We’re all just trying to make a living and it helps to have friends who all get along — but some people are particularly adept at making it worse than it has to be by turning the workplace into a toxic mess — either consciously or unconsciously.
We’ve all worked with him — the coworker who makes you crazy, who makes you cringe, and who puts a knot in the pit of your stomach at the mere mention of his name.
If you think it seems more and more coworkers are difficult to get along with, you’re not alone. A Conference Board research group study published in 2010 showed that the percentage of people who say they like their coworkers has plummeted. Only 56% of people said they like their co-workers, down from 68% in 1987.
So who are these toxic coworkers? After a bit of research and thought, I’ve come up with five different types that you’ll encounter some time during your work career. Each has its own way of poisoning your work environment.
They’re unhappy and mad at the world (which sucks too by the way). The hater tears down everything: The boss. The company. The accounting department. The help desk. The CEO. The decision made on a project. The holiday party. You. A lot of the time the hater has on a happy face for public view in meetings, in conversations with the boss, etc. However, the eye-rolling, snide comments made under their breath or outright in the break room reveal their true character. It doesn’t matter what it is, this coworker hates it. Period. And they want you to hate it too.
The slacker comes in many varieties:
- The Gossip who spends more time talking about everyone and everything in the company than doing productive work.
- The Whiner murmurs on and on about all that’s not right in her world — her workload, her old computer, her family, her dentist… She’ll even whine about having to do her job.
- The Social Coordinator uses up more time chatting in the hallway, arranging where everyone should go for lunch or after work than doing any true work.
- The Space Cadet just stares blankly at the computer for hours wondering where to start and making multiple trips to find where she left her coffee cup. But ask her and she’ll tell you she’s overworked.
- The Snob. She believes certain kinds of work are beneath her — despite having the same title as you — and refuses to do it.
- The Excuse Maker has an excuse for everything. Their computer caught a virus. They didn’t get that e-mail. Their kid/cat/parent is sick. The water heater broke. Getting out of responsibility is a unique art form for this person. Ultimately, you’re left wondering if you’re being duped. Regardless of the variety of slacker you’re dealing with, who ends up working overtime to meet the deadline and save the project/client? YOU do.
The Manipulator/ Strategist
is perhaps the most difficult — and dangerous — to deal with, often because it takes time to realize that you’re being played and once you realize it, it’s too late. He has learned how to hide his aggression and true motives under a veil of good intentions, compliments, feigned helpfulness and doing what’s best for the company. Every move, every interaction, every word used is part of a strategy to get people to do what he wants, which may include doing his work for him. In a way, the manipulator can be a more ambitious form of the slacker.
When you don’t do what the manipulator wants or if you disagree and ask questions, the manipulator applies pressure, makes you feel guilty, finds ways to make you look stupid to your boss and/or uses information shared in confidence to pit you against another coworker.
For whatever reason this person views you as a threat. Maybe you’re a recent hire into a comparable position within the company. Maybe you’ve been assigned work that she feels that she is more qualified to do. Whatever the paranoid reason, you’re now the enemy. Although she may treat you like you’re her best friend and say “we’re all on the same team”, she’s looking for ways to sabotage you – whether it’s sharing selective information to make herself look good and you look bad in front of the boss, pointing fingers at mistakes and letting everyone and their brother know that it’s someone else who is at fault.
The Know It All
The know-it-all has an incredible need to be taken seriously and be the center of attention. He will relentlessly bulldoze his ideas through any process and ridicule those offered by anyone else and wear you down with their ‘my way’ campaign. If you push back, he makes it known that you’re just being competitive and don’t have the company’s interests at heart — which means you’re forced to be defensive and he continues to be right. Discussion and debate are a waste of time.
Do any of these types of toxic coworkers ring true for you? What types have you had the displeasure of working with?
In part two of this series, I’ll cover some potential strategies for dealing with these toxic types.