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The cost of a toxic teammate

Diane Hall


two colleagues gossiping about a work colleague

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In a recent article, we spoke about the rise of workplace bullying in remote teams, i.e. people working from home. Though some people may believe co-worker clashes are a feature of the physical office, the stats show otherwise.

I’ve mentioned many times how much of a job-hopper I am. I’ve been with Novus Marketing Solutions (ITK’s sister company) for four years now, which is the second longest period I’ve spent with the same company in a working career spanning thirty years. It’s not that I’m bad at my job…quite the opposite. I just become lured by what seems more exciting/fruitful positions when I’ve been at a place too long. In my eyes, we’re at work for a long time, but only on the Earth a short time—so, each day counts. If I’m not feeling valued or fulfilled in my current role, why would I stay there?

I’m impulsive yet also someone who gets bored easily (I think, if I were to seek some sort of explanation, I’d be diagnosed with ADHD). Therefore, chopping and changing roles and reframing my skillset for different industries feels great. I’m happy to be a freelancer who has a couple of employed part-time roles that provide a regular income, whilst also remaining freelance for projects I wish to indulge in. Of course, at times, I dread getting out of bed on a morning, but on the whole, I feel my approach to work suits me and I love what I do.

The reason I’ve reiterated my working life is to show that I’ve clearly had my fair share of co-workers. Some of them, I’ve never even met, if it’s been a remote role, though this is a more recent scenario. A portion of my co-worker list features lifelong friends. The majority of my colleagues throughout the years—and which, I suspect, is the case for everyone else—were great pals during the time we worked together; however, our relationship died down after we moved companies. 

Then there have been the odd few who I’ve clashed with. 

Thankfully, this is a small percentage of the people I’ve worked for and alongside during the last three decades. That said, I know how much of an impact a damaging workplace relationship can be, not just when you’re at work, but when you’re at home, too (at least, if you’re anything like me who finds it difficult to switch off in such a situation).

When I think of these few occasions, the offending colleague has also been unkind or difficult with other co-workers, and not just with me alone. Entire (small) teams have been affected by the action of just one disruptor, one person who believes they’re hard done by/overlooked/above the work they’ve been tasked to do. I can’t believe that, in any of these circumstances, the manager(s) weren’t aware of the impact this ‘bad apple’ was having on the team. But, rather than removing the perpetrator and cause of the poor working atmosphere, they all did nothing. They simply allowed the toxic culture to continue, to the point where good, popular, easy-going staff moved with their feet, frustrated by their lack of action.

Watching good staff go because a bad apple can’t be dealt with is really poor form, and no less than a company deserves if they can’t face tackling an admittedly thorny issue. But that’s exactly what happens. I’ve been part of such mass exoduses, and it’s not nice to leave a job you otherwise like because someone with a chip on their shoulder or a small life finds pleasure in creating disruption and division within their workplace team.

I’ve also been the third person in a three-man team where the other two workers clashed…big style. I left that role too, as I was fed up of hearing all the flaws of one colleague when we were alone then everything that what was wrong with the other colleague when in the office with them. It was relentless and, because we were such a small team, it stopped me from getting on with my own work. I hated being on my own with one of them in particular (who was more vicious but had less authority than our co-worker); even the days when we were all in the office were uncomfortable…it would be a case of ‘can you ask so-and-so if they can pass the report?’ when they were sat opposite them within arm’s reach. It was exhausting! 

You can’t choose your family, so they say, yet we love them nonetheless (well, most of us do). You also can’t choose your colleagues, though you can choose to leave the company if the situation isn’t addressed. It’s a shame if good people are lost from the company, but it’s also understandable if management bury their head in the sand.

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