Caution: Toxic Co-Workers Ahead

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Annoying co-workers As we’ve mentioned before, co-workers play important roles on your workplace experience. They, at the very least, can annoy you. They can make life better (or at least more romantic). And they can just be weird.

According to Linnda Durré, Ph.D., co-workers can also be toxic. She doesn’t mean they get on your  nerves, but they actually cause you harm on some level. As the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against the Co-workers, Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day,” she knows a thing or two about identifying harmful associates. Luckily, she has advice that doesn’t just help you identify problems but that also teaches you how to address the issues. Today’s guest blogging duties come from Durré herself.

Here are 10 toxic co-workers and how to deal with them, according to Durré.

1. VIC THE VIOLENT ONE
Vic the Violent One is a genuine threat. Do not approach Vic directly. Document every transgression with date, time and place. Some people use their cell phone cameras, video cams and/or audio tape recorders to record his outrages. Report Vic to HR. Security may have to be called. Some people carry Mace or a taser for protect against Vic. If HR doesn’t take action, ask for a transfer to a different department, see if you can work from home and/or go to EEOC, the media, or the union or get an attorney and sue. Protect yourself. You and others can file a law suit and allege a hostile work environment.

2. ANDY THE ALCOHOLIC/DRUG ADDICT
Andy the Alcoholic/Drug Addict is dangerous, and if he is a driver for the company, he can cause fatalities. His behavior is a cry for help, even though he is in denial. Report him to HR and your boss to take action, like ordering him to a 30-90 day de-tox/rehab, hopefully covered by insurance. If HR won’t do anything, bond with co-workers, Andy’s friends and family and hire a qualified interventionist for a group confrontation about his addiction (my website has a list of interventionists around the country). Talk with Andy privately, take him to an AA, CA and/or NA 12 Step Meeting because Andy has to “hit bottom” and/or have “a moment of clarity,” to recognize his addiction is killing him if he doesn’t stop. He’ll thank you for saving his life when he gets sober.

3. STAN THE STALKER
If Stan the Stalker is a spurned lover, he may stalk you. If his ex was your co-worker, he may hound you for information. Either way, be careful. He may seek revenge and he can possibly do you physical harm, kidnap, or even murder you. He may be delusional and suffer from erotomania – the “relationship” may be in his mind. He may need medication. Go to HR and your boss and tell them immediately. Set limits, tell him his behavior is inappropriate, and if he doesn’t stop, you may need a restraining order and police protection. Move to another department, take another job, work from home, or move to another state. Carry pepper spray or get a taser if he threatens you.

4. SID THE SEXUAL HARASSER
Sid the Sexual Harasser doesn’t understand “no.” Set limits, be firm, clear and yell if you must, making sure you have witnesses, proof and evidence when you report him to HR and/or your boss.  Tell him that what he is doing is illegal, unethical and immoral and it must stop now! If the company doesn’t take action, they can be sued for allowing a hostile work environment to be created. Be assertive – the law is on your side.

5. SAM THE SMILING COBRA
Sam the Smiling Cobra smiles while he sets you up and stabs you in the back. Cover yourself, document everything with e-mails, phone logs and letters, cc’ing them to your boss and the HR department. Keep a file locked with a complete copy in your bank’s safety deposit box. Ask for a transfer to another department, work from home, or go to a different company. San may be a psychopath/sociopath who wouldn’t think twice about ruining you or having someone – including you – killed if they got in his way. Read Snakes in Suits.

6. GRETA THE GOSSIP
Greta the Gossip is a vicious rumor mill. Set boundaries and limits clearly and assertively. Inform her you know she spread the falseties. Go to HR and file a formal complaint. Confront her directly with them present. Insist they discipline her, require an apology letter, cc’ing it to the department. If HR refuses, send an e-mail to your co-workers refuting any malicious rumors, stating you confronted her and she has not apologized to you or anyone via an e-mail about her vicious rumors, as you requested when you went to HR, who did not handle the matter. Set the record straight and protect yourself.

7. PAUL THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT
Paul is either a deliberate bigot/ racist/sexist /homophobe or totally clueless like Michael Scott on “The Office.” He may be violating federal and state laws as well as company policy by creating a hostile work environment, so document everything and always cc it to your boss, the HR department and co-workers. Make a tape of your office and cell phone messages from him and print out his e-mails to you. Make copies and keep all evidence in a safety deposit in your bank in case of a law suit. Bring Paul to HR and tell Paul directly that his insensitive remarks interfere in your work, offend people and need to stop. Ask HR to order Paul to a refresher course in diversity training.

8. THOMAS THE THIEF
Thomas can steal your ideas, take credit for your work and/or take items from your desk, wallet and purse. Change your computer and cell phone passwords daily, close and lock your desk and carry your purse and valuables to the bathroom. Use your camera to document when you find your things in his possession. Call him out in a meeting that he took your idea. Whether you have proof or not, confront Thomas so he knows you’re onto his game. Be firm, clear and direct with him because he’s in denial and he has an addiction. Report him to HR, even if you have no proof. Ask co-workers to be witnesses for you.

9. GORDON THE GRINCH
Gordon the Grinch is negative, pessimistic and insulting. Set limits, confront him and say, “Gordon, I appreciate that you are a dependable worker here, and I know you don’t like your job, but I do. I’d prefer you keep your negative comments to yourself and let me work in peace. Perhaps the free counseling sessions at EAP – Employee Assistance Program – might lift your black cloud. ” Unless he has a near death experience and realizes how precious life is, Gordon won’t change. Ask HR to speak to him, move away from Gordon, transfer to another department, work from home, start your own business, or work for another company. If not, wear ear plugs, play music through ear buds. Protect yourself from Gordon’s negativity.

10. PAM THE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE
Pam is passive-aggressive—she does nasty, aggressive acts in a passive manner. Pam “forgets” to tell about the urgent call or that your overnight delivery has been sitting on her desk for hours. Confront Pam that you’re onto her game because she thinks you don’t know.  Tell her to communicate honestly and openly rather than sabotage you. Allow her to be assertive, which may be scary for her, given her programming that “anger” isn’t “nice.” Pam needs assertiveness training workshops, to listen to self-help CD’s and read as many books about it as possible. If she takes your advice, she will be incredibly grateful to you for freeing her from her own emotional prison.


Linnda Durré, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic. She is the author of “Surviving The Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com

30 Comments
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  2. I find myself smiling through your article. Nicely written. It’s so funny. Yeah, I know if some of the people here could be really dangerous. Sid the sexual harraser is probably the worst. Vic the Violent and Stan the Stalker can probably kill you. I’ve three more to add to your list. http://sn.im/uxpjq

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  4. This sounds like it was written by a therapeist. The advice is not practical. Throw an “Intervention” for drug abusing co-workers? Report everybody to HR? Wonder if the therapist took thier medication today? Sounds paranoid schizoid

  5. comment on toxic work place…

    I worked at a toxic university. I started at the university in one city. Great job, coworkers got along, the best experience. I applied and was hired for the job of my dreams. Biggest mistake of my life. All the management from the top down were married to one another, bickering, backstabbing, witches. The place was horrible. They made it very clear, if you weren’t playing in the gay sandbox they would make your life a living hell and drive you out. My manger gropped me, patted my behind in front of other managers, exposed her breasts to me, to name a few. She was a wacko. You were never sure what personality you were working with on any given day. This idiot was married to the woman who was second in charge of this campus-a very well known campus for adult learners. Her wife had a baby-oh no they pro-created. That poor little child and what his poor little life is going to be like is horrible. I hope child protective services takes that child out of that toxic environment some day.

    Her behavior was so off the wall with men and to other woman everyone filed HR complaints. The gave her leave and had her exit the campus for a few months while HR investigated. They never investigated-they brought this idiot back, made her an instructor! Imposed her toxic wacked out person on students paying $1800 a class for this nut job! I lost my respect completely for this school. Then her and the dingbat wife were transferred to Washington or Oregon to another campus location.

    I don’t care if people are gay-it’s their business and their choice of life. But when you inflict your gay attitude on others you crossed the line. The rest of the world does not have to accept your lifestyle, nor should the world be subjected and forced to agree with the gay life style. People are entitled to their own opinions, views and feelings.

    This work environment was so nasty, ugly, toxic, the people were horrible to work with-because of the culture the all management created. Toxic. The ugliest place I’ve ever worked at.

    I went to another company and moved on. The material I gathered and documents during this ugly period I plan to use as thesis material or I’ll use it to write a book. Keep watching that best seller list.

  6. Stan the stalker is no joke – only there are sally stalkers out there as well. I am a female who has been stalked by a female (she has stalked other females as well) she is married and has kids and obviously hides behind these labels (mom, wife) on top of it all she is a recruiter…it’s very hard to prove a case when these “professional stalkers” as so good at there side jobs..absolutely disgusting. You have to hope in the end they get theirs…plus, they have to be some of the most miserable and toxic people around…what a life..

  7. People would be surprised at the hostility found in nursing. Inner city settings are the worse. It’s unbelievable.

  8. I have a few categories for you. One is the racist who comes to ask you a few weeks after you start working what’s your nationality and they do everything to show you up. The 2nd one is the other employee who was there before you got hired and is not qualified and you come in with the experience and education and they plot with others to make your day miserable including sabotaging your job and HR refuses to do anything about it. These are companies who are always hiring but cannot retain good employees because of the few rotten apples that are there already and toxic environments they create.

  9. You forgot one.

    Teacher’s Pet

    So you all know the story of “teacher’s pet” from when you were in school. Now relate this “teacher’s pet” criteria to the work force. Got it? This is the case where the boss has about 4 “boss’s pets”. The boss will chit chat with a group of people who he supervises, even go drinking with them, bbq, you name it…and all the while treat his other workers like crap and does not even agknowledge (sp?) their presence or existence.

    Here is an example:

    Myself and Bill were discussing a new project that was in the works. About 2 minutes into the discussion our boss walks right between me and Bill and continues to walk past us without agknowledging our presence and walk over to Doug (ONE OF THE BOSS’S PETS) and he said to Doug with a loud and over powering voice “Since you’re the only one here I’ll talk to you” and he laughs.

    He did this for several reasons, to annoy me and Bill, and to let Doug “his pet” know that he is in fact his pet. This is just one example. I swear, everyday it’s something the same.

  10. I agree this advice sounds good but not practical at all these actions would make you look like you are the problem not the off-the-wall person. People need real advice to solve really problems with their co-workers.

  11. I think I worked with all of these guys but you missed one, Susie the hypochondriac. I would probably fit the “disgruntled employee” image one because management had beaten me down to the point I hated my job. The “new kids” did not have the same work ethics and their feelings got hurt any time you told them to get off their butts and get to work. Remember, someone who has a negative attitude may have a reason. And I use to love my job when management was different. Ended up taking early retirement and love being self employed.

  12. Ok, you got me fired up. This advice sounds good, but in reality no one and I mean no one
    wants to deal with an issue such as this, not to mention having the time for it. I went through so much on my last job (Big Bank To Boot) 25 years on the job. Loving my job and the people I came into contact. Very good to excellent appraisals for 23 1/2 years, Then I get a new boss. She did not care for me from day one.She used her authority to treat me less than a human and get away with it. Called me derogatory names as a joke, when i confront her about it she would tell me (to my face) “I didn’t say this or that” that’s what you said. So now I’m calling myself a skinny b……come on!!!!!stop the madness. Out of 7 employees in this office I am the only one that has a schedule of working 8am-6pm without a lunch for a whole week and everyone knews if i didn’t eat my blood sugar would drop. She would ask me to process transactions for her family and friends that I should not have done. Bring in documents to be notarized and just throw it on my desk, say sign this. But I am not suppose to question her, she is my boss and who would believe me over her. So she started processing transaction for her family. That’s a serious issue and I still have the proof she did it, But who cares. She will ruin them one day. Co workers knew what was going on and expressed to me how sorry they were b/c of the way I was treated. But we all needed our jobs. Complaints to her boss fell on deaf ears or she did not want to deal with it or maybe she could not/would not believe some of the things she heard, I know I had a hard time believing some of the things that was said and done to me as it was happening. When she started saying bad things about me to my clients, blaming me for bank errors (behind my back) as an excuse to return fees, and gave me written warnings with things in it I knew nothing of. I thought houston we have a problem. Yes, I made some mistakes just like everyone else but nothing as serious as she wrote. She gave effective writing a new meaning. I would love to have her redo my resume by the time she’s finished I would qualify to be Mrs.President, well maybe vice. Anyway to sum this up after I went to her boss and her boss’s boss and felt like I was in this alone I did the only other thing one could do reasonably. I LEFT,omg I was devasated, could not believe it when I got home and crawled in the bed and stayed there for a week. Thought about all the clients that were depending on me.Things I had pending, check orders to order,debit cards to order cd’s to renew.A huge investment appointment that took me months to set up. Smiling faces singing good morning.Hugs I will be missing.
    All because I was not cared for by the boss. I did everything I could to make her like me until I started feeling bad about myself.(Dignity)(self respect)wow what a blow. I thought about all the ulgy things that took place those last 2 years and I called EEOC.
    Well apparently they thought I maybe,Possibly had a case so they gave me “RIGHT TO SUE”. Ok people, lawyers need money for cases like this and guess what, I don’t have a job anymore. I chose to keep the little self respect, dignity I had left and I left.Even if I had the money for a lawyer no one wanted to take on the big bank. So It all boils down to NO ONE has time for this stuff, If they are not negatively affected by it. Even the eeoc.

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  14. I have a supervisor who knows nothing about our dept. He sluffs his work onto his “assistant” than complains because she doesn’t have time to do her own work and is always threatening her with disciplinary action Not only that but he’s been GOOD friends with 2 of my co workers for nearly 30 years (his statement not mine) and talks freely with them about personnel issues, asks their oppinions on what should be done in some disciplinary situations, and lets them have almost complete access to other co workers payroll records and some work records under the guise of “they are representatives of the union and have the right to this information, even though most of the co workers they have info about has never filed a grievance or talked to them about any kind of union contract problem. I’ve put up with the 2 co workers for 12 years….and the supervisor for 4 and I would like to know if there is anything I and my co workers could do about the disclosure of HR information and any disciplinary actions (not involving the union) that the supervisor seems to think is okay to give these people. Oh yeah he suspended 3 workers last year for asking co workers of a previous company he worked for about him and finding employment history on him, claiming that they crossed the line of his right to confidentiality, What gives….these 2 “friends” have nearly unlimited access to confidential information on their co workers and clients they have nothing to do with and THATS okay…

    If you try to file a complaint against them to our boss’ superior they do nothing…well that is except to let you know that you are the one they will be watching since you seem to have some alterior motive and are causing dirision and malice in the workplace….

  15. Try working with people that are supervisor favorites, taking 45 minute breaks…1 hr lunches while everyone is scheduled for 30 and getting away with it. Having to cover the her desk and complaining does no good, how can you complain to a boss who is her friend. All it did was blackball me…I just do my job then leave….At least I still have my job….for that I am grateful.

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  25. I guess I’m dealing with Greta the Gossip. Sveral of them who’d love to know how old I am. Since the oldest lady in the group has retired, I soon realized that I had become the senior of the office, especially when another lady thought she was IT but after disclosing her age I knew I was really IT.
    I was raised with the philosophy that a lady doesn’t reveal her age. Sure, it’s necessary for the paperwork in the HR dept but it is none of my co-worker’s business. So when I have been asked my age in various ways (how old were you when you got married? how many years have you been married? or just plain how old are you?) I duck the question by saying “I forget”, “I was a child bride”, or “let’s NOT do the math”. Pure silence doesn’t work.
    I’ve had to come right out and say, “I don’t discuss such things.” But that lasts for only so long. My 5 year old twin grandsons have asked me how old I am, and I have told them, “Old enough to be your mother’s mother.” That keeps them quiet, so why won’t the gossips stay quiet?
    I will talk about a lot of other things but I feel I have a right to privacy. Is that so wrong?

    • Didn’t work for me either. I was fired after having been verbally, physically, and sexually abused at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP — a law firm. I asked four (4) times for the abuse to stop, and the first two (2) requests I was told that some people are more colorful than others. The third (3rd) and fourth (4th) requests I was simply given a shrug and let go a week later.

      My vehicle alarm was set of several and repeatedly and my tires were flattened on my last day.

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