Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Ask a Career Coach: What Do I Do About Negative Co-Workers Who Are Ruining My Job?

A logo with "the muse" in white text.
people on phones
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Hi Kyle,

I’ve been in a full-time job for six months, and so far, I’m loving it but am concerned about some increasing negativity in the office lately—tardiness, inappropriate language, lack of focus. It seems like it’s mostly stemming from the new people who just came on board. 

I’ve spoken to some senior colleagues of mine about how I feel and they told me that I should stay out of the problem(s), do my job well, and everything will be fine. Yet I’m still feeling anxious and worried. I’m not sure whether I should sit down with my managers because if I do, I may just be burdening them.

Again, I love where I am and what I’m doing, but I can’t help being bothered by the bad apples. Can you give me any advice to make me feel better about myself and my work despite this workplace negativity?

Unsure and Lost

Dear Unsure and Lost,

Your question strikes a nerve with me because back in my days as a recruiter I dealt with this issue a lot. Getting lost in other people’s cynicism is a surefire way to end up hating your job. You can learn to deal with negative people though, ensuring that your job satisfaction remains firmly in place.

Spread Positivity

When facing a co-worker who wants to complain, gossip, or play the victim, make a genuine attempt to turn their attitude around. Depending on how the negativity’s surfacing, you may have to employ different tactics. Exuding good, happy vibes in the face of a complainer will probably result in a decreased effort on their part to moan and groan. Maybe you can even get them to see something in a new light simply by pointing out a perk or a great thing about your workplace.

Bottom line: If they don’t view you as someone who’s willing to commiserate with them, they’re probably going to take their sour attitudes elsewhere, and you’ll be free to work in peace.

Say Something

But let’s say they’re not getting the hint, and the one-sided venting continues much to your dismay. Or they’ve stopped heaping their discontent on you, but you can’t help noticing when their desks sit empty long after the acceptable arrival window, and you can still hear them cursing their work, boss, or clients.

As the company veteran, consider it your responsibility to help the new guys get acquainted with what’s acceptable and what’s not. Maybe they’re used to an office environment where “work” was somewhat optional or where constant complaining was de rigueur. Take it upon yourself to let them know that won’t fly here.

“I’ve had enough jobs to know that there’s always going to be something that stinks. What I’ve found here is that focusing on the positive and making sure I know why I’m doing what I’m doing is way better than fixating on the stuff we can’t fix. It’s been working for me, so it could work for you too.”

Take it to the Top

Managers—the good ones, anyway—are there to help solve people-problems. When a culture of respect and hard work is being eroded by inappropriate behavior it is most certainly on leadership. Muse writer Alexandra Frazen put together an excellent script for talking to your manager about a problematic co-worker.

If you haven’t tried approaching your boss in this calm and collected manner, I urge you to do so. If you’re a valued employee (and it sounds like you are), it’s in their best interest to take your concerns seriously.

At the end of the day, you have something that some people never find in their careers: work you love. If you lose sight of this, try making a list of everything that you like about your work and keep it on your computer’s desktop. The next time Claire makes a snarky remark about the latest product launch, check out your list and block out the pessimism.

While we can choose our jobs to some extent, we can rarely choose who we work with, so being prepared to handle different types of negativity will be instrumental in your success. There will always be naysayers, but it’s up to you how deeply you let it affect you, and it’s your decision how you respond to it.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.