Having spent about 20 years in the workforce, I’ve crossed the paths of quite a menagerie of colleagues.  From my early days waiting tables to my current role at Schwab, I have met and worked with some of the most phenomenal human beings I could ever imagine. Since we spend nearly a quarter of our lives at work, it should come as no surprise that workplace relationships are a major driver of job satisfaction. In fact, according to the Gallup organization[1], having strong connections with trusted colleagues has a direct impact on an employee’s engagement and a workgroup’s productivity

Working with top notch colleagues improves your employee experience; however the flip side of that coin is that toxic teammates will have negative implications - from reduced productivity and quality to added stress while on the job. Toxic colleagues take on different forms – here are 5 characters you might encounter in the workplace, along with advice on how to help reduce their impact on your success:

1. Debbie Downer

Where you’ll find her:At the water cooler complaining about her workload to her BFF Negative Nancy.

Why she’s toxic: While anticipating obstacles is essential in the workplace, focusing on the issue instead of the solution will bring everyone down. Negativity is a virus that can spread faster than the office cold!

How to deal: When Debbie Downer is on a roll, avoidance is best, but not always realistic.If you find yourself pulled into a negativity-fest, help turn it around by suggesting a solution, complimenting a co-worker, or bringing up a successful project where a huge barrier was overcome.

2. Distracting Dan

Where you’ll find him: Creeping up behind you right as you are about to hop onto an important call.

Why he’s toxic: I love chatting with my co-workers about last night’s football game or a recipe I saw on Pinterest; however there is a time and place for small talk. When I am focused on a task or a deadline (such as writing this blog), Dan’s urgent need to share a new gluten-free cookie recipe can impact the quality of my work.

How to deal: Show your coworkers that you can’t be interrupted by putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign, or setting your workplace instant messenger to DND.Not enough to stop Dan? Tell him you would just love to talk to him about cookies and ask him what time he plans to break so you can grab coffee and discuss.

3. Flakey Francine

Where you’ll find her:On the phone apologizing to you for missing the deadline on the report you needed for your boss.

Why she’s toxic:Your reputation is on the line, and Francine is forcing you to make the decision no employee wants to make: throw your comrade under the proverbial bus, or take the heat yourself.

How to deal:Your reaction should depend on both the current situation and Francine’s history of missing deadlines.I use 3-strikes you’re out policy. First slip up?Apologize as a team and ask for an extension. Strike two? Time for a heart to heart with good old Francine.Happen again? Consider getting your manager involved, as Francine not responding to your feedback and is jeopardizing the team’s success.

4. Cutthroat Chris

Where you’ll find him: In the boss’s office gunning for the promotion you’ve set your heart on.

Why he’s toxic:It’s all about him.Chris hurts the team by monopolizing your manager’s time, taking credit for your work, and killing morale by downplaying team member contributions.

How to deal:Especially for non-competitive personalities, going head-to-head with Chris is going to be a real challenge.Be sure you are sharing your own successes in a tasteful manner, and ask your boss for help if you struggle to self-promote. If you see a colleague suffering from Chris’ politicking, help build them up by offering a genuine, public compliment.

5. Panicking Pattie

Where you’ll find her:Running from desk to desk, asking each person a question she could find the answer to on the company intranet in 15 seconds.

Why she’s toxic:She can kill your productivity and grind projects to a screeching halt. Unleash her outside your department and your team’s or, worse yet, the company’s credibility is at risk.

How to deal:Pattie needs you to be her rock.Don’t encourage her behavior by brushing her off or giving her a quick answer; Help Pattie be self-sufficient by providing extra training and helping her learn her resources. Set parameters for when you can help by using the same techniques you would with Dan.

My colleagues have always been a huge part of why I love going to work. I even met my best friend while working together a previous employer; over 10 years later we are still close, having stood beside one another as maid of honor in our respective weddings and supporting one another through all the ups and downs of life.  I’ve found that at work, the good apples far outweigh the bad and while not every co-worker will be a friend for life, each person whose path I have crossed has helped shape me into the person, colleague, and friend I am today.

About the Author: Shannon Grimes is a Phoenix-based talent attraction manager for Schwab, and her work focuses on connecting with job seekers at networking events, information sessions and career fairs.


[1] Item 10: I Have a Best Friend at Work, Gallup Business Journal, May 26, 1999

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