Many factors contribute to loving a job: role and responsibilities, company culture, perks, people. The combination of these things and more can help us wake up, get out of bed in the morning, and head into another day with motivation and a happy mindset. All it takes to corrupt this feeling of contentment, however, is the presence of a toxic coworker.
Toxic coworkers work methodically and selfishly, acting as a cancer in the workplace and actively disrupting the peace whereby your success, happiness, and general wellbeing is subsequently affected. Though common, identifying a toxic coworker is not always as easy, as it may not be obvious to the unfamiliar eye.
If you've never had experience with this type of individual, you might not be able to pinpoint the root of your growing dissatisfaction at work. To discuss the habits of toxic coworkers and ways of coping with them, I consulted with relationship and etiquette expert and popular media resource April Masini, as well as Talkspace therapist Katherine Glick. Here are 11 signs you're dealing with a toxic coworker.
1. Displaying Self-Serving Behavior
Toxic coworkers are, first and foremost, predominantly selfish individuals. Every action is premeditated to benefit themselves, at whatever cost or effect it may have on others in the group or office. Though, toxic individuals are not so easily identifiable, as they often mask their self-serving efforts as what's best for the team.
"It’s a lot more difficult for someone without experience with toxic people to identify them, and it will take longer. It’s hard to know if what people say about someone who’s toxic is just gossip or not, and it’s important to learn for yourself, never through gossip," according to Masini.
While the rest of the office may identify one person as a toxic coworker, you should come to the realization on your own, rather than believing in what travels through the grapevine.
"In general, to spot a toxic coworker in your workspace, look for the telltale signs: It’s all about them, they take credit for the work of others, and they’re interested in your company as long as you have something to offer them," Masini tells Bustle via email.
2. Gossiping & Trash Talking
"When you find a coworker who is more often than not talking trash and badmouthing others, you’ve spotted a toxic coworker," assures Masini.
Gossip is the root of many problems within the office walls, becoming a breeding ground for negativity and escalating emotions. As in your personal life, the only way to deal with trash talk from a toxic coworker is to avoid participating or quietly encouraging it.
"Take the high road and don’t get involved or encourage this talk. Depending on your personal style, either be silent and walk away or call the person on their negativity and suggest a better approach is to appreciate the assets of others and what they have to offer the company (and the world)," Masini says.
3. Taking Advantage Of The Misfortune Of Others
"When someone takes delight in the failure and misfortune of others, you’re dealing with a toxic coworker," Masini tells me via email.
Take note of the individuals who rise up during the low moments of other coworkers. Avoid associating with a coworker who sees opportunity in leveling up or stepping into your boss's good graces following another person's mistake or shortcoming.
When you identify a toxic coworker like this, Masini suggests, "Don’t go low with them. Express concern for the misfortune and change the subject to something positive. You’ll find that eventually others at work will rally around you and share your good attitude."
4. Not Acting As A Good Team Player
"If you can’t stay away from a toxic coworker, then call them out politely. You’re going to be saying what others wish they could. Silence is not always golden, and if you nudge a toxic coworker towards a more positive way of dealing with things, you may be giving them help they didn’t know they needed," according to Masini.
Albeit difficult to approach toxic coworkers, appropriately suggesting more effective ways to handle interpersonal communication and team cooperation could be exactly what this person needs. If someone is drastically unaware of social cues or how to approach group projects, offering guidance is beneficial to not only that person but all coworkers in your group.
In fact, Masini says, "Many toxic people don’t know any better. They didn’t spring from the womb like this. It’s what they’ve learned over time. Give them a better option."
5. Outwardly Offending Others
"When a toxic coworker spews gossip or negativity, the line should be considered crossed. Your workplace is communal and it’s important to steer toxic coworkers into a direction that is healthy. They may not realize they’re being negative because this is what they’re used to so treat them gently and carefully but clearly and firmly," Masini states.
As previously mentioned, a toxic coworker may not be aware of his or her hurtful nature and habit to offend, making it essential for you to take time to digest and assess the situation before reacting. Think about how this coworker could have better handled a problem and what he or she specifically said to offend you or someone else in your office. Then, calmly state your disagreement and offer a solution.
Glick makes a point to address exactly what constitutes offensive behavior, saying, "If they do not respect your space, if they actively create hostility for/with you, if they are engaging in sexual or other harassment, or if they are gossiping about you." It's important to mention that all of these inappropriate behaviors are also grounds for reporting to human resources as a solution to the problem.
6. Actively Affecting The Wellbeing Of Others
If a toxic coworker is present in your office, you are not the only one experiencing the consequences of this person's behavior. You will notice a number of coworkers with whom a toxic individual collaborates feeling discontent as a result.
To elaborate, Masini shares, "By shear definition, a toxic coworker brings toxicity to the workplace. Any community is affected by everyone in it, and a toxic coworker poisons the pot. Depending on their effectiveness, a toxic coworker can cause depression, negative job performances, job failures and firings. This an be over the course of five minutes or five years."
7. Inciting Discomfort In Coworkers
Toxic coworkers have a tendency to bring out the worst in other people. When dealing with a toxic coworker becomes overwhelming, we will either make rash, subconscious decisions or devise thought-out, even-tempered solutions in dealing with them.
According to Masini, "There is a spectrum of responses anyone can have to a toxic coworker and the choices a person makes defines them. When fear is what drives your decisions, expect your body to let you know you’ve made a bad move. Headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, and depression are all signs that you need to change your own behavior. It’s your life to live and your choices to make."
8. Fostering Negativity
"Toxic coworkers enjoy negativity and foster it. You’ll see not just gossip and negativity but active attempts to undermine and cause failures," Masini says via email.
Negativity is the number one indicator of a toxic individual in the workspace. When combating such coworkers, it's essential to do so with a level head.
As Masini suggests, "An employee in a group with toxic coworkers who rule has a spectrum of choices. They remain silent, speak up, find positive allies, ask for help from bosses and human resources or find a new job. Making choices to suit a particular situation require some strategizing. Hard and fast rules shouldn’t apply, because everyone is different."
9. Building A Following
"The biggest problem with a toxic coworker is that they become a magnet for others with lesser character. When a toxic coworker becomes the leader of a grown up mean girls club or a grown-up 'Lord of the Flies' paradigm, there’s no limit to the damage they can cause," warns Masini.
People in the workplace with little voice or control may hope to be uplifted by associating with a toxic coworker whose personality and input is obstructive. There's power in numbers, and when a toxic coworker has followers supporting his or her every move, they will become a force to be reckoned with.
As Glick shares, "[a toxic coworker's] negative toxicity may become infectious and spread to other employees/coworkers," so it's paramount to keep your distance from this person and his or her followers, limiting interaction to only when necessary.
We've all experience the coworker who just won't take a hint that it's time to stop talking and get to work. This person is often guilty of lamenting over his or her personal problems or life stories during work hours, drawing unwanted attention and making you guilty by association.
As Masini points out, a toxic coworker "can also be the person who brings their problems from home to their job, sharing the negative energy and/or details of such problems, or the person who is otherwise inappropriate in the workplace."
Again, if you find yourself involved in these situations, the best solution is swiftly relocating or doing what you can to remove yourself.
11. Complaining & Offering No Solutions
Incessant negativity continues to be the foundation for the habits of toxic coworkers, and that negativity is not limited to small nor big complaints.
A toxic coworker has a generally "negative perception about the workplace and workload, and actively shares negativity," shares Glick. Listening to these complaints will lead you down a negative road to unhappiness at work, in association with a host of other issues resulting from this one person.
A toxic coworker has the power to drive you out of a job you love. As soon as you experience a person with any of the above habits in your once-pleasant workspace, do what you can to encourage positive behavior, give this person the benefit of the doubt, and handle it in a civil manner. Should a toxic coworker become reprehensible, report the problem to human resources before the choice becomes yours whether to stay or flee the situation.