Three Ways to Identify a Toxic Worker and Set Healthy Boundaries

One toxic worker can cause havoc and have a negative impact on an entire company. Toxic coworkers make work unpleasant and stressful. They also affect productivity and morale. They cause unnecessary drama, destroy the company’s values, create chaos, and undermine trust within the group.

A Fierce Inc. study found that four out of five employees have been in contact with or worked alongside a potentially toxic colleague. Randstad did a study to determine why employees leave their jobs. It found 58% had left or were considering leaving because of negativity, office politics, and disrespectful behavior.

It is easier to avoid allowing the toxic influence of one person to impact your work, especially if you work closely with them. It can be a draining and powerless experience to work with toxic coworkers. It can be difficult to recognize a toxic coworker, especially if they are a friend.

You may feel depleted or negative after speaking with them. Toxic behavior may manifest in the following ways: words, body language and disrespect for boundaries; hoarding information; purposely undermining other people; not following up on promises or commitments; insults and rumors.

These are three ways to identify toxic coworkers and establish healthy boundaries.


The Victim Syndrome Keeps Them from Taking Responsibility

An employee with a victim mentality will talk about how miserable they are at work, their boss and their company. There is a difference between having a bad week and creating misery for others. President of WikiLawn Los Angeles Lawn Care Dan Bailey explained that “the more people they get to share their discontent, they feel better.”

Even though they are disengaged, toxic coworkers will excuse their poor performance when they receive constructive feedback. They believe it is an attack on them. They also hold grudges and will never give up the opportunity to tell others how they were wronged, even after those situations are resolved.

People who are new to the company are more likely to get caught up in negativity because they are eager to make friends and aren’t aware of toxic people patterns. It’s crucial to check pulse to determine if this is a cultural or individual thing.

These are some strategies that can help you get over a bad experience and remain mentally strong.

  • Be surrounded by positive coworkers who are willing to take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them
  • Ask your company’s Employee Assistance Program for (EAP), or seek professional help to understand how to manage the situation better and have a safe place to discuss it.
  • Talk to your HR department, and make sure the conversation is based on facts and not personalities. You can give specific examples of incidents.
  • Include social activities that you look forward to after work
  • Meditation and gratitude are two of the best practices.


They Know More Than They Know Share

Gossip can be a root cause of many problems within a company. It is a source of negativity that spreads quickly and breeds more. Yasir Naz, digital content producer at PureVPN said that toxic colleagues can drain your energy and cause demotivation at work. It’s possible to not recognize you’re with a toxic coworker until it’s too late.

Melanie Musson, an insurance specialist for Auto Insurance stated that gossip doesn’t build a stronger team. Instead, it damages teamwork. There’s a good chance that they are gossiping about you.

If a coworker refuses to share information with you that would prevent you from doing your job, it is another sign they are toxic. Ex-victim of toxic bosses and coworkers, I am well aware of the negative impact they can have on me and my mental health. My experience was that my ex-coworker excluded me and my team from activities and withheld information that would have prevented me from doing my job effectively. He also used this information against me.

Musson said, “toxic people place themselves first.” They don’t care much about others and see their own misfortunes only as an opportunity to improve at work. A toxic coworker might take advantage of a struggling team member to show them how they are doing in the same area.

I finally set a boundary with my wife and began documenting each incident before confronting her. I then worked with her to get the information I needed, and restricted my contact with her. Setting healthy boundaries can often cause toxic coworkers to react negatively. But, the most productive and happy people are those who have healthy boundaries. Those who don’t know how to set boundaries are more likely to be offended.

These are some boundaries that you can establish with coworkers who gossip:

  • Empathize with them and help them to see the positive side of things.
  • If they begin gossiping, you can refuse to take part and extricate yourself from the conversation.
  • Instead of focusing on negative gossip that harms morale, focus on positive gossip that celebrates others.
  • Let them know that you won’t be discussing office politics.
  • Be around people who are more interested in sharing knowledge than spreading gossip
  • Key phrases to use include “This sounds like a gossip and I don’t want it to be heard”, “I’d rather have positive and uplifting conversations” and “is this a fact or gossip?”


They use passive aggressive comments rather than compliments

Matt Satell, CEO at Prime Mailboxes, stated that “toxic employees” are those who deliberately undermine others’ capabilities to stay ahead of their competitors. They thrive on negative thinking, finding faults, and holding back people.

These are just a few examples passive-aggressive behavior and comments.

  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Reacting with sarcasm and disguised insults
  • Blaming other people
  • Accepting feedback and other perspectives
  • Excuses
  • Cynical attitudes
  • A sense of superiority or air

Nich Chernets is the CEO of Data for SEO. He said that “in my experience, toxic individuals tend to complain a lot even when things are going well.” They are looking for people who will listen to them. These people can bring negativity to the workplace and make it difficult for others to do their jobs well. John Stevenson, marketing specialist at My GRE Exam Preparation said that this makes the environment impossible for other team members to work effectively because they are too busy looking after their backs.

Positive interactions with colleagues, listening and sharing positive podcasts, and looking for the good in your work can all help you cultivate positivity. It is easy to lose motivation when you work with a toxic colleague who undermines your abilities or believes that their contribution and value are greater than anyone else.

These are some of the ways that you can remember your hard work, contributions and gratitude:

  • Keep a record of all your wins and achievements.
  • Paste recognitions from emails and client/manager reviews into the running document
  • Refer to the document for motivation.
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