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Academic Minute

Dr. Alan Cavaiola, Monmouth University - Toxic Coworkers


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Alan Cavaiola of Monmouth University explains what makes a toxic coworker and how to deal with them in the workplace.

Alan Cavaiola is a professor of psychology at Monmouth University where he specializes in counseling issues related to mental health and psychology, with a primary interest in alcoholism, substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. Cavaiola's teaching, research, and counseling interests focus on adolescent development, abnormal personality development, DUI offenders, and workplace dynamics. He holds a Ph.D. from Hofstra University.

About Dr. Cavaiola

Dr. Alan Cavaiola - Toxic Coworkers

My Colleagues and I have been involved with research looking at work stress, but not the usual types of stress that people think about when they hear about work stress. Work stress research has usually focused on factors such as being overloaded with too much work, getting low pay, or stressful work environments. But what we've been focusing on is stress that results from interactions with difficult bosses or coworkers. We know that positive or friendly relationships at work are considered to be stress buffers in that those positive relationships with coworkers help us to cope or manage stress and get through the day more easily. But difficult or conflictual relationships at work can make workers miserable and stressed out.

What we found in our research was that these difficult or toxic coworkers and bosses all seem to have similar personality characteristics such as: self-centeredness, being highly critical, or nit-picking. They also tended to be either controlling or unreasonably demanding at one extreme, or aloof and disengaged at the other extreme. All of which tend to make them pretty annoying people to work with. Given the economy, it's not easy to quit one's job and go elsewhere, so we found that most workers tended to use emotion focused coping strategies to manage these stressful bosses or coworkers. Emotion focused coping is when people reach out to family and friends for support. Although each of the various types of toxic coworkers have their unique characteristics, there are a few tips that we found were helpful in coping with them:

First, don't expect empathy. Toxic coworkers have difficulty with compassion and seeing things through others viewpoints.

Second, don't expect praise or thanks for your hard work. If anything, you could expect them to criticize and pick your work apart.

Lastly, keep to your own agenda. We found that toxic bosses especially, were known for overloading their employees with too many tasks. So it was usually better to keep focused on the work you're supposed to be doing.

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