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How to Deal With Toxic Colleagues and the Importance of a Happy Atmosphere at Work

Having worked in a customer centric industry, the author has dealt with different customers, and understands the value of customer service.

The attitude of the leader affects the atmosphere of the office-John C Maxwell

The attitude of the leader affects the atmosphere of the office-John C Maxwell

Toxic Colleagues

While there may be different things that make a workplace toxic, when the people in your team with whom you spend most of the day and with whom you have to interact on a daily basis are the reason for the bad vibes, it gets more stressful and difficult to work. And these are not the bosses or clients, but your co-workers, your friends, or your peers at work who are making things difficult for you. Toxic colleagues can take a toll on your mental health as well as professional performance to such an extent that you may consider quitting the job.

Life is short. Work when you’re continuously accepted, respected, appreciated, encouraged, inspired, empowered and valued.


As a working professional, I have had to work with all types of bosses as well as clients. From misogynist to megalomaniacs, I have seen them all. I have also worked with kind and supportive managers. But we do not have a choice with such superiors or clients and we somehow try to get on by concentrating on the work and ignoring our discomfort when dealing with difficult bosses and enjoying the work when we have good bosses. We have no choice in the matter, because the job is a necessity for our and our family’s survival.

Toxic Colleagues Affect Mental Health

But the worst situation is when you have to put up with toxic co-workers or colleagues in your team. I faced such a situation during my posting to a new branch office. Mondays seem like the start of a never-ending nightmare. I did not feel the job satisfaction as there was no joy in the never-ending work. Working late, struggling to complete the work, my health got affected. I realized conscientious workers are the ones who are overburdened with work, as I witnessed many co-workers with no dedication, no scruples sail through without doing much, gossiping and spending office hours doing personal work. I did not realize then as to how it was affecting my mental health.

Toxic colleagues drain you emotionally and physically and productivity gets affected. It is also a risk to your mental health in the long run. So, one should never have to put up with toxic or negative people in the workplace. There are ways you can deal with them in a healthy way without affecting the team culture, and handled professionally.

"Teamwork makes the dream work.” – Bang Gae

"Teamwork makes the dream work.” – Bang Gae

Tips to Deal with Toxic Colleagues

1) Set Boundaries: The first thing to do is to set healthy boundaries and communicate to them the specific actionable limits you would like to keep at work. Stop spending free time with people who affect your mental health and avoid office gossip and politics at all costs. It is important for you to set boundaries for your own mental peace.

When I first joined a new team at my office, I was unaware of the internal politics and would be very open about my opinions. Soon I was dragged into gossip sessions and some of the things that I said innocently were misconstrued and blown out of proportion. Things got so bad that I contemplated quitting. Later on, the advice of my close friend I stayed away from the gossiping and back biting and concentrated on my work. Things improved a lot after that. Walk away from gossip and negative talk or discussions. It is the best way to deal with such people.

2) Confrontation is the Best Solution

Confront them: As soon as you notice unhealthy behaviour by a colleague, call them out for it and confront them directly and seek an explanation for their behavior. Advise them to stop such conduct using the right words without being rude or dramatic, but in a matter-of-fact manner. When a new manager joined us she seemed to not like me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not please her, nothing seemed to work. So, one day I decided to have a talk with her amicably and ask her what the issue was and why she was so upset with me.

The talk helped and soon the situation improved. It is then that I realized how important it is to discuss these things rather than hope that the situation will resolve by itself. Being emotional and trying to put up with their negativity because they are your friends is a huge mistake. It can reduce your productivity. Hence a direct approach is best with such people.

Great teamwork is the only way we create the breakthroughs that define our careers.

— Pat Riley

Seeking Help from Higher Authorities

Seek Help: When efforts from your end do not seem to solve the problem, it is best to seek help from higher officials. At the end of the day, you are all co-workers and basic courtesy needs to be maintained and not get involved in any unpleasantness. My friend who worked in a Bank, once told me about such an experience she faced in her work. She had to deal with a manager who purposefully dumped excess work on her and made her work till late.

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She generally made life difficult for her in the office. When talking to him did not help, my friend had to lodge a formal complaint with the HR department who had to step in and sort the issue with her. The interests of the company should be put forth and how such a person ‘s behavior is affecting the work culture should be emphasized, during the conversation with the higher ups.

Empathy is Needed

Empathy: by trying to understand why the person is so negative or toxic helps to understand the person and be more empathetic towards his behavior. The person may be facing problems in their personal life or may be suffering from depression. In such circumstances, you need to reach out to them, show compassion and offer support. But this does not mean you should let them take advantage of you and take you for granted. You have to speak up when it is necessary. You cannot make everyone happy at the cost of your own mental health and at the cost of your own job.

Good Employees are an Asset to the Company

In these times when there is a dearth of genuine talent, good employees are an asset to the company. So, no organization can afford to have a toxic culture. It all starts from the top as employees try to emulate their leaders who have to be aware of that and ensure to set a good example and build a positive culture. This is a time when the best talent has more choices than ever before, a great work culture is sure to attract and sustain good talent.

As the founder of an ed-tech unicorn once said, a culture which is toxic and restricts freedom at the workplace is one of the quickest ways to kill creativity and stifle innovation. When there is no freedom of expression, no ground breaking and different work is done. Every employee should b e given the opportunity to ask questions that matter.

The pandemic has made people realize the fragility of life and the importance of mental health for overall health. Many people quit jobs that were detrimental to their health and made efforts to fulfil their dreams and live their passions.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Don't settle.

— Steve Jobs

Role of Emotions for a Healthy Workplace Culture

Emotions are helpful at work as per Sigal Barsade, American business theorist. According to her emotions shape workplace culture which in turn affect an organization’s performance. She believed that emotions were contagious and that we unconsciously mimic the expressions and behaviours of those around us. this was deducted through a study conducted in the matter. She also advocated ‘compassionate love’, a mix of affection, compassion and friendliness that marks healthy workplace culture.

But she also believed that not all positive emotions are suitable for all groups. Like for a military unit it would be more beneficial to have a leader who stressed on pride and optimism over say joy and compassion. Negative emotions like anger are important because they indicate that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. One constant workplace culture cannot be applicable for all workers. It varies from place to place and being in the wrong place can take an emotional toll.

“We do not need more intellectual power; we need more spiritual power. We do not need more of the things that are seen; we need more of the things that are unseen

— Calvin Coolidge

The Happiness Quotient

Employers recognize that a happy team is more creative and productive. And only happy employees can make happy customers. A study by Oxford University has found a definite link between happiness and productivity. They found that 79% of the people left their jobs because they did not feel appreciated. Many a times we see people who quit their well-paid jobs to join philanthropic organizations for happiness and productivity endeavors.

So, companies are nowadays appointing happiness officers to ensure the happiness quotient of the employees, and address any issues there might be an impediment to the agreeable atmosphere at the workplace. Businesses are moving from a mere profit centric model to customer-employee centric model. It is empowering to the teams to give their best, sort differences amicably, and respond pleasantly. To do so the business leaders need to inculcate and nurture a sense of gratitude, respect, appreciation and cooperation among the employees. For this many companies have introduced yoga, meditation and mindfulness sessions for the employees.

In Conclusion

Toxic Colleagues and work environments affect our mental health and often we fail to even notice the damage it does to us, in terms of productivity, energy, peace of mind. But no working professional has to face such extreme situations. There are steps one can take to address the same and avoid the harm it can cause to our work and productivity. Work should be such that it drives our conscious. Each day we should feel energized, enthused to go to office and at the end of the day, feel the joy of work done well. Job satisfaction is important to have a stable work culture. Employers today feel the need to provide a good. healthy work atmosphere and are doing everything for the wellbeing of the employees which is a beneficial to their business also as greater productivity means greater profits for the business concern or company.

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.


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