We all have bad Mondays, challenging weeks and even disappointing months. However, you are typically able to make it through a bad Monday and survive the challenging week.
A toxic coworker is defined as someone who engages in behaviour that is harmful to an organization’s property and people (Housman & Minor, 2015). Therefore, having a toxic coworker in your workplace, on the other hand, is like having all of these challenges on repeat. Their behaviour creates a toxic environment in the workplace and this, in turn, affects both your physical and mental health. This is because an unhealthy work environment breeds unrest, low morale, unnecessary competition, constant stressors, negativity, and even bullying. What is worse is that the toxicity in the workplace rarely stays at work, they would also follow you home and take over the conversation you have with your friends and your loved ones and would also cause you to stay up at night, losing out on your much-needed sleep, and generally cause a lot of worry and stress (Career Contessa, 2020). Worst of all, it impedes your potential when you know you could bring so much more to the table (Randstad, 2019).
The impact of a toxic coworker goes beyond one’s physical and mental health, it also affects the company’s productivity. It is shown that this relationship between negative workplace culture and mental health was estimated to cost the Singapore economy US$2.3 billion per year just in the loss of productivity alone (Wong, Low, & Kam, 2020).
Since that is the case, how then do one identify if they are in an unhealthy work environment? The first step in doing so is to first be aware of the different types of toxic coworkers you could come across and to give you a hand, we have helped identify the 4 different types of toxic coworkers.
4 Different Types of a Toxic Coworkers
The Tea Spiller
This coworker is the cause for the office rumour mill. They spend most of their day chatting with coworkers and digging for ‘tea’ to spill. They get pleasure from talking about other people and waste everyone’s time with trivial stories about other coworkers that might not even be true. They love to share bad news, as long as the bad news is not about them (Loomer, 2020).
A little gossip can be entertaining to listen to and can be a decent pastime while at work. But what happens when you become the subject of their gossip? (CVLibrary, 2019). If not handled seriously, seemingly small and harmless rumours could grow bigger and eventually put the workplace harmony at risk. Furthermore, being a victim of gossip is not only humiliating in the moment, but it can also have a long-term negative impact on a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem (Sgobba, 2014). Hence, the best way to deal with a tea spiller is to not participate because pretty soon, they will see that you are not interested, and take their tea somewhere else.
The slacker will do anything except actually work at work. They find ways to avoid working and they are happy to let everyone else pick up the slack (Smith, 2015) and before you know it, your work is piling up and you find yourself having to work overtime to complete their part of the work. And worse of all, despite you having done all the hard work, when the time comes this coworker will take the credit.
The Know It All
These types of coworkers thrive off making others feel less intelligent and valuable than themselves. They are quick to dismiss their colleagues’ contributions and love the sound of their own voice (CVLibrary, 2019).
It can be irritating to be repeatedly told to do something that you already know but know it all does not have to necessarily ruin your day. If you find yourself in a situation of being told of what to do, the best way to deal with it is to listen to what they have to say to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, coworkers who exhibit this kind of behavior can be a real hindrance to the company’s productivity because not only do they often refuse to receive feedback and incorporate constructive criticism in their work they would also build a wall against new ideas and solutions coming from the rest of their coworkers.
The I’m Sooooo Busy
The polar opposite of the slacker may seem like an employer’s dream, but a worker who insists on doing everything themselves can cause their own serious set of problems.
These types of coworkers are not just hard working (Smith, 2015) but they also love to feel like they are doing way more than everyone else in the office. And if it were not for this person, the whole office would shut down, at least that is what they think. These are the types of coworkers that would also complain about how lazy everyone else is compared to them (Wong, 2018). They bring an imbalance to the team, undermine the confidence of the other coworkers and foster unrest in the ranks (Smith, 2015).
3 Ways to Deal with a Toxic Coworker
Try not to engage with their noise
This is often easier said than done. Especially when you hear someone saying something negative in the workplace and to just turn a blind eye and get right back to work can sometimes be really hard to do. However, when a toxic coworker comes at you with certain information or is displaying repeated negative behaviour, the best thing to do is to try not to engage as that might help to establish a set boundary that hopefully, they would learn not to cross (Connel, 2020).
It is nice to have some friends in the workplace, but you do not necessarily have to be friends with everyone. If your coworkers are barging in on you to unload their baggage when you have deadlines to meet, it is fine to ask them to leave you alone (Fishbein, 2019). This tip may seem like the least desirable action to do but most of the time in situations like this, if you do not at least try to set your boundaries with them, you are pretty much granted that not much will change.
Look to productive coping mechanism
Dealing with a toxic coworker can be difficult and because of that, you need to take extra care of yourself and look for productive ways to cope with it. For many of us accepting that we ultimately cannot change other people is the hardest part, but once we do, we often end up discovering new and better ways of responding to their toxic behavior.
Productive ways include redirecting that energy into your own development and spending time with colleagues who enrich you (Harbinger, 2019). Try to also ensure that you are coming into work with a full night of sleep. And when you are at work, maybe head out of the office for your lunch or go on quick breaks to ensure that you are not getting completely sucked in by a possible toxic environment (Connell, 2020).
As the saying goes, you cannot pick your family, and the same is true of your coworkers. You have little control over who occupies the cubicle next to yours (Magana, 2019). What you have control over, however, is how you react to these toxic coworkers. You may not be able to avoid working with these difficult people, but you can stop their toxicity from spreading and ruining your own career, your team, and your organization.
Camellia Wong (MA), Demi Ng
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Housman, M., & Minor, D. (2015, November). Toxic Workers. Harvard Business School. Retrieved from https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-057_d45c0b4f-fa19-49de-8f1b-4b12fe054fea.pdf
Loomer, B. (2020, May 21). 9 Toxic Coworkers to Look Out For (and How to Protect Yourself). Retrieved from https://www.businessknowhow.com/manage/toxiccoworker.htm
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Sgobba, C. (2014, November 24). The weird way gossip messes with your mind. Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19523316/how-gossip-affects-your-mind/
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Wong, B. (2018, August 14). 6 Types of Toxic People You Should Never Befriend at Work. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/6-types-of-toxic-people-you-should-never-befriend-at-work_n_5b71f564e4b0bdd0620c0c9c
Wong, C., Low, J., & Kam, W. (2020, August 6). How to Practice Empathy in the Workplace: 3 Practical Ideas. Retrieved from