How Not To Be a Really Rotten Co-Worker


You know them — really rotten co-workers. It’s unclear clear how they have developed into what they are, or progressed this far, but they are here. They could be the person who sits in the cubicle next to you. (Yes, that close.) They may serve on a team with you. Unfortunately, they just may be your boss. During the course of work and career, it’s likely you’ll meet more than one of these individuals — some of us sooner, rather than later. I’m sorry. They are out there.

They don’t fully cross the line professionally (or legally). But, they are awful…rotten to the core. You know this. Somehow they have managed to miss every message concerning a healthy culture and camaraderie. The worst part? They couldn’t care less. They are likely clueless to their egregious behavior. Getting ahead is all that matters.

I know — you sometimes fantasize about getting even. You might replace their Power Point presentation with something ridiculously embarrassing, or offer the wrong start time for an important meeting. But you know that deep in our heart, your daydreaming is just that…daydreaming.  Because, you are not that person. (Their comeuppance will arrive, rest assured.)

The best thing you can do is to inoculate yourself against “rotten” — and never, ever fall into that category.

Some ideas for that:

  • Lend a helping hand. Have you noticed that someone appears stressed or uncharacteristically frazzled? Step in and offer to help. We all have 5 minutes to help someone prepare for a presentation or sort through ideas. Step up. Rotten co-workers turn a blind eye to others in distress.
  • Be the link. We all want to be a success — but it’s not a “zero sum” game. Rotten co-workers wouldn’t think to help anyone, but themselves, to move forward. Do you know someone that would be a great link for one of your colleagues? Make that introduction. It’s fuel for the “workplace soul”.
  • Be transparent. We’ve all met that person who presents as one person — but is really another. Be upfront with your needs and motives. It just doesn’t pay in the longer term to be deceitful.
  • Don’t be that jerk. Leaders remain our co-workers. However, sometimes that undeniable fact is ignored. If you hold a leadership position, don’t “lord” position power or the hierarchy over others. If you land a great promotion, keep this in mind. It’s gross. Really.
  • Be someone’s champion. Changing attitudes and powering real change is difficult. If you see someone you really “has something”, join the crusade. Help them develop their idea and take it to the next level. Everyone wins.
  • Above all — value the contribution of others. You know that guy who changed your slide without telling you? He missed the orientation memo concerning respecting the work of others. That kind of behavior is a no – no, if you want to stay out of “rotten” territory.

Have a rotten co-worker? Share your story here.

Photo Credit:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist . She also writes at Linkedin.

12 thoughts on “How Not To Be a Really Rotten Co-Worker

  1. every work place has it’s rotten apple sad but true ….People are to afraid to stand up for their rights those days ….there’s a long queue out there of those who can replace your position tomorrow that’s why people chose to turn a blind eye to lots of issues ,I find it very wrong ….


  2. Thanks so much for reading — and sharing the post with others! It was a really interesting topic to ponder. Unfortunately I have met some of these individuals, and they have caused plenty of trouble. I’ll be sharing a new article at LinkedIn about my experiences later this week. I hope you’ll catch that one as well.


  3. This is a great article. One that I will read again and again when I need a sanity check. I have already forwarded to some of my “good apple” coworkers so they could benefit from it. One of the managers I sent it to printed it out and distributed copies to her whole staff. From now on when I bump into one of the “bad apple people” I will close my eyes and picture them going *splat* as they drop from the tree 🙂


  4. I have witnessed this in two of my previous work places and left because of the negative environment it caused all round. Very painful process all round however the best move I ever made both personally and professionally. I learnt so much and it is true the rotten apple does fall, it happened in both occasions however a lot of damage was done to the work place and the employees.


  5. A transfer is not a possibility at this point I’m afraid …. Because this rotten apple is actually my boss… I have given it a chance and I tried to just go with the flow I guess and just keep myself focused on the fact that I love what I do… But eventually he/she got to me…. After three years he/she got under my skin and I was scared of turning a job I love into a job I’m just doing to get by financially… I was scared of losing my spirit and my passion, so it was time to go


  6. I’m actually leaving my job soon because of one of those… I’m leaving a job that I love and passionate about because of a rotten apple who has made the subject of their political games… And I just couldn’t handle it anymore….


  7. After, a very frustrating project and dealing with a difficult partner on the team. My mentor once told me, “I have never seen a rotten apple stay on the tree, I have never seen a weak wolf, become the pack leader.”

    I believe that quality supervisors know their leaders and who is going to feed the wolves.


  8. Sad but true… much as I hope for change…..these rotten co-workers continue to prosper wherever I work…..


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