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Blog Insight & Commentary

7 Signs You’re Dealing with Toxic Coworkers

They’re toxic, you’re slipping under

Abbey Slattery
Contributor

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A toxic workplace can be like metaphor of a frog in boiling water. You become so accustomed to the bad behavior that you don’t see it for what it is—until it’s too late. It’s important to be able to recognize when your workplace becomes unhealthy, and sometimes it’s because of toxic coworkers.

Here are seven signs that your coworkers are toxic and what you can do to rise above, or even handle, the drama. 

7 signs your coworkers are toxic

1. They discriminate

Discrimination can be as subtle as excluding specific coworkers from coffee runs and lunches and overt as verbal abuse or work sabotage. “Forgetting” to get certain coffee orders or invite a coworker for lunch is wrong and unkind; sabotaging someone else’s work or using verbally abusive language is not only wrong, it can be downright illegal. 

How to deal

Call them out and/or report it.

When Brian “forgets” Terri’s lunch order, say so: 

Did you get Terri’s order too? Hey Terri, we’re ordering Postmates. What do you want?

When Brian makes a comment about your looking hot today, push back:

That’s inappropriate, unwelcome, and unnecessary. Do not comment on my appearance. 

Calling someone out can be hard. If you see discriminatory behavior, write it down—dates, locations, people present, context—and keep a written record. Take the documentation to your boss or to human resources. 

2. Gossip runs rampant

Office gossip happens, but maybe there’s one person in particular who loves to spread around the latest dish. While not all office gossip is bad, someone who practically makes it part of their job description is not doing much for morale. Not only is gossip distracting, but it also kills trust among coworkers.

How to deal

If the gossip disrupts work, lowers morale, damages relationships, or threatens people’s jobs or reputation, it’s time to step in.

You can go directly to the gossiper:

Dierdre, I noticed that you talk about Faye on the regular. It’s unkind and it is damaging her reputation.

Divert the conversation:

Faye’s been a huge help to me. I often go to her for her ideas.

Or report the problem to your manager or to HR.

Read more: Office Politics? I’ll Work from Home, Thanks

3. They run a boys’ club

A boys’ club is an informal system of guys bonding with guys that keeps men in positions of power—and women out of them. Signs you work in a boys’ club include zero women in leadership or management positions, an organizational structure that doesn’t exactly make sense, women relegated into non-promotable work (like picking up coffee and loading the kitchen dishwasher), and maternity leave policies that are awful (or non-existent). 

How to deal

Question what doesn’t make sense. Did a man with no experience get the promotion over a woman with plenty? Question it. Did the company kill all flextime, making it impossible for people who care for children to make their schedules work? Question it. 

Support mentorship of women. If you’re in a position of power, lift up other women around you through mentorship and support. If your company doesn’t already have a sponsorship program, propose one or kick-start it yourself.

Read more: 6 Uncommon Signs Your Job May Have a Boys’ Club

4. They’re the number-one priority

A project that they barely helped with goes well? They’re first up to take the credit. A pitch they were running falls through? They know exactly whose fault it was (hint: not theirs). Whether it’s grabbing unearned glory or deflecting criticism onto others, this type of toxic coworker is always looking out for number one. This also means that if you have anything bad to say about another coworker (see gossip above) or a gripe about management, they’ll use that information as ammunition if needed.

How to deal

Step in and give credit where credit is due:

I’d like to highlight Michelle for her work on this report. We couldn’t have finished it without her stellar data collection and analysis. 

Or you can call them out directly:

I did a lot of work on the RFP and I’m proud of it. 

If the problem persists, you can pull your boss aside and let me them know the situation. 

Read more: Hate Your Coworkers? Here Are 6 Things You Shouldn't Do About It

5. They complain for the sake of complaining

Work isn’t all awesome all the time, and no one expects it to be. Complaining every now and then is totally understandable, especially if your workplace is lacking in a major way. But when someone in the office never sees the silver lining, it gets exhausting for everyone who has to listen. The office is too cold, the computers are too slow, turnaround times are too high, Elena is a bummer, management sucks—they’re always ready with a complaint, but never a solution. Coworkers like this make it hard for everyone else to focus on the positive, which in turn makes it harder for you to actually enjoy your work

How to deal

The last thing you want to do is encourage a complainer.

Instead, you can deflect their complaints:

The tech team did their very best on that project.

Push them toward a solution:

If you’re unhappy with the process, you should propose a new one.

Or simply walk away. 

Read more: Ending the Hostile Work Environment

6. It’s never their fault—or their job

A good leader isn’t afraid to take responsibility when something doesn’t pan out, but a toxic coworker would rather throw the whole team under the bus than admit any fault. Not only that, but when it comes time to step up and share the load, they want to do only what is convenient for them.

And that extends beyond work itself. They might refuse to clean up a conference room after use or refuse to pitch in for the after-work event. A toxic coworker emphasizes that none of those things are technically their responsibility, so they won’t participate

How to deal

Document responsibilities and due dates and make them visible to everyone involved, plus a manager if necessary. When someone doesn’t pull their weight—it’s made clear. 

If your coworker continues to slack off, take the problem to their manager or yours.

Read more: 10 Things That Aren’t Your Job (That You Might Be Doing Anyway)

7. They are the office distraction

Getting to know people in your office is great—it creates a support system, establishes a professional network, and boosts general office morale. It starts to get toxic, however, when it’s not even 10 a.m. and someone has already made you watch seven videos of dogs trying to go down slides. It’s cute, but excessive. 

Taking a break from work is necessary, but when someone is selfishly wasting your time, they need to take a step back. 

How to deal

The next time Veronica comes to you with a new TikTok, you might give the distraction a time limit:

Okay, I have time for exactly one.

Or shut it down altogether. 

I need to get work done, and I just can’t handle distractions right now. 

Read more: Are You Contributing to an Inclusive or Exclusive Workplace?

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