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Career tip: dealing with a toxic coworker October 1, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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I must admit that this is a tough topic. The situations and causes are just too numerous to be accurate in suggestions to cover them. But there are a few general guidelines and this is an important topic. I never have to explain the phrase toxic coworker when I use it and I het numerous questions about bad coworkers.

First advice would be to ask if your supervisor know the situation. Secondly, does the supervisor care and want to do things to improve the lab. An indifferent or fainthearted boss will be of little use. Making such a supervisor aware is needed, but expectations ought to be low. Jumping rank and going to the boss’s boss is a very risky move, too. Insecure bosses can become upset and even vindictive – so you have the boss dealing with his problem employee, you. If you are in a situation where a third party, such as the human resources staff, can be use, then do that.

If your boss is more involved, inform her or him. Do not be overly emotional or dramatic. This is making the person aware. The boss will most likely ask others, possibly even the toxic coworker, if there are personality clashes in the lab. If your story seems rational, it is more credible.

A second area to help improve things is to not deal with this issue solo. Most toxic coworkers are egalitarian in their interactions, not being civil, helpful, or useful to anyone. In that case, mutually observing incidents and being ready to corroborate each other’s stories can be useful if the supervisor or HR gets involved. Relying only on your own word to convince them is a gamble. Some toxic coworkers are adept at covering up their actions, blaming you for the problem because you are at fault. He said, she said situations rarely get resolved because a supervisor or HR have to be cautious and that means overly evenhanded – giving the benefit of doubt excessively.

If you and your coworkers have similar experiences, the message to a supervisor or to HR gains credence. Descriptions of different instances of bad behavior to more than one or two individuals will be noticed and have some weight. One caveat, though, is that being aware and supportive cannot take on too strong a tone of coordination. The toxic coworker might spot a conspiracy and even use that as a defense.

In all instances, even though the toxic coworker can make things very personal, do not succumb to reciprocation. That leaves you vulnerable to countercharges. In extreme cases, toxic coworkers can become hostile, vindictive, and dangerous. Remember that your goal is a better work environment and situation, not getting at the toxic coworker.

Finally, if there is an opportunity of one other lab member communicating with the toxic coworker, use that alternative. Sometimes such a coworker will get along better with an individual. Talk to that individual and as him or her to be a conduit or liaison or arbiter.

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