get access to career insights.

career advice hub

ready for a change?

apply for a job

We all know that our colleagues can have a huge impact on how happy or engaged we feel at work. After all, they are the ones who we spend at least 35 hours a week with.

They are also the same people who can either help or hinder you in achieving your career goals. If you are unfortunate enough to share the same workplace with annoying and toxic co-workers, fret not.

Keeping one's sanity while trying to stay motivated in a toxic work environment with colleagues who are making your life a living hell will never be easy. Knowing the signs and what type of toxic co-workers you’re working with will help you gain a better understanding on how to best work with them and avoid conflict. So, how to deal with toxic people at work and what are some toxic employee traits?

types of toxic coworkers
types of toxic coworkers

Here are some tips on how you can deal with the different types of toxic colleagues at work.

1. the micromanager

This person is notorious for being a control freak and having trust issues when it comes to the efforts of other people. They may not necessarily be your boss and could just be a nosy co-worker. They often have the need to assert control over others and impose their opinions on other people. Chances are, you are not the only one putting up with this insufferable toxic colleague’s behaviour.

One thing you can do when encountering these toxic colleagues is to consider the reasons behind their micromanaging tendencies, and react appropriately. If they believe that you are too inexperienced or incapable of doing your job right, you can prove your abilities by showing them the results of your work, or by explaining your rationale to them calmly using data, facts and logic. In short, give these micromanagers absolutely no reason to doubt your competencies or ability to deliver.

However, it can sometimes be entirely out of your control. If that’s the case, it may be best to avoid these toxic employees at work  and choose to selectively heed their advice based on the situation.

2. the gossipmonger

This person is the source of all information in the office, including the private ones. They know everything about everyone, and are not afraid to tell people that they do. They always pinpoint the ill behaviours of others, but not their own. This type of toxic co-worker should be avoided and are often the most common toxic colleague signs that you can identify.

Engaging in a conversation with this colleague can be risky, as associating with the gossipmonger could make you seem like one yourself. In their gossip sessions with others, they may also accidentally let slip that you are the one who shared the information or started the rumour, painting you as another blabbermouth.

Even if you are sharing just a tiny bit of information about your private life with them, the seemingly minute details may morph into something different altogether, and spread like wildfire before you know it.

You can’t possibly avoid these annoying co-workers completely, but you can try to control the direction of your conversations with such gossipy people. When speaking to colleagues who love to gossip, keep the topics purely professional and keep your personal opinions to yourself.

3. the office bully

If you thought the gossipmonger was bad, wait till you meet the bully. Be it by spreading malicious rumours about others or threatening co-workers, the office bully is one that will make work a living hell for their victims. They are one of the most difficult people you will ever have to deal with in a workplace. They may also be the ones leaving unconstructive remarks on your work or an aspect of yourself that you can’t change, which strongly contributes to a toxic work environment.

One way of dealing with the bully is to turn the other cheek. Bullies thrive on feeling better about themselves by making others feel small, and giving them that satisfaction will only reinforce their toxic behaviour. 

Do not give these toxic co-workers any attention, or show any indication that their actions or words have affected you. Once the bully knows that they cannot faze you, they may just give up and leave you alone.

However, if you see them terrorising someone else instead, be sure to speak up for the victims. If it has gone too far, you should consider bringing the matter to HR manager and legal.

4. the one who just won’t take no for an answer

This type of toxic co-worker never understood the meaning of consent or how to respect personal boundaries. Keeping a physical distance from them in a professional setting will not be easy either. Their harassment can take many forms - passing comments laced with sexual innuendos, invading your physical personal space or using inappropriate or abusive language of a sexual, racist or discriminatory nature. They may even brush their highly inappropriate behaviours off as harmless jokes, and blame others for being overly sensitive.

However, the increasing focus on sexual harassment cases shows a shifting mindset in society, where victims are more often willing to talk about their experiences and encourage others to speak out as well. If you have repeatedly registered your disinterest or contempt for such obnoxious behaviours, the best solution to deal with a disrespectful person is to report them.

If this toxic behaviour is coming from your superior, go to the upper management, or even straight to HR and legal. More often than not, you may discover that you are not the only victim who has come forward. Reporting cases like these are the best way to stop the company culture from getting worse and to avoid someone else from falling prey to these annoying co-workers’ ‘jokes’ and undesirable advances.

5. the passive-aggressive one

This person is the master of throwing shade. It could start as a little snide remark and manifest itself into a full-blown cold war, which can make it extremely painful for everyone on the team to get simple work done. Thanks to their passive nature, this type of toxic co-worker may be difficult to spot at first, but you’ll realise it once you see their snarky post-it notes and messages.

These passive-aggressive toxic workmates can act nicely to you but say things badly behind your back. They tell you one thing but do the other thing. When you ask them, they insist everything is fine but their actions speak otherwise. They may often leave you wondering after every conversation about what they really meant. 

To deal with such toxic colleagues, the most diplomatic approach is to first ignore their remarks and hope they notice that you are unimpressed by their unconstructive comments. If the high road doesn’t work, you can try a more direct approach by seeking clarification whenever they say or do something that could be interpreted as passive-aggressive.

Questions and statements like ‘What do you mean?’ or ‘I don’t really get what you’re trying to say’ acknowledge the situation without escalating it further. These responses are not too aggressive and may impel your toxic colleague into taking a more honest and forthright position with you.

colleagues from hell getting too much for you?

Being stuck in challenging work relationships and having to deal with a difficult co-worker can drain your energy. There's a limit to how far you should tolerate your toxic colleagues.

If you are surrounded by colleagues from hell, it may be less of an individual problem, and more of a deep-rooted issue surrounding the corporate culture. It could also indicate a finger-pointing culture where nobody is willing to be accountable for the failure to meet work objectives. Challenges and problems will always surface when we are working, but we should also know when it’s time to leave a toxic work environment. 

work with randstad 

Take a break from your work stress and hellish workplace. Connect with us and we’ll help you find job opportunities that are more suitable for you. We’ll assist you in finding a more collaborative employer with supportive co-workers who can help you develop professionally and succeed in the workplace. 

One thing about engaging recruiters like Randstad is that we often have details about companies that are not readily available, such as their corporate culture and how their employees work and collaborate with each other. We share such privileged information with you to minimise your chance of encountering a negative company culture which could hurt your career and well-being. 

If you need more motivation to take action, head over to the Randstad Salary Calculator to find out how much your skill sets are currently worth in the market! This free tool provides you with a personalised salary report that tells you where you stand in terms of pay, work responsibilities and talent demands in Singapore’s current job market. It’s essential to be informed of the relevancy and worthiness of your skill sets.