Job Interview Tips

8 signs your coworker is toxic

Written by Eric Titner

There’s nothing quite as uniquely stressful as a toxic coworker—and if you’ve been a victim of one you know precisely how difficult a situation he or she can be. They can be toxic for a wide variety of reasons, from a negative energy that they give off to a detrimental effect they have on your team, department, or entire workplace. The effects can be wide ranging—from making your work environment uncomfortable to seriously impacting productivity and workplace satisfaction.

While in other parts of your life you can usually avoid a person who’s toxic, it’s not quite as easy to do so at work. And given that we typically spend a minimum of 40 hours at our jobs per week—a significant part of our waking lives—it can be a real problem, and often one without an easy solution.

Are you wondering if a coworker of yours is toxic? There are signs that you can look for to know for sure, and once you know you can set up a plan for dealing with the situation. Inc. recently published an article that covers 8 signs you should look for to determine if your coworker is toxic. Use this information to help you navigate this tricky situation!

1. They’re “secret” know-it-alls.

Do you have a coworker who’s perfectly pleasant and agreeable—even a team player—when the boss is paying attention but quickly reverts to an annoying know-it-all who can’t seem to allow room for any other opinion but they’re own? This sort of toxic coworker can be impossible to work collaboratively with and can make it really hard to function comfortably at work.

2. They act as if they’ve already paid their dues.

Most of us have experience with this sort of toxic coworker—they think that the sheer fact that they’ve been at the workplace longer gives them some level of superiority or special pass to behave in any way they wish (and often it’s in a terrible way). Often, they get by doing as little as possible and expect newer employees who are currently “paying their dues” to shoulder a greater amount of the work. It’s never fun to be around this sort of coworker, and it’s certainly not a recipe for workplace efficiency.

3. They like to say, “Yeah, but that’s not my job.”

This type of coworker can be a real nightmare to be around. They have a very narrow and rigid view of what their jobs entail and leave little or no room for flexibility or taking one for the team. They treat everything that they don’t want to do like a “hot potato” that they quickly pass along to others. Being around this sort of person never feels good—they never truly gel with the rest of the team.

4. They think experience is a tangible commodity.

Some people wrap themselves in the vague notion of their perceived “experience,” without it pointing to any clearly defined skill set or measurable contribution to the team. These people often fail or refuse to learn new skills, grow, and adapt. The truth is, experience is great—but in a fast-paced, constantly evolving workplace, experience is not the sole commodity that some toxic coworkers make it out to be, and it can create clear weak links in the employee chain.

5. They love gossip.

Who hasn’t had a coworker who seems to spend more time gossiping than getting actual work done? They can talk endlessly about a wide range of useless subjects to any coworker who’ll listen—as long as they don’t involve actual work-related topics. Not only is their work output minimal as a result, they’re often a drain on others around them as well—a real lose-lose situation.

6. They use peer pressure to hold other people back.

To these sorts of toxic coworkers, the workplace is like a reality TV show in which they create alliances and enemies and manipulate others around them to achieve their selfish goals. Often peer pressure is their tool of choice, and they use their perceived influence with their coworkers to manipulate and hold other people back while propping themselves up.

7. They’re quick to grab the glory.

Rather than view successes as the result of teamwork and collaborative effort, these coworkers like to hog the spotlight and pretend that every success is the sole result of their own influence and contributions. These toxic people somehow manage to tarnish every workplace win with their selfish behavior.

8. They’re even quicker to throw others under the bus.

Consider this the flip side to the previous point—as quick as these people are to grab the glory after a big win, they’ll just as quickly point the finger at others and assign blame when things go sour. These toxic coworkers keep everyone on edge and on their toes at work—and not in a good way.

If you recognize any of the signs mentioned above, you might just have a toxic coworker. If so, recognizing it is the first step. Consider your options for following up—sometimes a simple talk with the coworker can make a world of difference. Be patient, be kind, and stand up for yourself in a professional manner. Aim to be the coworker you wish you had.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.