You’re excited. It’s your first day on the new job. You got a decent raise and are new to the area. You have a little bit of experience with this type of job, so it’s not completely foreign to you. Everyone you meet has been friendly, and the workload doesn’t seem to be unreasonable. You’re assigned to work with another person, and both of you all will be on the same team doing the same job, but your co-worker is in more of the lead role since they’ve been there longer.
Fast forward a month, and your dream job has turned into a nightmare. The job isn’t getting done well. The supervisor is on you to do better, be faster. Your co-worker, who is still always nice to you, seems to have been giving you misleading tasks and guidance. You can’t figure out if it’s on purpose, by mistake, or if you’re just not understanding something. Your supervisor is questioning your abilities, and you’re hearing rumors that another co-worker has been talking about how you need more training. There’s the legitimate threat of losing your job.
Crappy Co-Worker Types
There’s no such thing as an official list of crappy co-worker types, but the common theme typically is selfish gain, or relate to not doing their job in some way. Here’s some types many of us may resonate with:
Middle manager syndrome. This person may or may not be in a lead role, but they want to be the manager, lead, or get promoted so badly that they will do whatever it takes, throw anyone under the bus, as long as it serves their purpose of looking good so they can get a promotion. They steal credit whenever possible. We need to be aware of their tactics.
Warm bodies; make excuses or find ways to not do any real work. That means they know the system and know how to work it to their benefit. These types are dangerous for anyone trying to get work done because they know so much about how to avoid work that they can twist things, whisper to just the right people, convince others that the overachiever is doing more harm than good. Warm bodies want to keep their easy spot just the way it is, so anyone impacting that should be aware.
No backbone. Co-workers with no-backbone are usually in a lead, supervisor, or management role. They are usually nice, listen to concerns, and may have good ideas. They aren’t always easy to spot because, when things are going well, they will be great co-workers. However, when conflict arises, they won’t bat for the team, and they avoid conflict like the plague. If there’s a personnel problem, they won’t hold them accountable because they won’t be willing to have that direct conversation. This means their team will have no real support when they need it most.
Gossiping co-workers may or may not have bad intentions but talks about others so much that there’s always something negative coming up about someone. They gossip excessively, and they also don’t take into consideration anyone’s feelings or any predicament they may put someone in by talking about them.
Rice-bowlers are usually a subject matter expert in some form. They know everything about their job, but they don’t share that knowledge, usually, because they don’t have time to train others. They position themselves to be the only person to do the work either intentionally or because they have zero faith that anyone else can do the work. These co-workers can leave a major gap when they quit, and if we’re on their team, we’ll be stuck holding the bag.
Haters and extremists are anything from jealous, to racist, to chauvinistic, to whatever hate-filled or misguided soup they partake in. While, on one hand, they could be the most difficult to deal with (because they are driven by likely deep-rooted issues); they also could be the easiest to deal with. They may not do much of anything. They either give nasty looks or fall into one of the other categories. Being really good at the job and staying modest usually quiets these types up.
Before anything, if we’re in a negative work situation dealing with crappy co-workers, we need to cover our butts and do damage control. All this means is that we limit the reasons anyone can have a problem with us. In other words, those extended lunches, coming in late, leaving early, missing meetings, or being on the phone or on Facebook too much is not an option.
This also means that if we communicate, we take into consideration who is or could be listening, and we ensure we mind our business and handle our business. Make sure there are others around when taking tasking, and whenever possible, copy all parties on emails, and always follow up with something written if taking verbal tasks over the phone, in person, or in meetings.
Depending on the type of crappy co-worker, we will need to make sure they have as little ammo to use against us as possible.
When our job sucks because of co-workers that are talking negatively about us or are somehow negatively impacting our performance, it can be extremely annoying. So, we have to try not to do things in the heat of our emotions. Once we’ve taken a breather and calmed down by acknowledging our emotions, we can figure out the causes. Before that, however, we have to have an open mind to the whole situation, and we have to accept responsibility.
We have a role in every situation we are in; for example, a coach accepts responsibility for the team despite individual team members’ problems. In our scenario, accepting responsibility may be insanely difficult because it seems to be clearly the co-worker’s fault. That may be the case, but by accepting responsibility, we are accepting that there are things within our ability to change. If we cannot do that, we will not only fail, but we will not be able to grow from the failure. This is massively important and is a recurring theme in every failure situation.
For example, a bus driver who crashes due to a brake failure accepted the responsibility of driving others despite any possible risks or outcomes. That means that even if it wasn’t truly their ‘fault,’ they still need to learn everything possible about the situation, so if there’s a way for them to prevent an accident in the future, they will do so.
Be Better than Everyone at the Job
Before we even think about trying to solve the problem, we need to make sure we are the best. If we are new, then we may need to stay late and study after work. This is another extremely difficult thing to do and accept. Often, we will want to use ‘being new’ as a reason for not being able to be as well as our co-workers.
Most people don’t want to do more than everyone else in normal work circumstances. But if we’re in a negative predicament, there isn’t any real choice. The thing is, most likely, if we worked better, harder, and longer than the rest, the vast majority of problems at work would disappear. So, this concept must always be practiced and improved upon.
Introspect and Strategize
Once we truly have accepted responsibility, and we’ve started the path of being the best we can be at the job, we can then start to understand possible causes of the current situation. What role did we play? What about our indirect contributions or areas that we may not have realized without fully understanding all the moving parts?
If there are areas that we don’t fully understand or training that we need, we have to acknowledge that. We have to then come up with goals or targets to attack and figure out ways to accomplish them, so we don’t get put in the same situation in the future.
That means we need to think multiple steps ahead. We need to have an idea of how our co-workers and our supervisor will respond and how things will be perceived. Know their best-case reactions and their worst-case reactions. Having an idea of their style of crappiness can work wonders.
One on One
Once we have a way forward, even if it doesn’t involve our co-worker, if they truly instigated or have a hand in this problem, they need to be addressed one on one. Many of us will want to skip this step if there’s a way to move forward without addressing the co-worker directly. That may save face or cause the least conflict in the short-term, but it’s the same as avoiding a bully by going around the school, or worse yet, just telling the teacher without telling the bully first. The problem could easily come back to haunt us.
We have to literally ‘address them,’ talk to them truthfully and ideally as transparently as possible. The problem is, while this is the rational and ‘proper’ answer, this can also put us in a potentially more vulnerable position.
That’s why we have to have plans in place. We have to know the vulnerabilities and how to address them based on the worst-case scenarios. This one-on-one talk is about respect as well as our way of acknowledging that we may be missing something glaring, just in case there are things we don’t fully know about the co-worker or the situation.
All Together Now
If we’ve done all the other steps and still are encountering problems, we need to have a get-together. All the major players in the problem need to be invited into the same room – that means the supervisor and our crappy co-worker at a minimum.
In many cases, the reason things aren’t getting fixed is everyone is on a different page. Notice we aren’t advocating to speak with the supervisor alone first. This is because any good supervisor or leader taking two different team member’s perspectives shouldn’t arbitrarily trust one over another. There is no way to ensure shared perspectives aside from having everyone in the room at the same time.
Give It Time, Then Get Out
If we’ve done all this, we have to remember a city isn’t built in a day. We have to give it time, show everyone we aren’t going anywhere, and we’re going to make things better, whether they like it or not. The general rule is to give any job a year. Not only do most employers not like to see short-term employment, but it also ensures we’ve given it our all and committed to trying to make things work. Of course, the more extreme the situation, the sooner we can pull out the parachute.
This, of course, is only a ‘guideline;’ there is no right answer. If we’ve truly given it our all and a reasonable amount of time and it still doesn’t feel right, get out ASAP.
We all have some crappiness in us. Usually, it’s when we aren’t doing what we want to do or have other issues in our life. Ever have to do a project that makes no sense or that adds no value? What about doing work that is supposed to be someone else’s job? How about doing tasks that we can teach a monkey to do and are no fun? What if we are getting paid less than everyone else by an extreme margin to do the same job? What if we have an extremely negative home situation?
We can all easily become the crappy co-worker who we get annoyed with when we are encountering less than ideal situations. Since we all have the potential to be crappy, we have to accept it and not be so hard on our co-workers. Acknowledge the potential inner crappiness and do better, not just for everyone else, but for ourselves.
The same way emotions can speak volumes about what we want, our inner crappiness can too. Whenever we aren’t doing a good job, whenever we are consistently impacting others negatively, there’s a good chance there’s more to it. If we don’t want to be there, find a way to be somewhere else through hard work, perseverance, and, of course, good ol’ failure.