Do you sometimes look around you at work and think you are in the middle of a role play game with quite a few characters that play the same roles again and again? I do and not being a very patient person, it does take a lot of effort for me to keep my mouth shut and continue to stay in MY character and play the game. For that is what the corporate world is – a game. And even if you don’t want to play the game, you need to know the game and know the characters very well to achieve what you have set out to do. In my case, it is operational excellence. Your objective could be something else but you would agree with me that it would make our workplace much more pleasant and energetic and reaching business goals that much easier if some toxic employee attitudes were left out at the door. So much of organizational success depends on the culture that is prevalent in the organization. I have written about the part that leaders should play or not play in the past and today’s post is for the rest of us. To be really effective at work, we have to know and understand the people we work with. Each one of us at work has a responsibility to ourselves and to others to not indulge in toxic attitudes and behaviors at the work place. Life would become so much simpler (albeit less dramatic) then.

Here are the five most common toxic employee attitudes that I have seen block personal and professional growth at the work place – let me know if I have missed any:

Attitude #1: It’s not my job or Take No Initiative –

Such people specialize in advice. They can spend hours discussing how Mr. /Ms. So-and-So (especially those in management) are not doing their jobs and if they are, how they should actually be doing this much better. They are experts in their knowledge of who could or what could be better – and the more they know and discuss, the better they feel. And no, they don’t spend time debating on how they could contribute or help. Wouldn’t it be great if they actually used this knowledge to take initiative themselves to actually go and volunteer to DO some of these things, that they know so much about, themselves ?

Attitude #2: I know who is pulling the strings and why or the Conspiracy Theory –

The intelligence agents who think that there is a sinister agenda behind every move in the organization – they thrive on drama and love sharing their inside intelligence with people on their latest theories on how management is out to get them. This one is actually fallout of less than transparent communication from the leadership teams which provides fodder to some people to create stories and scare the living daylights out of people around them. Fear and confusion are not conducive to performance and productivity. Wouldn’t it be great if these people took this particular brand of creativity outside the workplace and wrote thriller novels that I am sure we would all love to read?

Attitude #3: What is the point or We can make No Difference –

Most commonly seen in people who are unhappy with their jobs for whatever reason, this attitude is a complete dampener for people around them who love their work and are passionate about what they do. They do not believe in positive outcomes and spend time curbing the enthusiasm of those that do. If you are unhappy and still choose to stay on, it is your choice. Now that you have made that choice, do you want to spend your time in doing mediocre work for work’s sake or try to inject a dose of excellence in whatever you do and become happier by the day? And let others do their best work in peace?

Attitude #4: I cannot/will not move forward and I will do my best to pull you back too or the Frog in the Well –

I don’t understand the reasons behind this attitude myself – on why someone would want the opposite of a win-win situation. But I see this very often, common symptoms are – share no credit, slander and back-stab at the first opportunity; sabotage any work that one does not directly own, etc. Why? Why? Why? Why would you want to pull down people when you can help push them up and maybe rise yourself too? Beats me but please stop doing this – you are sabotaging yourself in the long run.

Attitude #5:  Who me? I didn’t say/do anything or the Passive Aggressive behavior –

This is a very difficult attitude to identify or nail down as such people hide behind the smoke (And I am not being dramatic). Look for these people in meetings and conferences – no response to requests for question or feedback but the moment the meeting is over, you can find them with an audience around them near water coolers, coffee tables or whatever the organization version of that is. This is wrong, that is a bad plan, I know this will not work, we are doomed – you get the drift. Such people don’t speak up when they are given the opportunity to but are very vocal behind the scenes. And even more dangerous, sometimes very quietly block, hinder or just delay their part in the work flow. If you don’t like something or you don’t support a decision – can you please speak up? Chances are that your feedback could be very critical and help influence the decisions or change things the way you want.

We could do so much more if we learnt to respect ourselves and others at work.  Not see each other as adversaries but as fellow travelers – united to work for a common goal. As Howard Schultz, Founder & CEO of Starbucks says – Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not just from one person, but from the joint achievement of man.  The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.

Do you think I am being very harsh or did you find yourself nodding your head along the post identifying the characters that you encounter in your organization? What do you think each of us can do make the corporate culture less toxic and stifling? What behaviours do you think impede you in your journey to excellence at work? I would love to hear and learn from you.

Pic Courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/dailypic/3360561033/


    • Adrian
    • March 18, 2013

    Nice article. I would also add the “too confident idiot” on the list.

    • Kavita
    • March 18, 2013

    Hi Suchitra,

    I really enjoyed reading this blog 🙂 🙂 It sounds so real that while going through each described attitude, without any effort, I could actually relate to one or more persons in current work environment as well as in my past work environments. It made me laugh to visualize those live characters with these toxic attitudes in my current organization as well.

    I think, we also contribute unknowingly, by giving an ear to these people. If we push back these people with the questions you have put at end of each toxic attitude descriptions, we can help improving corporate culture and stop these people from spreading so much of negativity.

    Attitude#4 also apply to Peers who are not directly related to your work ( your boss or your own team members) but always try to make you feel that you are doing nothing and whatever the rewards you are getting in your career progression are actually useless. And you start believing them at some point.

    Very well written, light, humorous yet convey so many messages!

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • March 18, 2013

    Thank for dropping by and commenting, Adrian – glad you enjoyed the post. Good suggestion on the addition – could list this one under the “I,Me and Myself” attitude or people who cannot see beyond themselves…


    • Judy Gombita (@jgombita)
    • March 21, 2013

    I was laughing as I read this because I could just “see” the suppressed Suchitra all of those years in a corporate environment silently screaming at these five types. And now that you are a micropreneur and are becoming so vocal (and articulate) online, you are getting your own kind of revenge!

    The problem is that often these “toxic” people have incredible, unofficial power in the workplace. So they can have an effect. I understand what Kavita means about not allowing them an “influencing voice”….but, on the other hand, I can tell you if you convert any of these people over to a program or cause, they can become your biggest and most satisfying supporters.

    I had this happen after “branding” workshop presentations to staff (the organization was launching its rebranding publicly, following an intensive exercise). Two of the most grumbly, gossipy individuals really took to heart my instructions about why our company’s correct identification, including in our voicemail messages, was so important.

    I remember one of the grumblers inviting me to check her “new” voicemail (which she had changed IMMEDIATELY after the session), to make sure everything was covered off, including sounding friendly and welcoming…..

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • March 21, 2013

    Thank you, Kavita. The post has served its purpose. I was in a very good mood the rest of the day after getting this off my chest – ready to face Monday with all the role playing again 🙂
    On your point on attitude #4, I have learnt the hard way this – everybody is welcome to give feedback on my work and performance but my real performance appraisal can only be done by me. At the end of the day, am I happy with myself, did I move forward with the goals I have set myself ? Pleasing everyone is not in my job description.

    Thanks for all your support,

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • March 21, 2013

    Hello Judy,

    Trust you to hit the nail on the head – these “toxic” people have incredible, unofficial power in the workplace …but if you convert any of these people over to a program or cause, they can become your biggest and most satisfying supporters.
    That is so true and I have also seen it in action very similar to the examples you gave.

    Converting detractors into advocates takes time, effort and sometimes some grand gestures – but can make a huge difference.
    But what about those that make being contrary a habit without any real conviction behind their beliefs ? Very energy draining 🙂

    Thank you again for all that you do (and so well),

    P.S : Yup, being a micropreneur is SO much fun…

    • Subraya Bhagwat
    • March 23, 2013

    Dear Suchitra, you hit the nail on the head. These kind of people will be always there and people under point 2 and 3 somehow manage to garner fair bit of following of their own. It is these followers who spread more bitterness than others as, the so called miseries of 2 and 3 becomes a source of gossip for them. Very well written keep it up

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • March 23, 2013

    Hello Subraya,

    Thanks for dropping by. I agree with you – people find it so much more easier to be negative than positive unfortunately. Being positive means that you have to believe strongly in your ability to influence the outcomes or handle the impacts in the future – and that needs confidence and strength.
    But as Judy said, it is possible to convert the nay-sayers and sometimes well worth the effort.
    I enjoyed reading your last post too and adding the link here so that others enjoy it too – http://bhagwats.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/five-key-steps-for-finance-professional-to-become-business-partners/

    Thanks for your support,

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    • dsj556
    • March 12, 2014

    #1 is a result of a poor information flow or perceived poor decision making by higher up. Lower level employees get paid less and therefore expect more from management. Any bad decision will have lasting negative impacts and multiple bad decisions can lead to people just simply not caring. Why should an employee care if they feel under paid, under valued, or that their efforts are worthless?

    #2 I have never seen this in the civilian world but in the military this comes from people being relieved (fired) for seemingly normal behavior. One example that comes to mind is a platoon sergeant getting fired because he had too many soldiers violating curfew. This of course lead the other platoon sergeants into thinking that the Battalion Commander was out to get them and definitely was counterproductive.
    #3 this comes from multiple negative outcomes and as a new member of an organization is very hard to change. When people perceive that nothing good is going to happen it is very hard to convince them otherwise. I would guess that for every 1 negative it takes 5-10 positive outcomes to replace that memory. Getting called on weekends comes to mind as one Saturday call in to work is in my head for the next several Saturdays.
    #4 This is someone who is very disgruntled and feels that they deserve more in life. Perhaps they did not go to college when their peers did or maybe they opted out of training that would have advanced them but for some reason they didn’t and now they are frustrated and have no desire to assist anyone else in any way. They want to pull people down to their level because if they can’t succeed then why should anyone else? Very hard to motivate but I have seen that a good hour long conversation about this can help improve their performance.
    #5 I call these people the unofficial leaders of an organization. They might not have the rank, position, or title but for one reason or another people listen to them. They usually have quite a bit of natural charisma or some other trait that others find inspiring beyond their level. Should this person become one of the previously mentioned toxic workers your company is pretty much doomed. I personally pull people like this in and tell them that they are to be my eyes and ears so to speak and use them to assist in identifying other problems before they become more evident.
    For the record I have no formal training in leadership or management but this is my perception after 11 years active duty Army and 3 years as a Platoon Sergeant for a 40 man infantry platoon. I hope some of this was helpful.

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