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What to Do if You Work With Someone Who is Toxic
There are five common types of toxic coworkers/employees and dealing with them will look different depending on what behaviors the individual is exhibiting. You might work with someone who is all about catty gossiping, someone who has an ego and is just so self-important, or someone who dodges doing work and drops it on the rest of your coworkers. These types of employees ruin a good team and a good company. There are various things that you can do to cope, from removing the toxic employee or moving them off the team, or talking to HR and moving to a different department entirely. The 5 most common types of toxic coworkers are listed below.
1. The Slacker
These types of employees tend not to do their work and are often very helpless, have a hard time staying organized, and tend to slack at their job no matter how easy the task. They might ask you or other team members specifically for additional help or might sabotage your work flow. These types of people constantly need help from others and slow the team down. They also tend to be a bit resistant to getting onboard with changes within the company. The slacker will find ways to avoid work because they lack motivation in general. They are prone to wasting time on the clock and do not mind deadlines.
Suggestion: These coworkers or employees might need extra training, a performance improvement plan, or additional support from a senior team member. You might consider telling your manager how their lack of initiative and motivation slows you down.
2. The Self-Important
The self-important or egotistical coworker/employee thinks they are the cat’s meow. They might be good at a few things but that doesn’t make them valuable necessarily, especially if they don't work well as a team player. They complain often, and they likely won’t work well with team members because they think they are simply the most valuable player on the team, which often isn’t the case. Sometimes these people have control issues and simply don't know when to ask for help. Their general attitude undermines team confidence.
Suggestion: Find a nice way to help this coworker with stress management and need for control. Generally, the self-important wants things done a certain way (their way). You can suggest ways in which they might benefit from team work.
3. The Gossiper
The gossiper is a pain to deal with. These types of people love to dig and dig and uncover news about other employees and spread it around, meanwhile, never taking ownership for the trouble they have caused throughout the organization. They tend to take it so far they might not stop at ruining someone's chances at a promotion or they might reveal personal information about that person that may come back and hurt them. These people tend to be distracting and immature, as in they never grew up and matured into adulthood. This type of coworker likes to get office drama started, and they won't stop at anyone. It's best to avoid sharing any kind of information with this type of person and it's best not to engage with them.
Suggestion: The gossiper should sit down and have a talk with HR. They need to know what topics are inappropriate at work and what kind of information can really hurt someone.
4. The Bully
The company bully is a lot like the sociopath (below) and may overlap with traits of the gossiper on some things. Bullies tend to single out individuals based on jealousy or use bullying tactics if they find anything goes against their flow or their desires. They are manipulative and often withhold information or purposefully interrupt the work environment to throw off any efforts towards good energy.
Suggestion: These types of behaviors should be documented and relayed to HR. Workplace bullying is not tolerated and often can be punishable by law (the victim might receive compensation).
5. The Sociopath
These types of employees are very lousy and difficult to work with. They are all about backstabbing other employees and often feel small if they perceive any sort of competition or talent that will throw them off their thrown. They often exhibit insubordination and mean behavior towards managers and disregard any sort of established organization, rules, or guidelines that are meant to define their position within the company. These type of people also tend to bully and have major issues with authority. They will not stop at any length to sabotage other coworkers, management, or the company at whole.
Solution: Their behavior should be documented. Anyone who is this difficult to work with should likely be fired. It's important that you report this behavior to management.
Why You Should Talk to Human Resources
You can always relay what you are experiencing with a coworker or an employee to HR; they are there to hear your concerns. HR is great at addressing issues naturally and want to hear the full story. To add to this, you need to be really careful about how you word your concerns. It might be to the best of your advantage to document behavior and take notes of when and how this employee acts out. The more documentation the better. This will definitely come in handy whether you are an employee, coworker, or manager. Track every agreement and note any patterns that you've observed.
If You Are a Manager
If you are a manager, you should clearly define what kind of behavior you expect from team members. There must be consequences if an employee doesn’t improve. By documenting their bad behavior, you have more proof as to why they should be fired and when.
What to Do When Hiring
If you are in a management role, make sure you carefully interview new applicants to rule out any signs of toxic behavior in the workplace. It’s often difficult to determine this without prying into someone's life or taking the time to really do some investigative work. Toxic employees are dangerous because they can spread bad morale onto other team members and ruin an entire team over time.
Consider interviewing potential hires about how they handle conflict or stress. Oftentimes, toxic employees might know exactly how to answer difficult questions that people naturally have a hard time answering (as if they are rehearsed or have dealt with it a number of times). It’s also important that employees provide references when they are applying for a job and you verify that they are not forged. References go a long way. You might want to know what their employment history was like, and talking to past employers is a surefire way to verify this level of detail.
Toxic Employees Don't Cooperate Well
Sometimes, toxic behavior is more about an employee's personal life or a mental health issue; if you take some time to talk to them; they might be willing to open up to you. There are employee assistance programs (EAPs) established to help people through difficult times (this is where HR comes in handy). You should not give any advice you are not warranted to give if your coworker or employee is truly dealing with some heavy stuff (mental health, divorce, legal issues, financial issues, etc.). Refer them to the right department.
Be Open to Meeting Them Outside of Work
Sometimes it helps to meet an employee in an environment that is not work to see how they are as a human being. Always remember that people are human and learned their bad behavior from another or were treated unkindly at some point. You might consider transferring to another department or suggesting to your manager or HR that you would like to avoid being assigned to projects that this particular employee is on because of how it interrupts your work and wellness.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Brynn B Lewis