Readers, what’s your best advice for how to deal with extreme coworkers? We’ve talked about what to do when your boss has it out for you, as well as difficult coworkers who throw temper tantrums, but not in a while — so I asked lawyer/journalist Rebecca Berfanger to offer some advice… – Kat
Have you ever had a coworker or a supervisor who took things to the extreme at work? Maybe she screamed often or threw things, maybe she bragged about how she gave up sleep in order to put in longer hours, maybe she worked every holiday and weekend, or maybe she never took any breaks, not even to leave her desk or eat? Maybe she survived only on lattes? Did this coworker or boss expect you to be equally extreme in order to prove your loyalty to your job or clients? Was it actually an expectation of all coworkers — or just this one?
We’ve talked about difficult coworkers before, but this is more about those who know they are acting extreme and expect you to put up with them, or they believe that to be successful, you must behave in a similar way. If you’ve never had to work with an extreme person at work, consider yourself lucky. Studies have shown that a toxic work environment can cause extreme stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
So how can you deal with extreme coworkers?
Remember the big picture. How does this job fit into your career path? Is it worth it to you to tolerate the extreme behaviors? Hopefully there are enough other things you like about the job: satisfying assignments, a good salary, likable coworkers, or other benefits. Plus, imagine what it will be like when you or the extreme coworker eventually moves on to something else.
Focus on your work. Your boss and coworkers expect you to always do the best job you can, which means limiting distractions. If it’s a loud person or someone who is always bragging about the sacrifices they make for the sake of this job, a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can be your best friend. Even if you don’t listen to anything, it can send a clear signal you are focused on your task at hand. (See also: how to discourage chatty coworkers.)
Ask to be relocated. Depending on the size of your office, you might be able to request a change of scenery—away from the extreme coworker. You might end up with a smaller space or a longer walk to the printer, but a little physical distance can make a world of difference. The reason for your request can be anything from wanting a space closer to a window or farther away from an area known for being loud (break room, elevator bank, copy machine, conference table, etc.). If you feel comfortable enough telling your supervisor the real reason, he or she might be able to come up with other solutions to help you concentrate on work.
Practice self-care. If you can’t escape the extreme behavior when you are at the office, focus on what you can do outside of work to handle the stress of working with an extreme coworker. For instance, social workers and therapists who have accepted primary and secondary trauma as a part of the job also know that self-care is key (check out these TED Talks about self-care for ideas). Making time for therapy can also be helpful. Self-care could also be a “meeting” on your calendar for a short walk outside for some fresh air (maybe sneak out the back), or asking a (non-extreme) coworker to grab a coffee with you.
Move on. As we suggested in the difficult coworkers post, if working with this one person is bad enough, it might be time to seek out other opportunities. Also, if what you consider to be extreme behavior is what is expected in your office, this is probably not a good fit for you.
Readers, we want to know if you’ve had an extreme coworker who frequently yelled, bragged about how she never slept or never ate, and expected the same of other employees to prove their loyalty to the job. What did you do? Have you ever been told you are the extreme coworker and, if so, how did that make you feel?
Picture of woman sleeping at her desk: Shutterstock/ Jason Salmon.
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Planning ahead for Holiday Party
What would be an ideal office holiday party outfit for me to wear to my SO’s workplace? I will be meeting his colleagues for the first time so want to look smart, professional but neither over nor under dressed. This is mostly a casual nerdy sector (think IT/ engineering) in a North East Coast City in 2nd week of December. I am petite in height but about 50 pounds overweight from the ideal weight in my height category: carrying most of my weight in my chest and stomach region, so anything that makes me look tall and thin would be welcome :)) Really don’t know what to do! PLEASE HELP!!
How about a column of color? Wear cranberry or pine green pants and top, with a long, open black cardigan. Accessorize with a pendant. You’ll be dressier than jeans, but the holidays make that ok.
In the same shape/state as you! I recommend separates too. How about a flowing top over a pencil skirt and tall boots, and an expressive accessory. A solar system or steampunk necklace, a Star Wars pin, a literary scarf, a bracelet you or an artist you know made – something you genuinely love. Another recommendation: keep any makeup polished but light. My casual-nerdy friends tend to do tightlined eyes and very neutral or sheer lips.
I had the worst co-worker who raged with jealousy once she realized that I was getting lots of praise. She managed to get herself in a position of management and then went after me and anyone who was not part of her posse. People left the office, which allowed her to hire more “loyalists.” I ended up leaving as well, which served her purpose. It is sad that people like her are allowed to spread such toxicity.
Anon For This One
I have one of those annoying, out of control co-workers. The rules just do. not. apply. for this woman. She has no filter and no class, knows (or at least thinks she knows) every detail about everyone’s life, and it’s all about money for her. She comes and goes as she pleases. She takes more than her allotted share of vacation time, takes every advantage of the company she can, and complains (loudly) about how bad she has it here. I am her #1 enemy — have been since I started. I think it’s because she views me as a threat. She’s done everything she can to try to make me look bad, and at first, I would get upset until I figured out that most people are onto her. Now I ignore her or just shower her with all the sarcasm I can (she doesn’t seem to get sarcasm.) I’m pretty sure she’s not on the up and up and I’m waiting for somebody higher up to drop the hammer on her. It’ll happen one day and when it does, I plan on breaking out the popcorn, sitting back, and enjoying the entertainment.
Location, location, location
+1 on changing office locations. When our company changed buildings, I lobbied to go on the quieter side of the office (away from a few extreme co-workers) and it has made a huge difference in my state of mind at work. Much less stress/anxiety.
Taking the Fifth on This One
I work for a small law firm and we share space with another small firm. A co-worker at the other firm has mood swings, so I never know whether she is going to be friendly or rigidly toxic. She can go from zero to sixty in mere seconds. She yells down the hall to her colleagues when she could easily pick up the phone and contact them. She makes many personal calls, and talks in a very loud, animated voice. When I am on a personal call, I try to set an example by maintaining a low voice, walking to another location in the office, or stepping outside for a minute or two. She just doesn’t get it. She sometimes screams after having dealt with a difficult client.
I wish I could talk to her in a non-confrontational way about toning things down, but there are at least two issues: She reports to nobody in my firm. Also, she has been known to go on the defensive for cultural reasons, even when the situation at hand has nothing to do with cultural idiosyncrasies. The latter issue is not something I want to get into in any way, because although she is difficult, she is good at her job. I respect her – except for when she incredibly distracting. My superiors are aware of the problem, and have purchased me an office mobile phone and a set of noise-muffling headphones. Do I ask my managing attorney to speak with his counterpart about her behavior? Do I take her aside and gently ask her to use her Indoor Voice, while risking getting slammed for stepping over a cultural line? Truly, I am waiting for the day she moves on.