Maybe you love your job on paper, but in reality something is dragging you down. And that something is the person in the cubicle a few feet from your own. Most job descriptions don't account for the amount time we devote to workplace dynamics—whether that means withstanding foul lunch odors emanating from the office microwave or worrying about your boss's overuse of exclamation points in an email. But those are just minor issues compared to the burden a toxic coworker.
You know when one is in your midst—they slow down your progress, put a damper on your positive approach to a project or just make you feel like you need to watch your back 24/7.
It's not about a clash of personalities or a difficult person you can try to overlook. True toxic coworkers can poison the well of productivity and even muscle you out of your position. A study by Harvard Business School researchers recently found that toxic behavior in the workplace caused stress for their coworkers, lessended productivity and prompt "other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently," according to the Harvard Gazette.
So what qualifies as toxic behavior and how do you put a stop to it before it spirals out of control? According to HBS researchers, certain character traits like extreme selfishness, overconfidence, too much risk-taking or an emphatic enforcement of rules, could all be predictors of the kind of coworker you want to avoid. To further break it down, we rounded up the three worst types of toxic coworkers and what to do about them.
Gossiping about coworkers, fishing for intel that crosses personal boundaries, spreading unreliable information about the company and its employees.
How To Shut It Down:
Gossiping and spreading rumors is one of the hallmarks of toxic workplace behavior, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. While often rooted in insecurity and a need for control, these kinds of coworkers are masters of contagion, creating an environment of paranoia that can be paralyzing.
Sara Stanizai, the founder of Prospect Therapy, suggests keeping your personal life personal when confronted with such colleagues. "It might not mean that you're necessarily limiting what you share, but you're proactively thinking about how you want to present yourself to others," Stanizai summarized in her advice to Girlboss. "In this way, you'll safeguard yourself against potential rumors, and possible preconceived notions about your capabilities."
Still, when confronted with a rumormonger looking for a scoop, shutting it down can be awkward. The Muse's Lea Mcleod, a career coach, has a solution. "Gossip mongers often have little regard for fact," she writes. "So, when I hear something outrageous or questionable, I push for real answers."
She might respond to gossip by saying "Oh, wow, that sounds pretty extreme. Is that a fact? Or did you hear that from someone?." The result? "You'll quickly set the expectation that you won't engage in frivolous chatter that's not based in fact," explains Mcleod. "In turn, gossips will likely steer clear of you because asking for facts takes all the fun out of it for them."
Signature Moves: Focusing on the negative aspects of the job, constantly shutting down ideas and creating obstacles at every turn.
How To Shut It Down:
Much like The Rumormonger, The Downer's toxicity can be contagious. You may find yourself lacking motivation or the drive for creative workarounds because all you can think is "What's the point?" This line of thinking can leave you in a job rut that wouldn't otherwise exist, threatening your productivity, communication skills and, ultimately, your employment.
"Don't give in and chime in with your negativity, but rather be friendly and keep conversations light with this person," Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants, LLC, tells Monster.com. "While you might initially feel obligated to lend an ear, associating yourself too closely with this person can give you a bad reputation at work."
But how do you keep the negativity from seeping into your brain subconsciously? Stanford professor and organizational psychologist Robert Sutton discovered a clever tactic. "There are mind tricks to protect your soul — ways for the situation to be less upsetting to you even though you can't change it," he explains in Stanford Business School's Insights. "My favorite is a guy at Stanford who pretends that he's a doctor who studies 'a-hole-ism.'" The idea is to create a detachment from the toxic behavior, so that you become an observer of a strange environment—a kind of field researcher—who isn't emotionally impacted by the culture you're studying.
Signature Moves: Smiling to your face and criticizing you behind your back, encouraging your ideas in private and dismissing them in meetings, generally trying to sabotage you through gaslighting.
How To Shut It Down: Backstabbers are hard to initially spot. They disarm you with kindness, earn your trust and then pounce. Usually, they're just threatened, insecure and hellbent on eliminating the competition. This type of workplace jerk may seem insurmountable but they usually have one weakness: confrontation. They're inherently dishonest, so their fear of being caught in a lie or faced with someone who sees right through them can prompt them to back off ASAP.
With that in mind, workplace advice author Abby Curnow-Chavez suggests having "an honest, candid conversation with the person." You don't need to attack or go on the defense. Instead, try a measured approach. "Focus on the impact the behavior is having on you," Curnow-Chavez writes in HBR. "Ask for feedback on your own behavior as well." This will throw them off guard and force them to examine why they're so threatened by you. If nothing else, you will have made an attempt to right the situation. Keep a record of this. "When you are having ongoing problems with someone, it's important to document what's taking place," career expert Sue Morem tells CBSNews. "Keep a journal/notes of conversations and keep copies of e-mails, voice mails, or any other communication should you need to prove your case in the future."
You don't have to be dragged down by one bad egg. If someone is messing with your workplace culture, your productivity or your sanity, the best thing you can do is steer clear of the toxic spillover.
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When it comes to your career, regret can trap you in the past and paralyze you from moving forward.
One survey found that two of the top five most common life regrets were tied to careers—from not pursuing one's passion to working too hard. Another recent poll found that 23 percent of workers regretted switching jobs. While some regrets are linked to significant career decisions, others revolve around smaller moments, like not speaking up in a meeting or not challenging a superior. But when it comes down to it, there are two kinds of regrets: one is based on our actions, and the other on our inaction. And it's the latter that really drags us down.
"Research shows that we regret more in the face of opportunity," writes Forbes' Caroline Beaton, who notes that millennials are particularly prone to career regrets. "Regrets of inaction are more prevalent, last longer and feel worse than action regrets in part because we associate them with greater (missed) opportunity. While regretting a specific action means just one alternative — not doing it — inaction signifies infinite possibility ("I could have done this, or this, or this")."
Here's where things get really sticky: the more we regret, the more likely we are to resort to inaction. It's that fear of regret that "makes us stick with the status quo even if our reasoning or intuition says we shouldn't," writes Eyal Winter, Professor of Behavioral/Industrial Economics at Lancaster University, on The Conversation. "That makes people who are more prone to feel regret less likely to take risks."
That means the fewer risks we take when it comes to our career choices—from using our vacation days to pursuing our dream jobs—the more regrets we're likely accrue. So how do we stop this crazy-making cycle and move forward? The answers involve a little self-examination and some expert advice.
Rationalize Your Mistakes
Everyone make mistakes, it's how we choose to see them that determines whether they'll hold us back or propel us forward in the right direction. "Although it can be tough to hear it in the moment, more times than not, our career 'mistakes' end up being the best things for us," career coach Kristen Zavo tells FlexJobs. "They show us what we want—and don't want. They allow us to learn lessons, encounter challenges, and work with people that we might not have otherwise."
But how do you look at your own mistakes without kicking yourself? The best approach to examining past mistakes is through kindness and understanding. Beaton suggests rationalizing why you made the choice you did at the time—taking into account that you didn't have the hindsight you have now. Maybe you took a job you regret because you needed the money, or perhaps you felt stuck in other aspects of your life and needed a change. "Rationalization doesn't mean shirking responsibility or refusing to learn from your mistakes," explains Beaton. "It means closure." Once you forgive yourself, you can start seeing what influenced you in the past that you may want to avoid in the future. Moreover, you can be grateful that those old mistakes are now guiding you in a new direction.
Ask Yourself Two Key Questions
Another way to diminish your career regrets is through a simple system of self-examination. After researching the science behind regret, Eric Barker of The Week came upon two questions that can make all the difference: "What can I learn from this?" and "How could things have been worse?" The first question doesn't just allow you learn from your mistake, it gives you a sense of control so that the next time you're faced with a similar decision, you'll know how best to handle it. The second question reframes the thing you regret. Maybe you actually dodged a bullet or maybe what you thought was a mistake was actually a defensive move that deserve some credit.
Define Your Goals
Just because you've made peace with your past, that doesn't guarantee satisfaction with your current job situation. If you've been harping on career regrets, chances are it's because you're unhappy with where you're at and don't know how to change it. It's time to stop looking back and instead start examining the present and the future.
"To be more satisfied in their careers now, I encourage clients to focus on both (a) the short-term: what can they do now both at, and outside of, work to be happier and (b) long-term: getting clear on their career vision, building a plan, and taking steps each day, each week, to make it a reality," Zavo tells Flexjobs.
One way to sharpen your focus for your future is to define it in real terms—whether that means writing down your goals, identifying a person whose career you admire, or creating a mood board of what your dream career looks like.
"You can't revisit the past, but you can turn your attention to something you want," writes Psychology Today's Beverly Flaxington. "So this career isn't the best one; how do you paint a picture of something you do want? Paint a picture in as much detail as you can about where you'd like to head. This will start turning your attention away from the rear-view mirror and to the windshield looking forward."
It's time to stop beating yourself up over your past. We all make mistakes. The less we dwell on them and the more we learn from them, the better our future careers will be.
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You're exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Your workload feels insurmountable, and the more you try to tackle it, the harder it becomes. You haven't spent time with friends, gone to the gym, or eaten anything that wasn't delivered in weeks. You feel out of touch with your life outside of work and that only compounds your anxiety. Your body is telling you that you need a day off, but your mind can't even conceive of it.
Welcome to job burnout—a growing workplace condition that as many as 67% of Americans have experienced, according to a recent Gallup poll. "A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress," Dr. David Ballard, head of the APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, tells Forbes. "In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors."
If this sounds all too familiar, it's probably time to take action. Maybe quitting your job, or even taking a two-week vacation isn't realistic at the moment. But a personal day to recharge and reset? Sometimes, 24 hours can make a difference.
Sure, you may not have the flu or a broken bone, but that doesn't mean you have to feel guilty for taking a breather. "Many people...don't feel entitled to prioritize their well-being," psychologist Alison Ross tells US News and World Report. "In my view, the short-term gains from giving oneself a break – even if it's one day out of the office – can make a big difference in terms of reestablishing a better sense of well-being."
Call it a sick day if it makes your boss feel better, and tell yourself it's a mental health day if it alleviates any personal guilt. What's most important is that the next 24 hours are stress-free. Once you've set aside the day, it's time to consider the best way to reset and recharge. Barring doing work on your day off, there is no wrong way to spend your personal day. But setting your intention and paying attention to your most pressing needs is crucial. "A mental health day should be designed to give your mind, body, and spirit just what it's craving most—which is different for every person," work-life expert Kathy Caprino tells Shape. With that in mind, here are some options to help you make the most of your day off.
If you want to feel productive without logging on
Clean your fridge, reorganize your closet, Marie Kondo your desk drawers. Find that cluttered or dirty spot in your home you've been meaning to tackle, put on your favorite podcast and go to town. Take your time, enjoy the process and don't spend more than a few hours on it. The idea is to accomplish one small task on your backlogged to-do list that will make your life a little easier when you return to work. Maybe a cleaned-out closet will make you want to get dressed the next morning, or a freshened up desk will inspire new ideas.
If you want to kickstart a healthy habit
When you're in all-work, no-play mode, everything—even crucial self-care habits—get tossed aside. Pretty soon, the idea of taking a yoga class or going for a run seems like a luxury you can't afford. Your day off is a good opportunity to remind yourself how important your physical and mental health is to your overall well-being, not to mention productivity. Take an exercise class, download a meditation app like Headspace, go for a bike ride, and while you're at it, consider how to make time for one of these healthy habits on your workdays. If you've been eating takeout, you might want to treat yourself to some fresh produce and prepare some healthy meals for the next few days. For inspiration, check out some quick (and budget-friendly) recipes here.
If you're missing that connection with people you love
Is there a friend you haven't seen in ages or a family member you just need some quality time with? Burnout can make you feel like your losing yourself, and connecting with loved ones is the best way to remember what matters to you most. Whether exploring a new part of town with a friend, grabbing lunch with your sibling, or just Facetiming with your mom for an hour, catching up with your core folks can reset your priorities and ground you when you're feeling lost.
If you want to plan your next move
So the thought of going back to work in 24 hours makes you sick to your stomach and you know you need to change your job, heck, your career trajectory. Deep breath. You can't figure it all out in one day, BUT you can get yourself on the right track. The first thing to do is look at your finances, figure out how much you need to earn, how much you've saved and whether or not you have enough to live on if you really need to quit your job. Next, start thinking big picture. Ask yourself these larger career questions and write your answers in a journal, read up on some job-shifting advice, and check out this 6-step plan to help you figure out your next move. Don't expect to have all the answers right away, but making room to consider what's possible—financially and professionally—will set you on the right path and help you feel more in control when it's time to go back to work.
If you just want to feel better
If you're feeling physically sick or mentally unable to cope, use this time to set up doctors appointments—whether with specialists, primary care physicians or therapists. If you can see someone on your day off, great, but just getting some appointments on your calendar is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to prioritizing your health over your day-to-day job responsibilities.
If you're simply exhausted and need to shut down
Sleep, my friend. Sleep as long and as hard as you can. And when you wake up, binge watch all the shows, read all the books, take all the baths and wear all the cozy slippers and robes. Stock up on guilt-free relaxation and give your body what it needs. Restorative sleep and relaxation is essential for physical and mental well-being and if you get enough of it, you will be 100% sharper when it's time to get back to work.
No matter how you spend your personal day, don't forget that it's PERSONAL. If you're planning on doing work, that work should be dedicated to your life rather than your immediate superior's needs. While you might not be able to cure burnout or fix all your work problems in 24 hours, hopping off the treadmill for a day gives you a chance to regroup, recharge and gather the strength to make bigger changes down the road.
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You know that feeling you get when you buy brand name item at a discount? It's like you've beaten the system. You're absolved of any shopping guilt because you've saved money rather than spent it, even if that isn't actually the case. With the rise of discount outlet stores—which raked in over $50 billion in the past five years—retailers are keenly aware of our desire to buy things at prices that seem too good to be believed.
Turns out those deep discounts on brand name labels aren't always a steal. In February, Barneys New York was slapped with a class-action lawsuit accusing the luxury retailer of deceptive discounts at their lower-priced outlet stores. The plaintiff, Kristen Schertzer, claims she spent $450 at Barneys Warehouse on items that suggested a 50 percent markdown, when in fact, she alleges the products were never originally intended to be sold at Barneys.
"Barneys' scheme has the effect of tricking consumers into believing they are getting a significant deal by purchasing merchandise at a steep discount, when in reality, consumers are paying for merchandise at its regular retail price," according to the Schertzer's claims.
This not the first time consumers have raised concerns over brand name products sold by discount retailers, many of which produce lower-quality products for outlets, despite the implication they're more expensively made.
Banana Republic, Gap, Michael Kors, Cole Haan and Neiman Marcus have all been accused of selling lower-quality, outlet-only products as if they were deeply discounted items from their higher-end stores, when in fact they're not.
"I think outlet stores are configured to try and nicely mislead most people into thinking they're getting amazing overruns, amazing bargains," Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World, told Marketplace in 2014. "When you walk into an outlet store, you have to think, this stuff was made to be cheaper."
In their independent investigation, Marketplace "found items in outlet stores made with less durable leathers and different fabrics than the comparable products sold at the retail stores."
Ellwood wasn't surprised by the findings. "The quality of products at outlets varies widely. Remember, this stuff was largely made just to be sold cheaply. So they're going to cut corners," he said.
Coach, one of the labels in Marketplace's inquiry, acknowledged the discrepancies. "Generally, our manufactured-for-outlet product will be less embellished — using less overall hardware and/or simpler hardware, may not have an exterior pocket, or may have a narrower gusset, may have a simpler (non-branded) lining, or may use a flat versus tumbled leather — compared to the retail bag that inspired it," a Coach rep explained.
Meanwhile, Nordstrom Rack—Nordstrom's outlet chain—confirmed to Racked in 2014 "that only 20% of what it sells is clearance merchandise coming from their stores and website, while the rest is bought expressly for the outlet."
In 2018, Neiman Marcus settled a class action lawsuit over false claims in its Last Call outlet stores and promised more transparency on items made for cheaper outlets rather than the flagship stores.
An earlier suit against Michael Kors over their outlet practices resulted in an almost $5 million settlement and an agreement by Kors to replace the MSRP price on outlet tags with "value". So when you see that word on Kors outlet price-tags, it's an indication that the product was made expressly for the outlet and suggests the quality of that item isn't the same as one you might find by the flagship label.
Confused yet? You're not alone. If you really want to know whether your discount is for real, or just a cheaper knock-off with the brand name stamp of approval, the FTC has some helpful guidelines. Here are some things to look out for, according to FTC consumer education specialist, Colleen Tressler:
- Recognize that if you're buying something that looks new and undamaged, the price may be lower for a reason. For example, plastic might replace leather trim on a jacket, or a t-shirt may have less stitching and a lighter weight fabric. If top-quality is important, you may want to keep shopping. But if it's the style or the look that's key, quality may be a lower priority.
- If you're unsure whether the store sells "made-for-outlet" only merchandise or how to tell the difference between it and regular retail merchandise for sale, ask the staff.
- Shop for off-season merchandise. It typically comes at bargain prices.
- Ask about return policies. Some outlet stores let you return unused merchandise any time as long as the price tag hasn't been removed and you have the receipt. Other stores have 90-day or 120-day return policies. Some don't allow any returns.
- Many regular retail stores won't take returns from their outlet stores. That's something to ask your neighborhood retailer about, too.
So the next time you hit the racks and find a brand name handbag with a price tag that seems too good to be true, don't be surprised if it is. The label may be impressive, but the quality less so. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy something if you love it, just research what you're really paying for before you hit the checkout counter.
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