Top ten ways anyone can guarantee an angry workplace

This post is a companion piece to the one I wrote last week about how managers can guarantee an angry workforce.  This is the “equal time” response acknowledging that not all the ills of working life are the fault of management.  Managers certainly have more control over the direction of a workplace than the rank and file workers but a toxic cow-orker is more than capable of destroying any good work done by managers.  Some of the behaviours listed here will make managers angry, some will make peers angry and quite honestly you’ll make yourself angry and miserable if you perpetrate some of them.

So take control!  Wreak havoc on your workplace and show exactly what “the power of one” can achieve.  With a little diligence you could probably manage all ten of these behaviours and turn your workplace into a battlefield filled with angry, disillusioned, desperate people.  (Mental note: people who actually do these horrible things are usually incapable of understanding irony.  Better make the intention here a bit clearer.)

But seriously folks, don’t do these things.  Really.  Even if you think other people “deserve” to be on the receiving end of some of the misery they’ve been dealing out to you.  It’s tempting but it’s a downward spiral that will screw up your life as much as anyone’s.  If you’re already in a toxic workplace, don’t become part of the problem.  Find a way to be positive, stay out of the way or simply get out altogether.  But don’t descend to the level of sociopaths who behave like this as a matter of course.

So without further ado, the top ten ways anyone can guarantee an angry workplace are:

1. Interfere with how others work.  Everybody has their own style and it’s perfectly possible yours is better than anybody else’s.  The thing is, trying to change how others work when your opinion hasn’t been invited is a recipe for disaster.  This doesn’t mean ignore dangerous or destructive practices but use some judgement – if it isn’t actually your job to coach someone don’t rush in to tell them they’re wrong.

2. Act as though some aspects of your job are below you.  In the feedback to my earlier post, one reader recounted a story where a tech support person refused to go under a desk to fix cabling because they didn’t want to get their pants dirty.  Nobody should put up with being demeaned but if you don’t like what is expected of you, you probably should be doing another job rather than making everyone angry with your intransigence.

3. Backstab people you don’t like.  Maybe you’re right, maybe so-and-so at the next desk really sucks.  Maybe one of your peers is actually completely incompetent.  Don’t make a bad situation worse by indulging in character assassination – no matter how justified you think it is.

4. Encourage gossip.  Friendly chats are good.  Talking about your own personal life is questionable.  Indulging in gossip about someone else’s personal life is destructive.  Actively seeking out and listening to gossipers is no better than spreading gossip yourself.  Everyone likes a juicy story but don’t make it a central part of your work life.

5. Pass judgement on the performance of others.  If performance appraisals aren’t your job, don’t offer them.  No matter how sure you are of someone else’s failings, being unnecessarily judgemental is terribly destructive.  Your own performance is your concern, leave the performance of others to their managers. 

6. Intrude on the “personal space” of others.  There are dozens of ways to do this: physically impinging on others (this doesn’t have be touching to be bad), spreading your crap out so it limits the space available to others, talking excessively loudly, having an obnoxious ringtone.  Individuality is all well and good but you can hardly expect others to respect your individuality if it involves them being battered by it.

7. Refuse to support co-workers as a matter of course.  I’m a bit of an old school “workers stand together” type.  It doesn’t make sense to be dragged down by someone who is incompetent and/or destructive but if you reflexively sell out your peers and take the other side, it will not only make them angry but it’ll come back to bite you some day in a splendidly karmic manner.

8. Try to palm your work off on someone else.  If you are overworked, the positive course of action is to communicate this upward to your manager.  Don’t dump on the people around you.  No matter how sure you are someone else is dodging their fair share, unless you are their manager it simply isn’t your job to push some of your work on them.  Likewise if it’s simply an unpleasant task, not a question of overwork.  It isn’t your co-worker’s fault it landed on your desk.  Take it up with the boss.

9. Suck up to management.  Do your job well by all means.  Be on friendly terms with your superiors.  But actively sucking up?  Don’t do it.  You’ve crossed the line when you’re spending more time discussing non-work issues with the boss than you spend on discussing work.  Just because a manager might be susceptible to constant flattery is no reason to indulge.  This sort of behaviour is almost always blatantly transparent to co-workers and never goes down well.

10. Indulge in the negative side of office politics.  You have to understand office politics simply to survive.  But when you cross the line from protecting yourself to actively playing the game to further your own ends you become part of the problem.  Anyone who is actually gaining happiness from playing petty political games is undoubtedly engendering a lot of anger all around themselves.

Many of the above items are a delicate balancing act.  A judicious amount of playing politics and sucking up (a friend used the delightful term “upward management”) can help everyone.  A little social interaction between co-workers is normally a good thing but crossing the line into gossip or imposing on someone in a way that makes them uncomfortable is guaranteed to make you some enemies.  In the end, the above list is an attempt to say it’s easy (and often true) to blame the boss for everything bad but keep these rules in mind.  Unless you can honestly say you’re not part of the problem you don’t really have the right to complain.



Filed under Work

19 responses to “Top ten ways anyone can guarantee an angry workplace

  1. ‘Encourage gossip’….in my opinion it is the most destructive of the above. A polite form of murder by character assassination. The easiest way to avoid this baby is to say…’you know, we should really invite that person into this conversation so they can at least defend themselves.’

  2. Salamaat,
    wow..Sandra I love that response!

    I love how you pin point all those little/not so little irksome things that make the workplace, well, more work! 🙂

  3. timethief

    Aside from the bases you have covered I would like to share my primary pet peeves about the behaviours of fellow “workers” (and notice that I do use that term “worker” loosely), when the boss isn’t in.

    1. Arrive Late
    Off to a good start? Oh yeah, sure. And how can your head be in the job when within 10 minutes of arriving late you’re are on the phone calling your spouse, children and/or relatives discussing past events or future plans?

    2. Respond to all distractions
    Focused on the “now” moment? Well how can you be if you respond instantly to each and every incoming phone call and email? Your voice mail can pick up the calls and your emails will wait. Both will be there until you can get to them and work them through from beginning to end. But instead you choose repeatedly to break your attention span, waste time in regaining your focus again, and to boot you insult whomever you were dealing with by putting them or their work “on hold”.

    3. Take long breaks and leave early
    Fair pay for hours worked? Not bloody likely. By my estimation you are highly overpaid because you always arrive early, take longer breaks than you’re entitled to as well as extended lunches and then you leave early, particularly, on heavy volume days.

    4. Contributing to a healthy work environment?
    I should say, not. You spend hours every week complaining about your poor health, yet you take no exercise at lunch break and you avoid fresh air like it is the plague. You eat constantly at your desk while complaining about your excessive weight.
    You bitch about the job, the boss, the clients and the other workers. You bitch about your desk, your chair and the room temperature. You poison my work environment.

    GAWD! It felt good to get that off my chest.

  4. Sandra: nice strategy. I agree, gossip is truly poisonous

    Maliha: Salamaat! This is catharsis for me – getting out my frustration at every maladjusted workplace I’ve been subjected to.

    timethief: Nice list! Glad you were able to get that off your chest and I agree, someone who makes everyone else feel like they’re getting away with murder definitely makes everyone else angry.

  5. Ever worked at a public school? Your list is rampant and yet those of us who avoid engaging in these activities find it extremely difficult to encourage others to stay away from them as well. Thanks for the catharsis – it was much needed.

  6. I have a few 🙂

    1. Take credit for other people’s work.
    Are you middle management, in charge of a team of people? Delegate a complicated and lengthy project to them, that had previously been given to you by the high-ups in the company. When your team presents their final project to you, murmur something nondescript, then take their results to top brass. If it is received well, take all the credit for yourself. If not, blame your incompetent subordinates.

    2. Forward chain emails to avoid bad luck
    Your co-workers will no doubt be thoroughly enamoured with you for passing on religious-themed, schmaltzy emails. Furthermore, blonde jokes, “stupid signs” and “cute” pictures will be well received.

    3. Take food from the fridge
    Yes, even the labelled things. I mean, if people were *really* serious when they say they don’t want you to eat their food, they wouldn’t put it in a communal fridge! Serves them right, everything not locked down is fair game. Similarly, make sure to drink lots of tea and coffee, using up all the milk. Never offer a cuppa to your colleagues, or replace anything you use up. Especially not biscuits.

  7. Sue

    FISH training. Make it *mandatory* to have your morale enhanced by acting like a goose with other loser employees from your organisation which hopefully, you’ll never have to share a training room with again. FISH training always reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon about it being mandatory to wear a badge that says “I’m empowered”.

    A poll: Is there anything more culturally inappropriate in Australia than FISH training?

  8. saly

    I love this! Very funny and true!

  9. kate: I haven’t worked in schools, sounds bad. Glad you enjoyed the catharsis.

    modeski: good list! Number 3 reminded me of the time some bastard actually stole my birthday cake out of the fridge at work.

    Sue: I don’t even know what FISH training is but it sounds bad

    Saly: Glad you liked it 🙂

  10. Pingback: angry workplace « the white elephant

  11. Sue

    FISH training is what you (are usually forced to) do after management have created a total SNAFU. The reasoning goes that it’s basically your fault that your morale is bad, so the training is to “help” you adjust it. It’s the latest management fad.
    I told them I rather stick my finger in a light socket than to attend. This, of course, has revealed me to be “not a team player”. There may be no “I” in team, but there sure is one in “dickhead” and there’s one in “fish” too, but I think that’s a coincidence.

  12. timethief

    @ sue – rotflomao
    Oh I get it – you mean MINNOW WAVE training.
    Minimal Intelligence Nerds & Nobs Organize Well When Asked to Validate Entropy.

  13. Nice post, Mr. Angry. My contribution to your list would be to quit caring. Anger takes so much energy when you could just stop giving a rip and get the same end game. I’m glad to see you differentiated on the “negative side of office politics” – favorite topic of mine on my blog.

  14. Sue: and there’s no I in team but there’s two in “individual” – how confusing is that?

    timethief: killer acronym!

    timothy: glad you concur, now we only need to convince the poison spitting types who like to take other people down with gossip

  15. Cory


    Today is my last day at my corporate job. For the past six months I’ve been dealing with a co-worker who thinks she has the right to invade my personal space at work (my own cubicle) as well as indulge in character assasination directly to our boss. She called me a liar and other wonderful decriptive words right in front of my boss. The sad thing is, my boss did nothing to intervene or resolve the issue. I knew at that moment who was really in charge of our office and decided to leave. I am re-starting my own company (I originally had my own business and came back into the corporate world) to determine my own future and never repeat this negative experience of dealing with a controlling co-worker and ineffective boss.

  16. Congratulations on getting out, Cory! You’re doing absolutely the right thing – taking control and making positive changes.

  17. Ms. X

    I work in corrections for a particular….agency, and there’s one employee who can not keep her mouth shut. She talks about the clients, calls them nasty names, wants me to tell her personal information concerning my boss, and has enough nerve to tell other program managers in this …agency how they should do their job. I have a graduate degree and am very much involved with the corrections field, attended many different types of meetings, do many different types things, and know many individuals in our small community. This employee that I work with has not only gossiped about people at our agency, but also about some highly professional people I attend meetings with. I’ve told this particular employee that what she’s told me was “SICK,” yet have not told her to “PLEASE,” keep your mouth shut around me. Now I could inform the people that she has gossiped about that this person is “Slandering their names,” but this will really make me look bad. I believe in keeping peoples information confidential, but where do you draw the line? This particular employee also likes to tell me about her drunken escalades, which really is none of my business, but she tells me how she’s acted-out and hung out at the local bars (we live in a very small community) and I have informed her that this type of behavior is unacceptable, primarily due to her working in the corrections field. This did not seem to faze her! What can I really do?

  18. Ms X: it sounds like you’re doing all you can. You’re not indulging in the behaviour yourself, you’re suggesting that she should tone down her behaviour but you can’t live her life for her. Stick do your own integrity – if she starts having a serious negative impact on yourself or others maybe you should say something but you can’t really stop her from destroying herself.

  19. Unwilling Victim

    Playing music loudly is a way of taking up more space than one is allowed, this is right up there with speaking in “Bar Room” voice, (loudly, so your voice can be heard over the drunks at the Bar) wearing heavy purfume or cologne are also ways to take up more space. When workers object, we are told “get a life” by the employees and the managers do not respond. What horrible message does this send to the employees?

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