Think your workplace is toxic? 6 signs you’re the problem

If your attitude is negative and it distracts your colleagues, you may be a toxic colleague, experts say. Todd Wright / Getty Images

Working alongside a co-worker with a bad attitude can have a profound effect on the workplace, making the environment a toxic one to be in day in and day out.

But what if that feeling of toxicity is in the air, but you can’t quite put your finger on the reason as to why? If that’s the case, have you considered that the issue may lie with you and that you may, in fact, be the toxic employee?

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“A toxic employee is generally characterized as someone who is negative in all aspects of their work, distracts colleagues and affects overall productivity,” Angela Payne, general manager for Monster Canada, says. “A toxic co-worker generally has an infectious energy or attitude that can spread amongst other co-workers and take away from productivity and motivation. If you’re a toxic co-worker, you likely not willing to work late, put in extra effort or contribute to the positive work culture.”

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How do you know, though, for sure if you’re the toxic employee? According to Payne, there are a few signs and traits to be conscious of that may signal you’re employee zero.

  • Lack of motivation: You don’t get excited or challenged by tasks at work and often see any assignment as an impossible hurdle to get over
  • Poor time management: You often miss deadlines, manage your time inefficiently and develop habits that you’re not willing to change
  • Absenteeism: You decide not to show up – either in a physical sense in the workplace, or your mind is focused on other things besides your work tasks
  • Drama disruptor: You like making things more complicated or dramatic than they should be
  • Eager to complain: Everything you do is seen as a struggle or too big of a challenge. You’ll still get it done, but you’ll find ways to grumble and complain about how much work you must do
  • Red flag phrases: You may also identify a toxic co-worker if they say phrases like, “It won’t work because,” “We’ve already tried this,” or “I don’t like doing it that way”

But let’s face it, it’s easier to recognize outsiders as toxic rather than yourself, Payne says.

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“It’s definitely easier to point out a toxic colleague than to realize that you yourself are one,” she says. “Performance evaluations can help you identify if you’re the toxic co-worker… Having constructive conversations with your manager about work ethic and performance can help you switch gears.”

So how can you fix your behaviour? Payne has some tips.

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First, take note of how your colleagues go about answering questions and opportunities, and just communicate with colleagues in general, she says. If you find that your behaviour is different than theirs, then it may be time to change your tune.

Put positive into practice and it will go a long way, Payne says.

Try setting yourself the goal of complimenting at least one colleague a day for their work, ideas or results. Give positive feedback, especially in front of other colleagues, to make someone else’s day.

“Why not try getting to know your colleagues and really listening to what they’re interested in?” Payne adds. “You might find some common ground and asking someone about themselves is a form of flattery.”

Arrive at meetings on time as well. This shows that you respect your colleagues’ time and that you’re serious about the work you’re going to discuss.

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“Turn these practices into habits and you’ll naturally gain a reputation for being positive and supportive without even trying,” Payne says. “Finally, it’s important to take a 360-degree view of your current situation. Learning self-awareness is key and reviewing your mindset and attitude to the workplace, you’ll really begin to understand what the positive and negative triggers are to your behaviour.”

And if you’re not happy with your role, company or colleagues, it could be time for a change, Payne says.

Other tips to consider that may help you turn your reputation around according to the Harvard Business Review include:

  • Make a conscious attempt to pay attention to other people. This includes making eye contact and holding it when you’re speaking and listening and resisting temptation to look at your phone during meetings
  • Take the time to mentally put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes on a regular basis to see their perspective. Ask questions to learn more about your co-workers and show empathy
  • If you like sticking to the rules, consider being less rigid about them and more flexible. If you have to stick to the rules, don’t assume other people understand why you are, so it’s OK to explain to them your reasoning – explain your thinking and why it’s important you follow them

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