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The five most hated people at work

If you don't have one in your office, it's probably you.
If you don't have one in your office, it's probably you.

Every workplace has “that guy.” Some of the more unlucky employed may even share space with several irritating coworkers. If you can’t think of one, chances are it’s probably you.

Below is a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of five of the most hated coworker personality types. Familiarize yourself with this information so that you will know how to spot these obnoxious employees, how to make sure you aren’t becoming one of them, and what to do if you’re stuck with one. All it takes is a little effort and self-awareness to turn a terrible working environment into a unified, satisfying company culture.

The Lone Wolf

Independence isn’t a bad thing, but like anything it has its extremes. The Lone Wolf is the coworker who insists on doing everything as a department of one. This person seldom asks for help, even when it’s needed. Problems can arise as a result of the lack of communication that The Lone Wolf has with his or her fellow employees. Opportunities are often lost when employees don’t collaborate or communicate, and The Lone Wolf’s insistence on working independently could be holding back a company’s ability to innovate and to work harmoniously.

If you suspect that you might be going it alone a little too much, make a conscious effort to ask your coworkers for their input on projects. Asking for their opinions and advice will be flattering and may even give you some great ideas. You might find that you actually enjoy sharing your work with others and boost your own engagement in the process.

If you have a Lone Wolf in your business, try engaging them – just make sure to tread lightly. They may balk if they feel you’re being too nosy or invasive. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to work alone; this coworker may be shy, irritable, or simply unaccustomed to working as a team. Start out by asking for their advice on something simple that you think would interest them, extending the proverbial olive branch and setting the stage for them to do the same.

The Shirker

The Shirker is perhaps the most hated of all of the unpleasant coworker personalities. This person is the first to ask for help – or even beg for it. They can often be found trying to solicit the aid of another coworker to complete tasks that should be easily accomplished alone. They may be highly skilled excuse makers, playing on the compassion of fellow employees. If pleading fails, they may resort to wearing down their coworker’s defenses by bothering them until it becomes less trouble for other employees to simply do the job themselves. This employee gums up the works of an efficient office by over-burdening his or her coworkers. Frustratingly, in the amount of time it takes The Shirker to successfully shirk their duties, the project could usually have been completed.

If you hear yourself saying, “I don’t know how…”, “I don’t understand…”, “Could you help me…”, or “I don’t have time…” with any frequency, then you might be a Shirker. Even those who aren’t chronic Shirkers can fall into this irritating habit from time to time, so be cognizant of how much you’re asking of your colleagues. Remember, you’re only holding yourself back by not defeating obstacles. You will never develop new skill sets if you pass the buck to someone else at the first sign of frustration.

If you find yourself being shirked upon by a coworker (or perhaps by the whole office), the best word you can learn to say is, “no” (alternatively: “I can’t,” “Not right now,” or “Why don’t you just Google that?”). Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for not doing work that wasn’t yours to do in the first place. Declining The Shirker doesn’t mean that you have to have a list of excuses of your own waiting in the wings. Even if you feel like snapping every time they badger you, you can still keep the peace with a polite but firm, “no.” Eventually the company mooch will be forced to do it themselves or your boss will find someone who can.

The Complainer

The Complainer isn’t necessarily a bad employee. They might be highly skilled, reliable, and successful. Even so, pretty much everyone hates them. These people have a gift for picking out the worst in any situation and aren’t afraid to share that with the entire workforce. Everyone gets stressed at work on occasion, and the temptation to whine about it is understandable, but The Complainer has turned this habit into an art form. Even categorically good things can come with a grain of salt when The Complainer gets a hold of them. Complainers drag down company morale and engagement, creating an unpleasant environment and a tense workplace culture. The signature of The Complainer is the ability to rattle off a list of what is wrong at any given time without actually offering any tangible ideas to solve problems.

You might be The Complainer and never know it. These people are most often oblivious to their own behavior and usually just think that they’re being a “realist” or “telling it like it is.” If you feel this way about yourself, try monitoring your words and actions more closely. A little introspection might turn up a persistent pattern of negativity. Every time you catch yourself about to complain, take a second and ask yourself if what you’re about to say is going to be helpful in any way, or if you're just griping. You may have a knack for picking out potential problems, so put that to work by coming up with proactive solutions instead of just caterwauling all day.

The quickest fix for The Complainer in your life is to start asking them to take action. Most often, these people are only truly interested in hearing themselves talk and don’t really care all that much about the majority of what they complain about. Asking them to follow up with real effort can help them curb their behavior quickly. Even if it fails to stop them, at least you’re putting their pessimism to good use.

The Spotlight

These coworkers can be irritating, though like The Complainer they aren’t necessarily bad employees. Characterized by constant attempts to showcase how hard they’ve been working, The Spotlight can frequently be heard telling everyone what they’re up to. Those who have been The Spotlight for a significant amount of time may develop the uncanny ability to phrase things as though they were actually telling you something useful, when in reality it’s nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to brag. Taking pride in your work and sharing your accomplishments isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when taken to the extreme it results in an employee who won’t do anything unless someone is watching and who is more concerned with getting recognition than with the overall health of the business.

It’s only natural to want the credit for your accomplishments, so if you score a big win for your company you shouldn’t be afraid to tell it on the mountain. However, nobody likes a bragger. If you suspect that you’re losing the fight against the temptation to boast, put a stop to it before you become a full-fledged Spotlight. Good work speaks for itself, so instead of making sure everyone knows it when you do well, try channeling that effort into doing quality work. It takes a little faith on your part, but you can be sure that people will notice your dedication. Even better than that, your coworkers will respect you for your quiet dignity, instead of resenting you for being so needy.

If The Spotlight is already blinding you and your colleagues on a daily basis, you have two options. You can choose to ignore them and learn to live with the grimace on your face, or you can talk to them about it directly. The second option is dicey, since it could cause a bigger problem. Use discretion when trying to curb The Spotlight, because you’re going to have to work with them for the foreseeable future and don’t want any hurt feelings. Taking a circuitous route might be in order; try asking for their help on some projects (in light of their many achievements, of course). If you see them doing something helpful without broadcasting it, let them know that you appreciate their efforts. This will make them feel validated and hopefully help fill whatever void they’ve been attempting to cram praise into all this time. Psychological conditioning can be employed as a last resort by making a displeasing noise or odor each time The Spotlight turns on and hoping that it sticks, but don’t count on that to work.

The Competitor

This coworker personality type is as easy to spot as it is to dislike. Unlike The Spotlight, The Competitor doesn’t necessarily care about appearing hardworking. All this person needs to know is that he or she is better than you. At everything. The Competitor will make it a point to let you know when you’ve been bested, even if you didn’t know you were competing. Any opportunity to beat you to work, to snag a coveted promotion or project, or to hit a goal first will be taken – and rest assured, you will be made aware of it once it is. The Competitor is damaging to a company culture because their very presence can foster an obsession with personal goals in the workplace, even at the expense of the best interests of the business.

Some people are naturally competitive, and that isn’t a bad thing. It takes ambitious people to drive a company forward. Competitiveness becomes a problem when it interferes with workplace relationships and the health of the company. If you’re worried that you’ve become The Competitor, start making a point to give back. Even if, by some miracle, it turns out that you really are better than everyone else at everything, it will still be in your best interests to be a team player. In addition to making a conscious effort not to turn everything into a contest, try throwing your coworkers a bone once in a while. If you see them struggling with something, offer to help; just remember to do this in a very polite way. Don’t start chucking unsolicited advice at them or insinuating that they’re incompetent, rather ask them if you can show them a trick or let them know that you’re there if they need you. Make your company your priority, that way you can join forces with your colleagues to battle the actual competition, instead of each other.

If you are facing off against The Competitor your most powerful defense will likely be four words: “It’s not a competition.” This might be met with a snide remark like, “That’s what people who aren’t winning say,” but if you’re consistent it will make a difference. Refusing to join in the game will take the fun out of it for The Competitor. Hopefully by repeating these words you can drive home the point that it is, in fact, not a competition. You can even try to channel this colleague’s competitive spirit into more positive outlets, such as setting an informal goal to beat a rival business’ numbers. If worst comes to worst, at least you know who you can count on if you need someone to play dirty on the company softball team.

These are just five of the most hated personality types found in the workplace, which is unfortunately a longer list than can be covered in a single article. The takeaway here should be self-awareness. You obviously want to foster positive relationships with your colleagues, so start training yourself to be conscious of how your actions impact those around you. There are going to be encounters with difficult personalities throughout your career and you may have to get creative when relating to people with different working styles. You’re on your own when it comes to the stinky-food-microwaver, inexcusably-loud-phone-talker, and bucket-of-perfume wearer, but at least you will have the upper hand if you encounter any of the most hated coworkers named above.

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