I’m a veteran of TWO toxic workplaces – first in banking, then in telecom.  Now I coach leaders daily who are still neck deep in the muck!

Some common toxicities & tips:

  1. Favoritism:  Favoritism is awfully hard to prove.  Many times we believe others are the “favorite” when in actuality, they just have the skillsets for the job.  Or maybe they’ve ASKED for certain projects/developmental assignments.  We are all responsible for managing our own career.  So if you see others getting plum assignments, ask your manager what you need to do to be qualified for similar projects.

Similarly, if someone gets a promotion, have the conversation with your manager about your career path and how he/she can help you develop to be ready for the next opportunity.  Do you need more education?  Different projects?  More cross-functional team projects?  Supervisory experience?  You won’t know until you ask!

If indeed a boss is truly playing favorites, it will create disengaged employees, passive-aggressive behavior and presenteeism.  Basically, people ‘check out’ if they don’t feel like they can get ahead or get a boost in salary, etc.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is definitely time to take charge of your career!  Start reviewing internal postings to see if you can move to another area.  At the same time, start an external search.  Find networking events in your field.  Use the career placement office at your college alma mater – they often provide assistance to alumni.

  1. A difficult coworker:  A difficult person can negatively impact the work environment for everyone else.  This means they ARE impacting business results and perhaps customers too, so it needs to be addressed.

Get really clear on what behaviors, competencies or attitudes are the root causes of the issue.  Then those can be contrasted to ones that will more favorably impact the business, customers and coworkers.  You now have enough information for the first developmental conversation with the difficult employee.  As long as you can talk about these things in relationship to results and the job itself, you have a basis for a conversation.

If possible, bounce your approach off of your HR partner or another manager to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for trouble down the line and that everything you will be sharing is professional and appropriate to the job.  HR may also be able to help you devise a developmental plan to help this employee modify the problem behaviors.

  1. Gossip:  How to handle gossip really depends on 2 factors:  what the gossip is about and if it’s impacting your job performance.  If the gossip is about something personal – your new hair color or new girlfriend for instance – ignore it.  Folks will find something else to gossip about soon enough.  If it IS impacting your performance, talk to your manager about the best way to handle it.
  2. Bully: Stand up to the bully. Just like on the playground, an office bully is a coward.  Simply saying “No” to their orders or “Wait until I finish my sentence please” when they try to butt in or talk over you can make a world of difference. Your one act of bravery can inspire others to do the same.  And eventually the bully is outnumbered and will stop.