Toxicity can transform an otherwise pleasant work environment into one in which productivity suffers, morale erodes, and employees are looking for the first available life boat. Toxic bosses and co-workers can make or break an organization. We know who they are, as they typically make themselves easy to spot. But what if your company is staffed by a slate of seemingly awesome people? You might have lucked out, or perhaps your worst fears are finally being realized: What if you’re the toxic co-worker?
Usually, you’ll have some sort of idea that you’re disliked. But self-awareness is often lacking for many people. And in any case, stepping back and taking stock of your behavior at your workplace wouldn’t hurt. It might help you identify some areas in which you could improve. That might mean working on your leadership or social skills, which are becoming more and more valuable in today’s job market.
So how can you tell whether you are the toxic co-worker? Here are eight telltale signs.
1. You’re eating lunch alone — again
Do you always seem to get left out when lunch invitations are handed out? Or perhaps there seems to be some sort of gravitational phenomenon in the break room where everybody else finds a chair away from you. Take that as a hint. People might be avoiding you, and that’s a sign. Of course, this sort of social ostracizing probably hasn’t gone unnoticed. So if you find yourself in a lonely and frustrating position examine your behavior. Work on building relationships with your work mates.
2. You’re the only person succeeding
Are you absolutely killing it at work, hitting all of your marks, and leaving the rest of the rubes in the dust? Sure, that’s a good thing, but you might need to figure out why nobody else can keep up. Perhaps your success is coming at the expense of everyone else. Are you taking credit for other people’s work, swiping ideas, etc.? That’s a sure way to cement yourself as the office pariah.
Instead of focusing on your own success all the time, work on lifting up those around you, building camaraderie, and trying different strategies. This is a great way to work on your leadership skills and actually show the higher-ups that you can lead. If you’re universally loathed, you’re going to run into the ceiling eventually. You won’t be promoted into a leadership position if no one respects you.
3. Every day feels like an Oscar-nominated drama
If your life at work is starting to resemble that of a teenager’s, you have some problems on your hands. There’s always going to be some level of drama. But if you truly want to be successful, you’ll ignore it. If you find yourself consistently at the center of some office spat, withdraw. Try to figure out what you’re doing that’s getting you into that position, and work on it.
4. Somehow you’re always the victim
Leapfrogging off all of that office drama, if you find you’re somehow always the victim, well, you’re probably the problem. Stop playing the victim, and start solving problems. Change your frame of mind, and others will begin to respect you more. Leaders don’t get promoted for blaming all of their issues on others or on things outside of their control. They take the reins. Genghis Khan wouldn’t have played the victim card, and neither should you.
5. Your ‘genius’ idea brings the conversation to a halt
Have you ever voiced an opinion or idea in a work meeting that brings the conversation to a crashing halt? That probably means you haven’t been paying attention to your colleagues. You might feel like your idea was the best for the group. But if it’s met with confused looks and awkward pauses you likely haven’t been listening. Instead of handing down one seemingly great pronouncement, collaborate more with your colleagues to give and take ideas. Show you value their opinions, and they’ll begin to value yours.
6. You’re always hanging out chatting
The office shouldn’t be all work and no play. Who’d want to be in that environment every day? Taking a few minutes to share some personal news or show a funny cat video is one thing. But constantly hanging on someone’s desk rambling on about everything under the sun is another. If co-workers tend to run in the opposite direction to avoid being cornered by you and your chatty ways, you’re probably bringing some level of toxicity to their lives. Save your chit-chat for the lunch hour or after work.
7. Your co-workers expect the worst from you
Is it a given that you’ll be 15 minutes late every day? Do people not even expect a project from you by its due date, or do they avoid assigning you important tasks altogether? If your colleagues have given up on you doing things right you’re probably the toxic co-worker. You being unreliable frustrates everyone, even if it doesn’t directly affect them. It’s a matter of fairness. They got to work on time, so why should you get a pass? Hold yourself to the office standards to avoid being seen in this negative light.
8. People are always helping you with your work
You might think it’s great that two of your colleagues pitched in at the last minute to help you get your work done. But outside of extraordinary circumstances that’s not normal. If everyone else can accomplish their workloads by themselves and only you receive help, you’re probably seen as slow or untrustworthy.
If your workload is unreasonable, you should present the issue to your boss and have potential solutions ready. But if people have to help you because your work is sloppy or sluggish, it’s up to you to shape up. It’s not fair for your co-workers to have to keep an eye on you.
Additional reporting by Mary Daly.
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