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What Makes a Nightmare Coworker? [2022 Study]

The world of work is constantly changing, but infuriating coworkers stay the same. Check out how it feels to have terrible work colleagues.

Dominique Goldschmitt
Dominique Goldschmitt
Career Expert
What Makes a Nightmare Coworker? [2022 Study]

Unexpected phone calls at 3 a.m. 

 

Disappearing objects. 

 

Sinister laughter. 

 

The feeling that someone is watching you. 

 

It’s not a horror movie. It’s what reality with terrible coworkers looks like.

 

What Makes a Nightmare Coworker

 

We all have at least one. A nightmare colleague who knows everything best, steals office supplies, doesn't clean up, or acts as manager when the real one isn't around. 

 

They know how to turn your work life into a B-horror movie. 

 

These people aren’t necessarily toxic. But their habits can be severely disruptive. And everyone has different triggers. While you’re not fond of John because he talks a lot, John hates being near Ann because of her strong perfume. And that's how work life goes. 

 

With almost 160 million American workers, it’s hard to have only perfect colleagues. There are also bad ones.

 

To get to the bottom of office nightmares, we analyzed workers’ terrible personality traits and piteous behaviors. To provide you with first-hand experience, we asked 1,000+ Americans for help. We covered:

 

 

So draw the curtains, turn off the lights, find flashlights, firmly grasp your friend's hand, and make some popcorn.

 

Get ready for what’s coming.

 

Coworkers – friends or foes?

 

terrible coworkers

 

Coworkers – friends or foes? Both, actually. 

 

Almost all our respondents (93%) generally like their coworkers. And that’s great, as one of the most significant contributors to job satisfaction is our relationship with the people we work with. The stronger the bonds, the higher job satisfaction, and work productivity. 

 

But office life isn’t a romance movie. It’s a tragicomedy or melodrama instead. 

 

8 in 10 people admit they have at least one coworker who, for various reasons, can be described as terrible. 

 

Any differences in demographic groups?

 

  • People with 11+years of experience were least likely to say they have terrible coworkers, 68%.
  • And the group with the lousiest team members seems to be those with 6–10 years of experience. 87% reported having terrible coworkers.
  • Surprisingly, men have more terrible colleagues than women, 83% vs. 77%.
  • Companies with 51–200 employees seem to have the highest proportion of annoying coworkers, 83%. While only 73% of respondents working for larger companies with 501+ employees admit to having terrible coworkers. 

 

The slacker, the bully, the gossip, the lone wolf, or the emotional mess are just some types we can encounter in any workplace. And the more such people in one office, the worse it gets. Therefore, we asked respondents how many terrible coworkers they have. Just one? Or maybe more?

 

  • Half of the respondents (50%) indicated that they have 3–4 terrible coworkers.
  • 34% said they work with 5–6 people who annoy them.
  • 15% are lucky to have only 1 or 2 colleagues they’re not fond of.
  • 2% need to deal with 6 or more.

 

And who are these terrible coworkers? Well, it could be you as well as me. It all depends on what we are like and what upsets others. But there's a little generalization that we can make. Based on the respondents’ answers, we discovered that:

 

  • Men tend to be a little more annoying than women, 41% vs. 39%. At the same time, it’s worth mentioning that for 20%, gender makes no difference.
  • Experienced coworkers are more likely to be terrible compared to people new to the labor market, 63% vs. 30%. That’s probably because newbies want to conform, not get in anyone's way, and are careful about their behavior.

 

Then there’s age. In the battle of the generations, who wins the prize for being the most annoying colleagues? Turns out Millennials are still ruining everything.

 

  • 43% rated Millennials as the most irritating coworkers
  • 34% chose Generation X
  • 18% pointed the finger at Generation Z
  • 5% chose Boomers, no surprise as there are less and less of them working

 

The key takeaway? Men or women, young or old – anyone can be a terrible coworker. 

Now that we know who is the bane of American enterprises, let’s find out how often these people negatively affect others. 

 

  • 33% admit that their colleagues frustrate them at least once a week.
  • 24% say that they get annoyed a few times a week. 
  • 22% need to calm their nerves every day.
  • 12% deal with terrible coworkers a few times a month.
  • 7% experience negative behaviors once a month. 
  • 1% are lucky to have coworkers who annoy them only a few times a year.

 

Stay brave, those who have to deal with terrible coworkers daily.

 

Hope everybody knows how to deal with toxic personalities and behaviors. In case you don’t, let me tell you – avoid the person. And actually, this is one of the methods recommended by many. For example, Michael Houseman and Dylan Minor, in their paper for Harvard Business Review, wrote:

 

“One approach to managing toxic workers is simply avoiding them. However, in order to do so, we must be able to identify them ahead of time”

 

According to our data, people are already doing this. 

 

This study helped us discover that 89% of people purposefully avoid their terrible coworkers.

 

  • As many women as men tend to avoid coworkers they don't like, 88% vs. 89%.
  • People with 6–10 years of experience are more willing to avoid coworkers than those working for a year or two, 92% vs. 86%
  • The bigger the company, the more people try to get off the way of some employees. 92% of respondents working in big companies (201–500 employees) avoid coworkers compared to smaller entities (51–200), 86%.

 

Avoiding unpleasant conversations or not increasing stress levels is always a good reason to hide from terrible coworkers. 

 

As long as it doesn't turn into a creepy hide-and-seek game. Like in Halloween, when Laurie Strode is hiding in the closet from Michael Meyers. 

 

Let’s now go back to the second part of the quote. Identifying toxic coworkers ahead. It’s not evident from the beginning that the person won’t be a perfect team member. And to help you with this, we prepared a ranking of the most annoying personality traits and behaviors. 

 

Take a look at personalities first.

 

Personality matters

 

terrible coworkers

 

With the respondents' assistance, we prepared a list of personality traits that might cause some problems in the workplace. We wanted to know which one is the worst trait the coworker could potentially have. And here they are:

 

  1. Gossiping 
  2. Lying or “storytelling”
  3. Having a negative attitude to everything
  4. Oversharing private information
  5. Being a complainer/whiner
  6. Being loud
  7. Being entitled or arrogant
  8. Being a know-it-all
  9. Being a bully
  10. Lack of personal hygiene

 

What's the worst thing you can do at work? Gossiping. Also, beware of lying, and avoid having a negative attitude toward everything. These are the top three personality traits people don’t like at work.

 

Weirdly, workers have the greatest tolerance for lack of personal hygiene ending the list of most annoying personal characteristics. They have certainly never worked with someone in need of an immediate shower.

 

When analyzing our worst personality traits list, remember that it might not be universal. After all, we all get annoyed by different things. 

 

But there’s more. A list of the worst character traits alone is not enough for us. That's why we analyzed each separately. Below you can find a breakdown of shortcomings and the percentage of respondents who rated the behavior as unacceptable.

 

  • Having a negative attitude to everything – 27%
  • Gossiping – 26%
  • Being loud – 24%
  • Lying or “storytelling” – 24%
  • Being entitled or arrogant – 24%
  • Being a bully – 24%
  • Oversharing private information – 22%
  • Being a complainer/whiner – 22%
  • Lack of personal hygiene – 21%
  • Being a know-it-all – 18%

 

What is at least acceptable in the workplace? On an individual level, it turns out that this is having a negative attitude to everything.  27% of respondents say that it’s annoying and therefore unacceptable or somewhat unacceptable to constantly show your pessimistic attitude. After all, the negative attitudes of the people we spend 8 hours a day bring the mood down for everyone else around and our perception of the world. Negativity is toxic. 

 

Then we have our runner-up from our previous list – gossiping, which is unacceptable for 26% of workers.

Despite everything, our respondents are relatively constant in their opinions.

 

What, in turn, has the best chance of acceptance among co-workers? Being a “know–it-all” type of person.Only 18% believe that this sort of arrogance is unacceptable.

 

Coworkers are constantly behaving badly. So, what should we do? Avoid them? Tell them we don’t like them? Maybe not in such blunt terms, but sometimes a conversation can be the solution.

 

82% admit they have confronted coworkers about their terrible personality traits. 

 

We don't know whether the conversation helped, but we hope it caused at least some self-reflection. Addressing the issue can be effective. And if it’s not, or we are too ashamed to raise the subject personally, there’s always a higher authority.

 

80% say they have confronted their manager about coworkers' terrible behavior due to some personality traits.

 

Those who have an experience with such conversations know they must be appropriately handled. Respect and understanding is the key to solving the problem. After all, you don't want to offend your co-worker and make things worse.

 

Terrible coworkers have many faces. Putting personality aside, there are also those with terrible behaviors.

 

In the continuum of toxic workers, we also have those making unpleasant remarks, micromanaging, or even stalking others. You feel trapped in such a work environment, like the Nostromo crew trapped on their spaceship with the alien.

 

Bad habits

 

terrible coworkers

 

For sure, you’ve seen at least one episode of The Office, a sitcom about the workers’ everyday lives at Dunder Mifflin, a paper company. Putting comedy aside, the show provides a mockumentary insight into the typical workday involving ego clashes, inappropriate behaviors, and tedium.

 

Unfortunately, we don’t have a movie for you. Here comes the reality. 

 

Based on the respondents’ practical experience, we prepared a ranking with the worst workplace behaviors a coworker can have. 

 

  1. Blaming others for their own mistakes
  2. Always being late
  3. Passing responsibilities to someone else
  4. Taking credit for others' work
  5. Disrupting others’ work
  6. Micromanaging people
  7. Avoiding work 
  8. Frequent absences
  9. Bad kitchen manners

 

The above list consists of compelling arguments for hitting early retirement. 

 

Blaming others for their own mistakes, always being late, and passing responsibilities to someone else are the most annoying office behaviors. While coworkers’ bad kitchen manners are something people can live with. 

 

We know what the most annoying behaviors are. And what about the level of acceptance of each of them? Again let us present you a list of coworkers’ shortcomings along with data on how unacceptable they are in the workplace.

 

  • Frequent absences – 27%
  • Avoiding work – 27%
  • Bad kitchen manners – 26%
  • Blaming others for their own mistakes – 26%
  • Disrupting others’ work – 25%
  • Always being late – 25%
  • Taking credit for others' work – 24%
  • Micromanaging people – 22%
  • Passing responsibilities to someone else – 20%

 

Frequent absencesand avoiding work are the least acceptable in the work reality. 27% say it’s unacceptable or somewhat unacceptable to come to work late frequently and coast duties by browsing social media or shopping online. Not surprising, after all, work needs to be done, and in such situations the duties often fall to other team members. 

 

In turn, bad kitchen manners from last place on the previous list jumped to second. However, upon reflection, do our respondents not like the mess in the kitchen and the pile of unwashed dishes?

The list closes with passing responsibilities to someone else. Only 20% believe such behavior is unacceptable or somewhat unacceptable.

 

A little comment here. Probably all of us at least once behaved as a terrible coworker. Raise you hand if you’ve never left an unwashed mug in the sink, tried to act as a manager, or avoided work by scrolling social media. No volunteers? 

 

But still, such behaviors are something worth reducing to a minimum. Perhaps someone doesn't even realize that they’re being problematic. If this is the case, it is again worth using the most popular means of solving problems – talking. 

 

As in the case of terrible personalities, workers have no reservations in telling their colleagues they act in an annoying way. 

 

84% of respondents confronted coworkers about their terrible workplace behaviors. A little less, 79% brought the case directly to the manager.

 

Yes, the workplace can be painful. Sometimes we’d like to work exclusively remotely and not get in the way of those who set our nerves on edge.

 

Which raises a big question–

 

Does being physically separate from coworkers make them more bearable?

 

Terrible remote workers

 

terrible coworkers

 

What about coworkers and the home office? Less or more annoying? Well, we don’t have a definite conclusion for you. But– 

However–

 

29% believe their coworkers are even more annoying in a remote work setting. While 29% see no difference in where people work, their terrible behaviors remain the same.  

Can we just assume that annoying people are annoying regardless of their whereabouts? But let's not say that remote workers are terrible without knowing why.

 

We have a list of the worst behaviors a remote coworker can have.

  1. Delayed responses
  2. Constantly calling or messaging to ask for something
  3. Scheduling a lot of meetings
  4. Refusing to learn how to use technology and tools
  5. Sending too many emails
  6. Invisible coworkers, that are never around

 

How many times have you sat tight and waited for hours for your coworkers to respond to an email or pick up the phone? So annoying, especially if a person's opinion or decision is holding up your progress. Delays? Here they come.

 

Runner-up is constantly calling or messaging to ask for something. We all know that. “Just one more thing,” or “Sorry for interrupting you again.”

 

Third place goes to scheduling a lot of unnecessary meetings. While the list closes with people being invisible coworkers that are never around. So you cannot ask for advice or interact with them, however, they’re the least harmful.

 

Let’s now analyze people’s lack of acceptance of a specific behavior. 

 

  • Refusing to learn how to use technology and tools – 26%
  • Delayed responses – 23%
  • Invisible coworkers that are never available – 22%
  • Scheduling a lot of meetings – 21%
  • Constantly calling or messaging to ask for something – 20%
  • Sending too many emails – 20%

 

Upon reflection, refusing to learn how to use technology and tools appears as the most annoying and gets 26% of disapproval. In turn, sending a lot of emails is more acceptable than you’d say, as “only” 20% condemn it. 

 

But working remotely doesn’t stop workers from saying what bothers them.

 

84% of respondents confronted their remote coworkers about their terrible behaviors.

There’s no shame in improving the atmosphere at work. Especially if a bad environment is demotivating and reduces productivity.

 

Terrible influence on work

 

Have you seen Horrible Bosses? It’s a movie about three employees whose bosses' behaviors drive them crazy. And when the time comes to retaliate, they take advantage of it. Heavily frustrated employees are capable of many things. 

 

And the same happens in real life. No matter if these are coworkers or managers, they influence others' work.

 

If they’re great companions, working with them is a dream come true. If they’re terrible people, it’s a nightmare to spend 8 hours in the same room. 

 

The Harvard Business School surveyed more than 60,000 employees to find out what’s the price of working with toxic people.

Working with terrible people in a hostile atmosphere reaps a bitter harvest.

 

Let’s return to our study and check what respondents say about their coworkers’ influence on work and office atmosphere. 

 

terrible coworkers

 

To start with, we asked people if terrible colleagues have a negative impact on their work. And the answer is yes. 

 

83% admit that coworkers' terrible behaviors negatively affect their work. 

 

How exactly do they disrupt the work of others? To find out, we presented our respondents with a few sentences about the influence of terrible coworkers on the work environment. We asked how much they agree with a series of statements.

 

  • My terrible coworkers often test my patience – 73%
  • Terrible coworkers make my work-life more challenging – 71%
  • Terrible coworkers reduce my motivation at work – 69%
  • I experience more stress at work due to terrible coworkers – 67%
  • Terrible coworkers make it harder for me to focus at work – 65%

 

If you’ve ever doubted the destructive influence of people’s terrible behavior on your work you can stop now. Our findings confirm it. Most of our respondents agreed that terrible coworkers test their patience, reduce motivation to work or increase their stress levels. 

 

We already know that the recipe for dealing with terrible is either avoiding them or engaging in an honest conversation. But according to some, there is another, more definitive solution.

 

Quitting. 

 

72% of respondents testified that their coworkers' terrible behaviors made them want to quit their job. 

 

At the same time, 73% admit that one of the most important reasons for quitting was the toxic people they worked with.  

But it’s not only employees facing the consequences of terrible coworkers. Employers are also impacted. 

But–

 

“There is some hope that through judicious management of a worker's environment, toxicity can be reduced.”

 

Let’s move to a quick summary of our findings. 

 

Key takeaway

 

  • The vast majority of our respondents (93%) generally like their coworkers.
  • 8 in 10 people admit they have a coworker who, for various reasons, can be described as terrible. 
  • Millennials are the most annoying colleagues (43%). 
  • Gossiping is the worst personality characteristic, while blaming others for their own mistakes is the worst work-related behavior that a coworker can have.
  • People are not afraid to address terrible behavior. 82% confronted coworkers about their terrible personality traits, while 84% discussed terrible workplace behaviors with their colleagues.
  • 58% of respondents believe their coworkers are more annoying or the same, whether they work from home or the office.
  • 83% admit that coworkers' terrible behaviors negatively affect their work. 
  • 72% of respondents testify that their coworkers' terrible behaviors make them want to quit.

 

Terrible coworkers have always been with us and will always be with us. There is no escape from them, regardless of whether we work in the office or remotely. All we can do is engage in a conversation about their awful behavior or simply avoid or ignore them. With this attitude, horror will turn into a tragicomedy or at least a thriller.

 

Methodology

 

The findings presented were obtained by surveying 1038 respondents using a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. They were asked a series of questions about their attitude to coworkers. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and questions that allowed open responses. 

 

Limitations

 

The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. As experience is subjective, we understand that there are many potential limitations with self-reported data as some participants and their answers might be affected by recency, selective memory, attribution, exaggeration, self-selection, non-response, or voluntary response bias.

 

Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/neutral/unknown” not being presented.

 

Fair use statement

 

Whether you have terrible coworkers or not, feel free to share our research findings. Feel free to use our images and information wherever you wish. Just link back to this page, please–it will let other readers get deeper into the topic. Additionally, remember to use this content exclusively for non-commercial purposes.

 

Sources

 

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Dominique Goldschmitt
Dominique Goldschmitt
Dominique is a career expert specializing in resume and cover letter writing advice. Having worked for both start-ups and corporations, she knows all the ins and outs of the recruitment process. At ResumeLab, Dominique shares her knowledge with job seekers at all stages of their career paths, from interns to directors to C-suite members.

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