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We all know that one annoying co-worker in the office. Maybe they talk too loudly, heat up fish-filled lunches in the company microwave, or they seem like they’re constantly trying to qualify for the Disparaging Remarks Olympics. Most of us will vent to our work bestie or try to shrug it off, but a surprising number of people take things to an extreme degree. Don’t be that person.
While women commit 51% of embezzlement crimes (which may be committed in office environments), there are even more serious criminal acts committed in the workplace. Sometimes, people will kill in the office — and we aren’t talking about this quarter’s sales report. Shockingly, the third-leading cause of workplace death is actually homicide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Co-worker disagreements, ill-fated love affairs, and even financial fraud can result in employee murder — a category sometimes referred to as “red collar crime.”
Of course, most of us would never dream of actually killing someone we work with. Most of the time, we might just feel like it — for a fleeting moment, at least. Simply put, there are bound to be co-workers you don’t like. At best, they might annoy you with their foul breath or their odd routines; at worst, you might feel like screaming whenever they come near your cubicle. But you don’t have to resort to violence. Here’s what to do instead.
Around 73% of the U.S. workforce are what’s known as “knowledge workers.” They work primarily in open office environments, which means the potential for (unwanted) interaction is high. There are many types of problematic co-workers that can ruffle your feathers. From the slacker to the complainer, from the busybody to the constant victim. You can’t fix these people, but you can improve your ability to interact with them and get through the workday without wanting to pull your hair out.
One tactic is to set time limits or parameters in your interactions with this co-worker. You can give them a few seconds to offer up some half-hearted sympathy or offer a solution to their problem (or see if they can think of one!). But beyond that, try not to engage. If someone is coming to you for personal advice, don’t insert yourself in the conversation by offering up a similar experience you’ve had. Instead, say that you’re sorry to hear that and that you need to get back to your work. It may be difficult to do, especially if you’re used to being a sounding board for everyone in your life, but it’s important for you to set some boundaries for the sake of your sanity.
Actually, most of your issues with co-workers can likely be solved with setting some boundaries. If you have a peer or manager who wants updates on every email and regularly contacts you when you’re off the clock, be firm (yet polite) with when you can be contacted. Establish office hours, put up signage, or block off your shared calendar when you cannot be disturbed. And resist the urge to respond to work emails at night, on the weekends, or when you’re on vacation.
Another way to set a boundary? Create an agenda and stick to it. Not only is this a highly professional thing to do, but it will also keep any meetings from getting derailed due to an inability to focus on the task at hand. Make it a habit to bring everyone back to the established agenda if a team member veers off course. And if a professional visit turns into a complaining session, offer a simple response: if it’s business-related, suggest they talk to a manager; if it’s personal, disengage and say you need to get back to your work. Sometimes, a little positivity can go a long way, too. If your co-worker hears that you’re happy in your job and that you don’t want to egg on their complaints, they might change their point of view — or at least stop coming to you for validation.
No one wants to deal with an annoying or frustrating co-worker. But there’s no reason to go to jail over these interactions. If you find they’re affecting your mental health, take a step back and assess how you can prioritize yourself in these scenarios. Much of the time, a solution may materialize if you’re clearer in your interactions and set your own healthy boundaries.
In short: stay professional — and don’t commit murder.