Syaheir Azizan/

How Not to Be a Rotten Co-Worker

Self-serving colleagues can spoil work on many levels. Don't be one of them.

I've worked with rotten people. I'm sure you've had your share of negative experiences, as well. Although it is well known that we leave jobs because of our managers—the support of our co-workers also plays a key role in work-related outcomes. With the advent of flatter organizations and increased teaming, whom we work with takes on an even greater level of importance at work. Studies have indicated that the behaviors of our co-workers, both supportive (for example, mentoring) and antagonistic (social undermining, etc.), can influence both our attitudes toward work (job satisfaction, commitment) and ultimately our behavior (effort toward work).

In this vein, I often hear stories of "less than positive" co-workers. Some of the situations are tolerable for a time, others are not. Unfortunately, these experiences can spoil work life on many levels—with lasting personal and organizational outcomes.

Rotten co-workers can change the course of both our work and career.

Research has shown that with regard to specific outcomes, your co-workers may have a greater impact than leaders or managers. (Specifically, when we consider job involvement, effort reduction and absenteeism.) What matters most to us where co-worker support is concerned? Focus on both effective/emotional and instrumental support. You can inoculate yourself against “rotten”—and never, ever fall into that category.

Some ideas for that:

  • Lend that helping hand. Have you noticed that someone in your work sphere appears stressed or uncharacteristically frazzled? Step in and offer to help. We all have five minutes to help someone prepare for a presentation or sort through ideas. Step up. Rotten co-workers turn a blind eye to others who may need task-related support.
  • Be the link. We all aim to become a great success—but that success is not a “zero sum” game. Rotten co-workers wouldn’t think to help anyone but themselves, move forward. Do you know someone that would be a great connection for one of your colleagues? Would knowing that individual enhance their work life? Make that introduction.
  • Practice transparency. Rotten co-workers often present as one person—but are in reality, another. Always be upfront with your motives. If you want to progress organizationally, fine. But never misrepresent your intentions. Be clear and upfront. If you need your co-workers help, ask for it openly. This allows them decide if they are really "in" or "out."
  • Leaders remain our co-workers. After a promotion—we need to remember that we remain a co-worker. Often that fact is ignored. If you gain a leadership position, don’t “lord” position power or the hierarchy over others. Keep this in mind—for everyone's' sake. Move forward with empathy for your former colleagues.
  • Become someone’s champion. Changing attitudes and powering real change is difficult. If you see someone who “has something” truly unique to share—join their crusade. Support their ideas and help them take it to the next level. Everyone wins.
  • Above all—value the contribution of others. You know that guy who changed your slides without telling you? That individual who attempted to take credit for another person's work? She missed the orientation memo concerning respecting the work of others. That kind of behavior is a no-no, to stay out of “rotten” territory.

Have you worked with a rotten co-worker? Share your story.

Marla Gottschalk, an industrial/organizational psychologist, is the director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.  

(Image via Syaheir Azizan/