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The Expert’s Guide to Spotting Toxic Coworkers at a New Job

Finding a Career, New Employees, Writing Resumes

There is a plethora of information available to people who are looking for new jobs. There are websites dedicated to finding a career, writing resumes, and even for dealing with toxic people on the job. But what happens to the new employee who is suddenly thrust into a new work environment? How is he or she to know how not to fall into the inevitable “traps” set by colleagues who are only out for their own self-gratification?

In my years of working in corporate America, I have been exposed to all sorts of environments, and all sorts of people. From my experience, it is very easy to mistake certain manipulative behaviors for helpful ones. In a new workplace, a new employee is often at the mercy of the people around him/her. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself embroiled in ongoing corporate “dramas” to which you would never have been privy. In such cases, it’s really important to identify the toxic employees who may not have your best interest at heart. New employees often have a tough time deciphering who those toxic employees are, because in his/her first days everyone seems nice. But here are some rather shrewd ways to determine what types of employees you will be dealing with.

The “Appreciative” Coworker = Slacker

The “appreciative” co-worker is often the most difficult to spot. These are the employees who are more than eager to show the new guy the ropes, simply to get out of doing his/her assigned work.

For example, many years ago I was approached by a colleague who was fairly unfamiliar with a particular computer application. She attempted to enlist my assistance by stating how “wonderful” I am with computers. Because of my technological savvy, she intimated that it would probably be a better idea if I finished the report myself, because it would be completed faster. Fortunately for me, I’d had enough exposure to this colleague to understand immediately what she was attempting to do. I gave her a brief (literally 2 minutes) tutorial on how to complete her report, and left her to do it herself. And because I’m so “helpful”, I advised her that she could contact me at any time should she have any problems. Needless to say, she made it through the report with flying colors.

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New employees can avoid falling into the pitfall of being “too helpful” by fully understanding his/her job functions. If you are a new employee, it will help if you can identify your teammates, and understand what their roles are in the company. Also, check with your Human Resources department to find out what kinds of classes or training courses are currently available. Know that if specific kinds of training are available at your job, then it is your colleague’s responsibility to make sure he/she receives them if need be.

Arming yourself with this knowledge will prevent you from spending too much time doing something other than what you were hired to do. Do not let your lack of experience in your current work environment prevent you from distinguishing between true teamwork, and another’s attempt at slacking off.

The “Informative” Coworker = Office Gossiper

Another drawback to working in a new place is the lack of friends. Unless you already know people in the company, it might take some time to really decide who you will be truly comfortable sharing social exchanges with. New employees are almost always the source of curiosity in offices. If you have a particular aversion to office gossip, then this toxic employee will be of interest to you.

There is a general rule of thumb involved where it regards “socializing” in the workplace. That rule dictates that anyone willing to dish freely about company staff members will be more than ready to dish information about you. But there are very easy ways to deal with the “informative” coworker.

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First and foremost, understand that these people very often have a lot of information to share. Much of it will be useful. This is how the Informative Coworker will try to rope you in. Knowing that you’re green to the company’s ways, he/she will offer tons of information to help you get through your first few weeks. But notice how the information is peppered with negative comments regarding other colleagues. But the real clue that your new buddy is a gossip will be revealed in the personal things he/she decides to tell you about him/herself. The coworker is hoping that you will engage in a little reciprocation, so that he/she will have something to report to others.

The best thing to do in this situation is to divulge only things that you’re comfortable with the entire company knowing about you. In future dealings with this person, make yourself “sticky”, meaning—let the gossip you hear stay with you. Remember that your superiors are probably already cognizant of this behavior, and are watching to see if you will take the bait.

The “Experienced” Coworker = Work Hoarder

The Work Hoarder is a rather strange kind of coworker. But the behavior of these types is toxic nonetheless. The Work Hoarder will come off as one of the most experienced in the entire company. As a matter of fact, he/she just might be. The problem with these types is that they often feel threatened by the expertise of others. They are content to hoard all the work, justifying it with their experience. The result of such conduct is often that some work is left undone because the load is too much for one person.

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Truly experienced (and well-balanced) employees are perfectly okay with letting others help them. If you are starting a new job, you should be wary of the person who fails to explain certain details of your job, simply because the colleague feels he/she can do it better. The “experienced” coworker will almost always defer your issues back to him/herself, instead of allowing you to work through them for yourself.

The good thing about being a new employee in this situation is that it will be natural for you to have lots of questions. If your teammate cannot (or will not) answer certain questions for you, jot them down and seek answers elsewhere. You need not “tattle” on the colleague. But searching for answers with another source may bring attention to the fact that your experienced coworker is simply hoarding information.

It is extremely important to remember that your success at your new place of employment will depend not so much on your expertise alone, but on how you deal with the existing obstacles at the company. Your superiors are probably well aware of these obstacles. Thus, as a new employee you have the benefit of the doubt on your side. Your lack of tenure will provide you with the objectivity needed to ask the right questions.