Is Your Colleague Toxic or Annoying—And What Can You Do About It?

A colleague has poor work ethic and always lets the team down. Another constantly raises the same issues, and the team doesn’t understand or agree on its importance. What makes one toxic and the other annoying?

Is Your Colleague Toxic or Annoying—And What Can You Do About It?

30 Sep 2016 by  Vikas Verma

A colleague has poor work ethic and always lets the team down. Another constantly raises the same issues, and the team doesn’t understand or agree on its importance. What makes one toxic and the other annoying?

‘Annoying’ can be open to a wide interpretation, while ‘toxic’ is clear—it creates a negative environment at the workplace. Having said that, they are not binary options and it’s never a good idea to stereotype colleagues into these buckets.

What makes a toxic employee?

The Aon Hewitt 2016 Trends in Global Employee Engagement study found that 37% of employees in Singapore are disengaged. From a behavioural perspective, Aon places disengaged employees into 3 categories:

1. Passively engaged 
2. Actively disengaged, but still positive about the firm
3. Actively disengaged with no hope at the current workplace 

The third category is where we’ll find toxic employees. Not only will they be vocal about their dissatisfaction, they will also spread the negative sentiment among co-workers.

What can you do about a toxic colleague?

Talk. But it’s not just about what you say; it’s also about how you say it, and who you say it to.



• Talk to your colleague.

Be compassionate—your colleague may be going through some issues that you don’t know about. Be upfront about how your colleague is hindering your performance and productivity because of his or her behaviour, and suggest specific actions that can help achieve your team and organisational goals. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help your colleague feel more engaged in the workplace.

• Talk to your manager.

If the discussion with your colleague doesn’t improve things, escalate the matter to your manager. Remember to remain positive, and focus on the issue instead of the person. If you think that your colleague’s disengagement is causing you to take on more responsibility than you should, discuss this with your manager and outline your specific roles and responsibilities in relation to your colleague’s. If necessary, you may also bring up policies such as the company’s code of conduct.

• Talk to someone more senior.

If the discussion with your manager doesn’t result in a satisfactory outcome, you may want to escalate the matter even further. However, if you have to speak to someone more senior, it’s advisable to keep your manager in the know. The same principles apply—discuss the issues, not the person, and focus the conversation on how specific behaviours (or lack thereof) are hindering you from giving your best to the team and the organisation.

What must managers do about toxic employees?

Managers are responsible for their team’s engagement, and ensuring that their people don’t become actively disengaged to toxic levels. According to Aon Hewitt’s The Engaging Leader study, a manager has to demonstrate 5 key behaviours when engaging with the team:

• Connect and Stabilise by listening, staying calm, and unifying others 
Energise people by keeping them focused on purpose and vision with contagious positivity 
Serve and Grow by empowering, enabling and developing their people 
Stay Grounded through humble, open, candid and authentic communications and behaviour
Step Up by proactively owning solutions where others cannot or do not 

Start a conversation with us

If you need help with driving employee engagement levels or developing effective managers, get in touch with us today.

Vikas Verma

Vikas Verma is Principal, Aon Hewitt, Talent, Rewards & Performance (TRP) practice and based in Singapore. With over 18 years of rich and diverse experience in Talent Management & Leadership Development and managing businesses, Vikas enjoys partnering with leaders in charting out the talent management strategy that is aligned with the business strategy. Vikas is also an avid follower of technology and advises clients on the adoption of cloud-based learning and performance management systems.

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Vikas Verma
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