August 8, 2017

Identifying Toxic Co-Workers

Professional engagement comes from the right role, the right career path, and the right manager.  A toxic co-worker can throw a curve ball into your Engaged Pursuit.

Slacker Alert! 

Are you asking yourself, “Wait, isn’t this newsletter a week late??”  If you are, you’re right – I was a complete slacker last week!  With the Seattle heatwave (not complaining), the Blue Angels in town, and some big client wins (more coming soon!), August started off with a bang! Hopefully the content this week will make-up for my slacking during the first week of the month…

I’m talking about toxic employees during the month of August (such a light, summer topic I know).  A couple client situations inspired me to write about this important topic of toxic co-workers – they are dealing with some pretty difficult situations!  Their question to me, “Can people you work with impact Professional Engagement?”  My answer – absolutely!

Before we explore what to do about toxic co-workers (more on this later in the month), I think it’s important to define what it means to be toxic and the warning signs of working with an “unhealthy” co-worker.  These insights are based on my experiences working with difficult employees and also through my professional coaching work.  It’s a tough topic, but super relevant to your Engaged Pursuit.  Here goes:

How I define a toxic co-worker:

  • The work isn’t getting done (or slows down significantly). They become a bottleneck and/or people avoid them all together. You’re not sure where things stand on a project or dates are missed all together. Momentum stalls around them.
  • Relationships don’t matter. Formal relationships like manager/individual contributor might suffer (if you’re managing a toxic employee), or you also might see things like interruption in meetings, hallway conversations, and short email communication.  Respect is out the door.
  • Feedback isn’t accepted. You might see a change for a day or two, but toxic behavior continues. Perhaps they get defensive in response to negative feedback. They stick to what they know (a glass-half-empty approach).
  • Your behavior starts to change around that person. If you start eye rolling (and you’re not an eye roller), your fuse is shorter, and/or you see weird things in yourself, you could be experiencing a toxic professional relationship

Warning signs that you’re working with a toxic co-worker:

  • Normal business conversation gets side-tracked (constantly). You spend more time dealing with the toxic person (or their attitude) than the work at hand. The “how” becomes more important than the “what.”
  • People start talking. You see a change with people around you. You ask for feedback from others and it’s all negative. Or you see people avoiding the individual all together.
  • You start bringing the situation/relationship/worry home. This is a biggie. You’re thinking about him/her all the time.  You’re talking about him/her all the time. You can’t escape.  It’s starting to impact your personal life.
  • You don’t “feel” good / work isn’t fun. Work doesn’t have to be a chore. Toxic co-workers think differently (everything’s a struggle!!). If you are losing your steam (regularly), not liking the work, or generally not learning, you might have a toxic co-worker interrupting your experience. Check it.

Your homework this week: Take an inventory of the people you work with closely.  Any of them exhibiting the behavior outlined above? Can you see other co-workers struggling with a peer/partner? Get a sense of who could be a potential blocker to your professional engagement. It’s going to be important to know who could be a problem as we tackle the next topic (more on this below).

Coming-up next week: We’re out next week (vacation!!) but back the week of the 20th.  That week I’ll explore what to do about toxic co-workers if you need to start taking action. There’s lots of paths to explore as we focus on keeping (and maintaining) your professional engagement.

Here’s to your Engaged Pursuit!

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