We've all had jobs we loathe — the kind that make us want to roll over and go right back to sleep rather than face another day of sheer, mind-numbing misery. We're not always going to like what we do for a living, but when the signs you dislike your job start to tip into signs you're a toxic worker, you're not doing yourself any favors. In fact, you're not doing anyone any favors: According to a recent report by the Harvard Business School (HBS), toxic workers do more than just hurt office morale and turn the break room into a scene reminiscent of a Cold War film. These are unpleasant enough, of course, but this is America. Why talk about petty emotions when there's cold, hard cash on the line?
Because cash really is on the line; according to the HBS study, toxic workers actually cost companies money in the long run. The authors write that superstar employees — that is, those in the top one percent — end up returning $5,303 to the business due to their increased output every year, but avoiding a toxic hire saves a company more than twice that amount due to their harmful effect on performance.
So what makes a toxic worker? According to the paper, it's someone who "engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people." Furthermore, co-author Dylan Minor told the Harvard Gazette that the term "toxic" was chosen because their negative effects tend to "spill over" onto other employees, sometimes by increasing their chances of getting fired later on. Yikes.
By now, you're probably thinking of your own experiences with toxic coworkers, or maybe you're wondering whether you're one yourself. Chances are, you already know whether you're a toxic worker or not; such intentionally negative behavior takes some serious dedication. That being said, it's possible that you could be hurting office morale without realizing. Let's take a look at six signs you might be a toxic worker — and, of course, how to avoid them, because no matter how much you hate your job, there's no reason to make everyone else miserable.
1. You Talk About Coworkers Behind Their Backs
Up to a point, there's nothing wrong with a little gossip to blow off steam, and sometimes office drama can be better than a soap opera. (My best friend once worked at a restaurant where one of the managers was cheating on his wife with three separate employees. Only a saint could keep that to herself.) But when all you do is badmouth your coworkers without ever confronting them to work things out, you're just making everyone around you feel awkward and wonder what you say about them when they're not around.
Instead: Keep the rumors to yourself. If something annoys you so badly you have to talk about it, try talking to the person it actually involves rather than your long-suffering office mate.
2. You're Overconfident
The HBS report found that overconfidence was a predictor of toxicity, largely because it leads people to think they're more likely to get away with misconduct.
Instead: This isn't Wolf on Wall Street. If you do something wrong, you're going to get caught eventually. Just square with that, and act accordingly.
3. You Complain, Complain, And Complain Some More
If you complain more than you actually work, you're not actually accomplishing anything except, once again, making everyone around you feel awkward. Do you really want to be the Negative Nancy of the office?
Instead: Give yourself a daily quota of complaints to coworkers — I'd say three or four are plenty — and content yourself with texting your BFF the rest.
4. You're A Big Believer In Rules... Until You Break Them
The study also found that people who boast that they always follow the rules are actually more likely to get fired for breaking them later on.
Instead: Just be honest; it's better to bend the rules a little than break them in a big way later.
5. People Call You A "Big Shot"
Being a toxic worker doesn't necessarily mean you're not productive; in fact, the HBS study found that they're actually more productive in terms of output, even if the quality isn't necessarily up to par. As cool as productive-yet-unethical workers may seem in the movies, though, this individual productivity doesn't make up for their effect on the company as a whole. One study cited in the HBS report found that removing "big shots" and "tyrants" actually helps businesses in the long run despite the loss of a worker.
Instead: Don't be a jerk, even if you're the most productive worker.
6. You Don't Really Care About Your Coworkers
The less you care about your coworkers, the less likely you are to try to make their lives easier — and the more likely you are to end up toxic.
Instead: Cultivate compassion. Even if you're the odd one out in your office, sitting there and seething about how much you hate everyone doesn't accomplish anything. Besides, it's easier to get along with your coworkers than you'd think.
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