Freeloader, micromanager, mood hoover, victim, drama queen, gossip, or bully – words I’ve heard to describe those displaying toxic traits in the workplace.

Toxicity in the workplace is a cause of misery, in particular if you have a toxic coworker that you are with day in and day out. It can cause pain, upset, and even anxiety about going to work and can result in others leaving.


The signs of a toxic coworker.

There are a number of red flags that can help you start to identify whether a coworker is displaying toxic traits or whether they need support or help. When looking at possible toxicity, you may experience the following:


A lack of of these – trust, collaboration, accountability, teamwork, positivity, covert communication and admittance of mistakes.


An abundance of these – gossip, negativity, manipulation, talk about others’ incompetence, judgement, criticism, overtly over communicating, micro-management, lies, drama, controlling behaviour, bullying behaviour and playing the victim.


How ever not everyone who displays these sorts of behaviours means to be toxic. If someone is stressed, has an unsupported mental health problem or is experiencing signs of burnout, they may display some of these behaviours. 

Tips on toxic coworkers

Dealing with the behaviour early on can be helpful to all involved so let’s have a look at how best to do that. 

Are they struggling?

If you have seen some of the traits mentioned above . The first thing to do is check in with them and ask them if they are okay. You can explain that they don’t seem like their normal self and if appropriate be ready to signpost them to a Mental Health First Aider, HR or an EAP. 


Be clear on your boundaries 

Removing yourself from situations like office gossip is key. If they do insist on trying to get you to join in, explain that you would prefer not to be involved in negative talk about others. Stepping back from the situation will leave you far more capable of being able to highlight their toxic behaviour towards you instead of you being dragged in as someone who was taking part in it.


Cover your back 

Ensure you keep written evidence of any behaviours that sit wrongly with you. Document any meetings you’ve had about it and follow up with emails covering what you have done or have agreed to do if you are working solely with the toxic person.


Talk to them

If you feel able to give feedback to your coworker, ensure you are objective and give specific examples of the things that have had a negative impact on you. There is a great non-violent communication technique called the DESC model, which was developed by American Psychologist Marshal Rosenberg, that you can use to support this. If you feel you need support in doing this, you can always plan how you are going to give feedback and role-play it with your line manager, a supportive colleague, or even someone at home that you trust.


Point out the positives 

If someone is being negative, you can show them a different perspective or advise them to think about what solution may help to counteract the negative. You can even point them in the direction of someone who may be able to help make the change.


Reach out for support 

Finally, if you have tried everything to handle the situation yourself but feel like you are getting nowhere and you’re unable to resolve the situation, speak to an appropriate line manager, or you can always contact HR, your EAP or a coach to help you to work through the situation.

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