Alison* slipped out of the elevator and cautiously peered around the office corridor.  If she could just get past the assistants desk, without Peg seeing her, she might have a shot at escaping the vortex of doom first thing in the morning.

Alison’s heart was beating out of her chest, and her palms were sweaty.The very thought of Peg made her ill.

She had even thought of calling in today to avoid the 2 hour meeting where they would be face to face.

Peg, you see,  was a master at passive-aggressive behavior. She tormented most of the women in the office by bullying her way through her work day. In the last 8 months since Peg had transferred into Alison’s work department, she had left a trail of discord and destruction in her wake.

Alison, unfortunately, had become the latest target of Peg’s toxic behavior.

Peg had deployed a systematic smear campaign against Alison after Alison had received her Employee of the Month award last quarter. She had artfully sabotaged Alison’s project by misrepresenting facts, withholding information, and throwing Alison under the bus in front of the boss.

Alison sat down at her computer and opened her email.

There, at the top of the queue, was an inflammatory email from Peg outlining accusations of  “no follow through” from Alison, with her boss(and her bosses’ boss) copied.

Alison decided to look for a new job that morning.

Sound familiar?

Have you ever been an Alison?

(We all have, haven’t we?)

It turns out that toxic co-workers are more than just an annoyance. According to a study performed by Harvard Business School which spanned 11 companies and more than 50,000 workers, the average cost to a team that inherits a toxic co-worker is approximately $12,000. The obvious cost is tied to increased turnover and lost work due to stress induced illness from other members of the team.

Regardless of the cost incurred by the company, what about Alison? How does someone survive the effects of working with a toxic co-worker and not have to quit their job? Follow the Seven Steps to survival below to reset your relationship with the abuser.

Seven Steps to Surviving a Toxic Co-Worker

Step 1: Immediate Self-Care. You can’t develop a plan to cope if you are in immediate crisis mode. If you are considering a drastic step (quitting, calling in to work, taking medical leave) you need to address your mind, body and spirit first. 911 self-care is essential. Take an immediate break to address the physical reactions to stress and get some distance. Sleep, food, physical comfort (think bubble bath and your favorite sweat pants) can help decrease the immediate stress response and help you gain clarity. Make an appointment with a company counselor, a therapist, or a trusted friend. You will need to talk about your experience with someone else to help identify how the experience is effecting you.

Step 2: Distance. Although Alison had the right idea to limit her interactions with Peg, she needed to be more assertive about her boundaries. Personal power is given away, not taken. Alison’s nature to avoid the interactions (rather than ignoring them), gave Peg all of the power in the relationship. Walking by Peg to her office with her head held high (and feigning confidence) would send the message she was in control of her responses. Fake your personal power until it arrives.

Step 3: Documentation. Get on the offensive. Keep a record (email if possible) of clear facts. Toxic co-workers like to keep their actions covert. Get a witness with every conversation if possible. Do not allow incorrect facts to go unchallenged. Take control of the narrative whenever possible and be clear about your expectations for a professional working relationship. This will take practice. It’s ok if you sweat through the encounter. The important thing is that you addressed it.

Step 4: Let Them Have Their Stage. In public, in meetings, in working groups, let the Toxic worker have their stage. More often, than not, this type of personality is overconfident and will display their tendencies if given enough free reign. Let them.  As a result, they will  “be their true selves” in front of others.  Let everyone else see who they really are. Karma.

Step 5: Find a Positivity Tribe. Surround yourself with positive, like minded coworkers. Travel in packs. Go to lunch together, sit together at the meetings, support each other. Your workplace should feel safe. Find your tribe. As a result, your confidence and sense of safety will grow.

Step 6: Report it. If the above tactics don’t lesson the effects of the toxic co-worker, report it to your boss. (It goes without saying that if the toxic employee is your boss, you need to go to their boss). Be factual. Give specific examples of professional lines crossed. Leave feelings out of it.  In addition to alerting your boss, you may be adding facts to an already open investigation. The more consistent the reported story by many, the more credible the reporting.

Step 7: Try to Find the Lesson. What are you learning by working with the toxic co-worker? If you are their boss, what lessons in leadership have they taught you? If they are your boss, how will you choose future opportunities when they come? If they are your colleague, what lesson in confidence and conflict can you apply as you grow? As painful as the experience is, most people come away from the experience having learned how to handle conflict in the workplace more effectively.

Finding this lesson can help you heal.

Hang on. A Toxic employee can only reign until the massive turnover illuminates the cause.  By employing the steps above you can Outwit, Outlast, and Outplay.

Show the world the Survivor that you really are.



Need a Female Tribe? Hop on over to Empowered Women, Empower Women Facebook Group for daily sisterhood inspiration.
On Wednesday’s We Empower Women!
Grab our weekly blast full of empowering articles, motivational quotes and fantastic females! Sign up below Sister! As a member of the Tribe, you will get first crack at the fab Wonder Woman tools we highlight!