3 toxic co-workers you need to steer clear of

These types of employees can be hard to spot at the start of your career but avoiding them is a must. Here’s why.

So, you don’t like everyone you work with? Join the club. There are usually many types of personalities in a single office—and you can’t be office besties with every last person. 

According to the Work Stress Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, annoying co-workers can create a stressful workplace. The costs of this added stress? Higher absenteeism, lower engagement and less productivity, according to a Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes survey.

Then, there are co-workers who are more than just annoying, they're toxic. They bring people down with them and affect the productivity of others. They drain creativity. They make you feel unaccomplished. Whatever it is, their negative tendencies spread like a disease. 

For the sake of your own sanity and productivity, avoid these toxic co-workers at all costs. But keep in mind these employees may be hard to detect with an untrained eye. Monster has consulted career experts on how to spot three common types of toxic co-workers and how to handle them. 

 

The contrarian/complainer

How to spot them: Not all contrarians are named Mary Mary, so be on the lookout for someone who is constantly saying “no” or contradicting other normally positive people. Attitudes are contagious, and the contrarian can quickly sour an office.

How to handle them: There are two ways to handle contagious materials: contain or counteract. The same applies to the contrarian.  

“Don’t give in and chime in with your negativity, but rather be friendly and keep conversations light with this person,” advises Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants, LLC, a public relations firm in Connecticut. In other words, keep their negativity contained by limiting your exposure to it. “While you might initially feel obligated to lend an ear, associating yourself too closely with this person can give you a bad reputation at work,”  

In the end, it depends whether you have to work with this person on a regular basis. If you don’t, you can somewhat easily avoid them (depending on the size of the office). If you do, Magas offers great advice: Don’t give in. In the same way that negativity is contagious, so, too, is positivity. Counteract the negative with a healthy dose of the positive and watch the toxicity wither away. 

The gossiper

How to spot them: There are a few tell-tale signs that even the best gossipers let show sometimes: looking over their shoulders before talking, whispering in the kitchen, and the biggest of them all, "Have I got something to tell you." When you hear those words, head for the hills. Sure, gossipers can be sometimes mildly distracting, but other times, they’re totally destructive. For them, it’s middle school all over again. You'll want to avoid the gossiper more than kitchen-cleaning duty.

How to handle them: Pull an Olivia Pope and Shut. It. Down. Should the gossiper try to lure you into their game, politely tell them you don’t want to get involved in company gossip. It should be that simple and straightforward. Otherwise, you risk associating yourself with the person (or people) spreading false information, even if you have nothing to do with the gossip.

Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach in New York City, recalls one of his clients who told a colleague she was pregnant, but it was only in her second month of pregnancy—too soon to announce to the company.

“In her excitement, it slipped that she was expecting, and literally, within minutes everyone, including her boss, knew,” he says. “She wasn't prepared yet to talk about maternity leave, and it forced her to address this issue before its time.”

Be careful what you say and to whom. As the saying goes, think before you speak.

The flake

How to spot them: Still waiting for that report you asked for last week? Check. Finishing the group project on your own? Check. Just got an email that begins with, "So sorry I forgot..."? Check. Still wondering how to spot a flake? Nope. Unfortunately, almost every office will have a few employees who don’t pull their weight and flake on assignments. If only everyone was as hardworking as you. 

How to handle them:  “Trusting this person to help you out will ultimately leave you unprepared or taken advantage of,” Magas says. “You would think they’d at least give you a heads-up before not showing up for the big meeting.”

So try to avoid working on projects with the flake, with lines like “I know you suggested working with [the flake], but [another colleague] would bring a more complementary skill set. Could she and I tackle this together instead?” This way rather than throwing someone under the bus, you’re making it look like your interests are with getting the best results for the company. If that tack doesn’t work, make sure to create defenses that will shield your reputation. 

For example, as annoying as it is, sending the person regular reminders of project expectations will give you a trail of documented evidence should anybody at a higher level ask questions later about why X didn’t get done. Or, suggest using a collaborative workflow tool, like Basecamp or Trello, with steps to be checked off when tasks are completed, and note that you’ll give the boss access for transparency. The risk of looking badly to the manager may prompt the person to shape up and deliver. Or at least semi-deliver.

Of course, after a few times of covering for the flake—or trying to redirect the gossiper or run the other direction when you see the complainer—you may start feeling a little frustrated not just with the person but also with your job. That’s pretty normal. Ultimately, toxic workers can create toxic workplace cultures. And that’s when youve got a serious choice to make: If you feel comfortable, you could talk to your manager, or with human resources, to see if they’re willing to get involved. Sometimes that can help. 

Or, you can rid yourself of these toxins entirely by finding yourself a new workplace. Take Monster’s advice on how to assess a company's culture and research employers on Monster’s partner site Kununu to find a place where the air isn’t as noxious.