Over the course of our careers, there are certain types of coworkers we run into over and over. They drive us crazy without even trying. Until we learn how to manage them, we’re hopelessly distracted by the daily frustration of their existence. Below are the three most common types of annoying coworkers, and what to do about them:
1) The Delegator
These are the coworkers who assign their work to you – even though you have the same job title. Delegators do everything they can to sit back, shirk and make you do more. In short, as one Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel employee put it, “They know the system of letting others do the work.”
Delegation laziness isn’t limited to managers. Even low-level employees can “delegate the delegation,” as one Petco employee phrased it. These delegators have mastered the art of appearing like they’re doing a lot without actually doing anything. “[It] reminds me of group projects in college where a couple standouts carry the load while others sit back and enjoy the benefits without doing the work,” wrote an employee for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
Over time, one person’s laziness can morph into a whole culture of nose-goes. An employee at Universal City Development Partners related that “The last few years I was there, my coworkers got lazy and did not want to help each other. They just played the game to stay employed.”
Before it gets to that point, you need to nip self-promoted delegators in the bud. But how? Some employees recommend not working hard, because the delegators will just give you more work if you do. “Don’t be the hard worker,” said one employee at Tyson Foods. “If you are they will work you the hardest.” As one Boeing employee observed, “Lazy guys get paid the same as the ones who get the plane built.”
Though being lazy might eventually force delegators to actually do some work, it’s not good for you long-term. At the end of the day — or, at least, at the end of a year and a career — the hard workers win. If you’re struggling with a delegator, go to the actual delegators — your bosses, supervisors or managers — and ask them to clarify your job duties. Without blame, describe what work you’ve been doing for the delegator. Say that you’re happy to do that if that’s your highest and best use, but you want to make sure you have time for top-priority projects. Then, rather than talk back to your bossy coworker, let your real bosses handle it.
2) The Too-Much-Team Player
Too-much-team (TMT) players can’t do anything by themselves. Raised on group projects and team sports, they know work in the context of “work together.” As one TMT player, who worked for United Activities Unlimited Inc., expressed, “I feel that it’s essential for coworkers to work together for the common good of the company and those we are providing a service to. I am this type of coworker and my personality in the workplace is warm and infectious.” Some people might thrive on this energy; others are drained and irritated by it. Another TMT player at Coastal Women’s Shelter complained, “There was supposed to be teamwork, but in reality, there wasn’t. You ended up doing it on your own.”
For introverts and people who work best alone, TMT players can be a nonstop nuisance. “Everything was a group project,” one employee at Vayneredia LLC complained. Some people enjoy that; others feel that constant collaboration is inefficient. Ideally, we’d all have a balance like Citibank’s, at least as described by one employee: “Team projects were solely voluntary. If you wanted to do your share start to finish, [that was] okay. [Would you] rather split tasks inside a process with a coworker? That’s okay too.”
If you’re surrounded by over-collaborator types, don’t tell them that you work best alone; companies, coworkers, and bosses want team players. Instead, work alone within your team’s parameters. At the outset of the project, define clear expectations around how you’ll be contributing. Take full responsibility for that piece of it, and do it well on your own. This way, you’ll contribute meaningfully toward the team’s mission while also getting to work solo. “While your contributions are for team projects,” one consultant summarized, “mostly you work individually.”
3) The Competitor
By contrast, competitors don’t understand the true meaning of team. For them, childhood participation trophies were never enough. They were the athletes, the A-students and the class presidents of their youth. Now, they hate to feel that their old GPA and varsity letters don’t matter. So they try to prove themselves by one-upping you.
For example, an employee at Bill Bryan Chrysler Jeep Dodge described an “extremely competitive backstabbing culture from coworkers.” Likewise, an employee at BMO Harris Bank described employees as “every man for himself. Most are trying to look good for their boss so they can be noticed.” Several other reviewers cited employees who “throw each other under the bus.” As one employee at Cox Medical Center Branson wrote, “It’s dog eat dog.”
Unfortunately, of any coworker type, competitors are the most unavoidable and toxic. Competition often stems from systemic company practices, like forcing employees to compete for sales commissions that “pit workers against each other,” as one Sun Run employee put it. “Beware of competitive coworkers,” wrote one at Liberty Tax Service: “There is an hourly rate and commission rate, sometimes it got tough to get any clients if you are new.” Intel is another example of company-induced coworker competition, at least according to one employee. Intel uses a performance review process called “Theory X,” where all employees are assumed to be lazy until proven otherwise. This “forces people to always look at what your teammates are doing and try to do it better. Therefore, your teammates are your rivals … It is kill or be killed.” These kinds of cultures are unlikely to change, and if you can’t handle the competition you might need to find another job.
Just a few competitive coworkers, however, are manageable. First, don’t play their game. Don’t try to beat them or teach them a lesson or bring their egos down a notch. Focus on your game, which has nothing to do with your coworkers: Your game is the good work you do, plain and simple. If their competitiveness doesn’t chill out once you stop competing, talk to them one-on-one. Sometimes people don’t realize they’re acting competitively, and just mentioning it might solve the problem. Say that you know they don’t mean to come across this way, but some things they do — list specific examples — seem competitive. Tell them that you want to feel like you’re working with each other, not against each other. At the very least, this conversation will embarrass them enough to scale back their outward demeanor.
Competitors, delegators, and too-much-team players don’t have to ruin your workday. If you’re strategic about how you handle these relationships, you’ll be less stressed, more productive and free from someone else controlling how you feel and work.