace is more like a dysfunctional family than a group of professionals due to its squabbling (via Daily Mail). Instead of focusing on the task at hand, people make excuses for each other’s bad behavior and inability to get the job done. This environment is one in which no one can thrive. The focus is always on keeping the peace rather than getting a job done (via Daily Mail).
After enough time in almost any work environment, your colleagues will begin to feel like family because of how much time you spend with them. How is that time spent (via Daily Mail)? Are you working together to achieve goals that will move the company forward? Or are you finding that you are threatened, belittled, and regularly treated harshly? When you look for help, are you given excuses for a person’s bad behavior? If you answered yes to the latter, you’re in a toxic work environment as a result (via Daily Mail).
One sneaky move that a toxic coworker might take is to ask you to forward the documents you’ve been working on so that they can ‘look over them.’ Then this person will deliver those documents directly to the boss so they get credit for your work (via Zen Business). Suppose you have a coworker who sucks up to the boss and who’s displayed this kind of behavior before. Avoid sending them anything that could be used to take credit away from you (via Zen Business).
A new study put together research for a personality trait called Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood, or TIV (via The Ladders). People with TIV are constantly bemoaning their lives and trying to get people to feel sorry for them because of the circumstances. They easily contaminate the entire work environment unless the boss or HR quickly restrains their behavior (via The Ladders). Some people fall for the woe-is-me routine and constantly try to assuage their feelings, thereby turning the work environment into a dysfunctional family. Anyone who doesn’t coddle the victimized coworker becomes an abuser to cast out.
In the game of life – the real game – things happen that are outside our control. Some toxic people respond to unfortunate happenings as excuses for poor performance and refuse to take responsibility for their work (via The Ladders). They end up blaming other people, their circumstances, and anything but themselves for their poor job performance and lack of career advancement (via The Ladders). If you notice that one of your coworkers is refusing to take responsibility for their work, you probably have a toxic coworker you need to avoid at all costs due to this.
There are regularly problems that have to be dealt with in every workplace. In a healthy work environment, team members and leaders will solve problems and use them to foster growing experiences. A toxic coworker will always look for who’s to blame (via Zen Business). If the entire work environment functions this way, nothing will get done (via Zen Business). This is because they are busy pointing fingers at each other. Mistakes should always be learning experiences, not opportunities to blame your coworkers.
According to a study on toxic workplaces, workers who constantly feel victimized need constant attention and affirmation of their suffering (via The Ladders). Everyone wants to have their feelings validated, but people with Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood go to extremes by requiring others to recognize their poor circumstances. One problem they are experiencing is that they cannot separate their experiences from their interpretation of those experiences. They live in the experience of suffering instead of stepping back and interpreting those experiences as part of a world that is not always fair (via The Ladders).
No one wants to become the subject of rumors. The best way to avoid this happening is to avert coworkers who spread rumors about others. If someone says, “Can you keep a secret?” ask if the secret is important enough that you need to know (via The Ladders). Is someone in danger? Is there a potentially unsafe or unethical situation that could cause problems for the company? If the answer is no, you probably don’t need to know the secret. This person is trying to trap you into the rumor mill (via The Ladders). Not only that, but they will bring you along while they trade personal information about coworkers as if it’s office currency.
Some toxic coworkers may approach you to ask if something another coworker did is awful. Or they’ll ask you something like, ‘Can you believe that your boss gave that assignment to Jared instead of to her?’ If you are trying not to become part of the rumor mill, the best thing to do is not to play the game (via The Ladders). Make yourself off-limits by saying that you’re not interested. If you sense that a real problem is brewing or someone is being harmed by the rumors this person is spreading, alert someone in HR (via The Ladders).
Some people who struggle with feelings of inadequacy act as morally superior to everyone around them (via The Ladders). They see the world in stark black-and-white, right-and-wrong terms, and somehow they are always inherently doing what’s right. Those who do not agree with them or act the same are morally inferior. This moral superiority belies immature thinking because the world is more often gray than black and white. An ethically superior coworker is likely to explode if they are challenged in any way and should be avoided (via The Ladders).
Anyone in any leadership position has to make decisions that will regularly affect the business’s course. A toxic leader will refuse to make decisions (via Zen Business). Why? Because they are concerned about possibly making the incorrect one. This kind of person tends to be a bit of an egomaniac because should they make the wrong decision, they’ll have to own up to the mistake and admit their imperfections. This coworker should not be allowed to make decisions (via Zen Business).
A toxic coworker will try to trap you by asking you what you think about your boss or coworkers (via The Ladders). If you respond, you can guarantee whatever answer you give will become fodder for the rumor mill. You cannot outsmart someone trying to start rumors by providing only positive opinions of your boss and coworkers. The toxic worker might spin your answer into a story about you sucking up to try to get a promotion. The only way to win with a toxic coworker is not to play their pointless game (via The Ladders).
The drama queen is a toxic coworker who thrives on the crisis (via Zen Business). This person needs a problem. They will procrastinate until they create a dramatic situation through nonperformance. At that moment, the problem is supposed to set fire to the entire workplace and make everyone cater to the drama queen’s needs until they resolve this crisis. Nobody can thrive with that kind of drama at work (via Zen Business). If you work with a drama queen, you need to set clear boundaries and maybe talk with your boss.
You and your coworkers should be a team. Yet toxic coworkers go too far by keeping score of every single thing. If this person ever helps you with something, they’ll never let you forget it and will always be trying to cash in that help (via Zen Business). The thing is that the favors you give never add points to your score, so you’re never even. If you have a coworker who is always trying to keep score, you need to set clear boundaries. Avoid letting this person do you any favors so that you are never in debt to their imagination (via Zen Business).
There are many reasons why coworkers display selfish behavior. One is that they experience Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (via The Ladders). People with TIV may have no empathy for others, so they see no problem in constantly going to them for validation, assistance with a task they should be completed on their own, or other behaviors. Do you have a coworker who likes to play the victim and is so selfish around you that you can’t get your work done? Try to understand that you’re in a no-win situation. The best option is to recognize that you can’t resolve the problem on your own and talk with HR (via The Ladders).
16. “Politicians” At Work Are Looking To Get Elected
One kind of toxic coworker seems to be constantly on the campaign trail with the boss (via Zen Business). They are always stopping by the boss’s office to say how well things are going and what a wonderful job they’re doing. Yet very little work is actually being done to support these claims. While this kind of coworker may be annoying to some, it could be the downfall of others. If the boss has a large ego they enjoy having stroked, the politician could get the promotion that you were working towards without doing the work (via Zen Business).
15. Toxic Coworkers Give Passive-Aggressive Comments
Toxic people harbor much negativity and will frequently respond with passive aggression, even when a compliment is in order (via Forbes). Forms of passive aggression from a coworker may come in the form of sarcasm or blaming others. They can blame themselves in a way meant to belittle you. Other forms include making excuses, giving the silent treatment, and acting morally superior. These responses do not help anybody and only draw attention to the person making them while pushing others away. Healthy coworkers respond to criticism to improve their own shortcomings (via Forbes).
Slackers at work are more than happy to let everyone else do all of the work for them while they’re away doing nothing productive or meaningful. If you have a slacker on your team, you may find that your own workload is increasing very quickly becomes of the person who is not pulling their share (via InPsychful). And at the end, when the project is finished, the slacker is more than happy to take credit for the work you did. If you work with a slacker, you need to set clear boundaries about what you will and will not do (via InPsychful).
If you find that after you tell something to your coworker, everyone in the office seems to know, you’re probably dealing with a toxic coworker (via Zen Business). This person works full-time as a rumor mill and spreads rumors about you to boost their ego. The worst kind of rumor-spreading coworker is a tattletale who tattles on coworkers for every little thing. They may be looking for attention by getting coworkers into trouble. Whatever the reason, stay away from this person and let HR know that you’re uncomfortable with their behavior (via Zen Business).
A quick and easy way to determine if a particular coworker is truly toxic is if the person is not a team player (via InPsychful). They thrive on hearing themselves talk and voicing their own opinions instead of allowing others to contribute. They have no value for other people’s ideas and what they can bring to the table because they think that they’re the most important people in the world. Because these people cannot listen to anyone else’s opinion, they cannot receive any feedback on their performance. Working with them is usually annoying at best (via InPsychful).
Having a busy and productive employee may sound like a boss’ dream. However, some employees take this trait to extremes by constantly insisting that they’re so busy they cannot possibly get everything done (via InPsychful). In fact, they need to know that they’re doing more than anyone else in the office. And they need you to know this, too. In their minds, the whole office would shut down if they should miss a single day of work because they’re so valuable to getting the job done. More often than not, those people are not doing their own position and are trying to take over for coworkers they believe to be incompetent (via InPsychful).
You probably spend so much time with your colleagues that they become sort semblance family. And what family doesn’t have its own dysfunctions, however small or enormous they may be? But seeing your colleagues at work as a family is exactly the wrong approach (via Daily Mail) if you want to avoid toxicity and ensure that you get your job done well. In families, the focus tends to be on smoothing over differences so that everyone can enjoy each other’s company. You’re not at work to enjoy each other’s company, you’re there to get a job done (via Daily Mail).
Of course, you should want your time with your colleagues to be enjoyable. However, you can have a fulfilling relationship with them without mistaking them for family and glossing over problems to cause dysfunction. Instead of thinking of your colleagues as your family, think of them as a team (via Daily Mail). You’re part of a team that works towards high performance. People on sports teams have differences that they can set aside to win, and this difference is the key to moving past toxicity to get to high performance.
The stakes are always high for professional sports teams, so tempers flare – and you sometimes see these flare-ups on national television. But 99% of the time, team members respect each other, even when making mistakes (via Daily Mail). Bullying and gossip don’t only hurt people’s feelings; they bring down the entire team so that games are lost instead of won. The same principle applies in a high-performing workplace (via Daily Mail). There’s no room for the negative behavior that family members may gloss over and make excuses for.
If you’re dealing with a toxic coworker, you may feel so trapped that the only way out is to quit and move to another job (via CNBC). The situation can be even worse if this person has the boss around their finger. The good news is that there are things that you can do. However, you can only win the battle if you refuse to engage the toxic coworker, as well as people who may be in cahoots with this individual. You can’t help this person; the best thing you can do is restore your work environment to a level of sanity so everyone can function better (via CNBC).
If you have a toxic coworker trying to get their feelings, especially victimhood, validated, the worst thing you can do is agree just to get the person to leave you alone (via The Ladders). Deciding that this person is truly being victimized is like pouring hot grease onto a fire. According to expert Adam Chase, “There are a lot of traps toxic people will try to pull you into, but the one I see most often is a cycle of vindication. Whatever they’re currently being negative about, they’ll try to pull you in. They’ll appeal to your emotions, to your sense of right and wrong, sometimes even to logic and reason–whatever it takes to get you seeing things their way” (via The Ladders).
Toxic coworkers stir up trouble by talking about inflammatory subjects such as politics (via The Ladders). They may also try to talk about office politics because they thrive on playing a game instead of doing their work well. If you have a coworker who tries to drag you into a conversation about something controversial or personal (including your own opinion about a person at work), shut the conversation down immediately. Let the person know that you’re not comfortable discussing those things. Change the subject, walk away, or let the other person know that you’re busy if you’re at your desk (via The Ladders).
One of the most frustrating things about dealing with a toxic coworker is wanting to help this person and recognizing that you can’t (via InPsychful). You’re responsible for one person and that’s you. That person has a workload that you need to complete, and that person also needs to feel sane when leaving work at the end of the day. The toxic coworker is responsible for changing their own behavior and challenging personal growth. If you try to take on that challenge for the other person, you will only be more frustrated than before (via InPsychful).
Your toxic coworker may be an expert at sucking up to your boss (via Daily Mail). However, the responsibility of people in HR is to manage these complex situations impartially and objectively. If you have some genuine concerns that can be documented, ask to speak with someone in HR. If you know that this toxic coworker has compromised one person in HR, ask to talk to a different person (via Daily Mail). And if you really feel trapped, if your office is part of a franchise, ask to speak with someone in the corporate office.
If you’re working on a team and are uncomfortable with a toxic environment, at your next team meeting, let your coworkers know you want things to improve (via Daily Mail). Say something like, “I’ve noticed that there has been a lot of negativity happening at work, and this energy is hurting our ability to get the job done. I want things to improve.” This way, you are keeping the accountability away from specific people (who will probably not handle the blame well) and shifting the focus to where it needs to be – getting the job done (via Daily Mail).
Toxic coworkers thrive on feeling victimized; they draw their energy from thinking that they have a hard lot in life. Don’t encourage this behavior by complaining about them. Instead, focus on the behavior that is causing problems (via Daily Mail). Document this behavior as necessary so that you can bring it to your superiors (via Daily Mail). If you’re a leader at work, tell your coworkers the specific behavior occurring and that you want it to stop. Remember, you’re not trying to fix anyone, you are trying to make work a safe place for employees.