Almost every workplace has at least one toxic employee. You know the type — always negative, tends to bully others, distracts much of the team. But what if someone were to tell you that you are that person?
Before you balk in denial, take a look at some of these common traits that awful employees tend to have. If they uncomfortably hit home, there are steps you can take to rectify the situation before your toxic tendencies can ruin your career.
1. You make everything about you.
This is something most people are guilty of at least once in their lives. Everyone goes through tough times during which they desire more attention than usual.
Perhaps you're going through a bad breakup or you recently learned about a family member's terminal illness. Maybe you have your own insecurities about yourself and your talents at work.
No matter the situation, these deep-seated feelings of anger, depression or anxiety can manifest themselves into something negative at work, such as making the conversation about you.
Next time you're involved in a group discussion at work, make an effort to listen more and talk less. Notice if you feel the desire to chime in to steer the conversation back to yourself. Instead of giving into this tendency, ask someone else a question. Give another person the floor for a while, and let a co-worker have a chance to shine.
Only make a situation or conversation about yourself if it really is about you or if it will add something of value to the discussion. Otherwise, practice your listening skills and give someone else the spotlight for once.
2. You say and do passive-aggressive things.
Passive-aggressive behaviors, such as giving backhanded compliments, ignoring a co-worker, delaying a project until the last minute out of spite or purposefully excluding a team member, can taint the entire workplace like a dark cloud.
If being passive aggressive is a chronic behavior for you, it can be difficult to be aware of when you're doing it, and even harder to make a change.
The first step is learning more about it. Passive aggressiveness can be a sort of coping or defense mechanism. Toxic employees who use this outlet tend to do it when they feel threatened, jealous or insecure. They may lie, deflect, give a co-worker the silent treatment or talk over others in meetings.
Instead of coping with your feelings through aggression toward co-workers, get them out in a more productive way. For example, physical exercise can release anger and other negative feelings. Fit in more exercise in your day, before work or during a lunch break. Take walks every few hours to get away from the computer screen and other people.
Also, stop and figure out your passive-aggressive triggers. Do you tense up when someone critiques your projects? Is it irritating when a co-worker gets attention and you don't? Next, stop and listen to yourself when you're talking. This can help you learn to be less passive aggressive. Observe the language you use when you're in passive-aggressive mode.
Let's dive into jealousy just a bit more. It's a common trait that can turn into toxic behavior at work. This is especially true if you happen to be a brilliant but arrogant employee. You know, the one who's used to getting promotions, accolades and pats on the back.
If a co-worker starts to get the attention instead, your jealous tendencies may show through in ways that make you an awful presence in the office. You might express jealousy upfront or through passive-aggressive behaviors, such as sarcastically telling the employee congratulations on getting a great opportunity.
At the heart of jealousy lies insecurity. Realize that your coworker's success in no way diminishes your own. Stop comparing yourself to others. Keep your own goals internal and focused, and you'll feel more confident, even when someone else gets something you wanted.
Obsessing about other people's achievements can distract you from your own successes and career goals. Show genuine support to your co-workers instead of spite. Instead of being envious, share in your coworker's success, and recognize it as a step toward the greater goals of the company. Redirect your jealous energy into something positive, challenging yourself to work harder.
If the signs of a toxic employee sound like you, there is always time to change. You don't have to be the toxic person in your workplace. You can thrive and let others flourish as well.
John Boitnott is a journalist and digital consultant.