From Cooperation to Passivity: Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers

I mean…maybe not this bad but it made me laugh.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ve got a co-worker I rather dislike.

They’re whiny, unhelpful, bad at slacking (no not that one), rude and generally an unpleasant person to be around. They take longer breaks than they say and have been switching shifts with people who should be leaving earlier. One of those times was because they read the schedule wrong and the most recent example I’m not even sure of the reason for.

Recently I was under the impression that they were going to be leaving but for whatever reason I guess that’s not going to happen. I wish it was because they’re my least favorite co-worker and before I get into how I try to deal with, I want to take a little bit of to explain why.

Complaining isn’t an inherently negative trait, of course. I complain about work as a hobby for Glob’s sake and I don’t think that makes it a negative trait of mine. But when complaining becomes the standard action in your repertoire instead of actually trying to do something about it (e.g. I try to ethically slack) then your complaints seem hollow.

You don’t always have to help other people. I don’t think we all have some sort of mystical obligation to those whom we work with that makes us bound to whatever their needs are at any given time. But it’s still often the polite thing to do and makes work easier for everyone (usually). But my co-worker would rather do their own thing, rely on little to no direct communication and go on extended breaks at sporadic times as well as come in late.

I’ve talked about people who are bad at slacking before and this co-worker is certainly that sort of person. They have very little sense of how to do slacking without being insufferable. They come in an hour late which hurts me and my other co-workers far more than it does the company or the managers. The breaks they take aren’t just longer then what they say but often linked together with other things that make co-workers unexpectedly exhaust themselves.

In terms of pleasantness, I get that the job (retail in this example) is a difficult line of work. It’s often thankless whether that is with customers, your managers and even your other co-workers at time. It’s stressful because of how much customer interactions you are expected to engage with and perform well at. And it’s emotionally exhausting because you often have to hide how shitty the job is actually making you feel.

That said, taking all of these emotions out on your co-workers (or even managers) isn’t a healthy coping mechanism. It is healthy to talk to the people around you and try to get feedback. Maybe there’s a way things could be easier for you or a way you can help yourself feel more comfortable in your duties.

But my co-worker would rather just be rude most of the time and whiny. They’re over-apologetic, overly thankful to the point of sounding fake, complain too much and on top of that are a brown-nosing sort. They’re combative over the smallest things and tend to let any particular issue really stress them out which makes the rest of us stressed as well.

So OK, you get it.

They’re not great to work with.

But what do I do about it?

Well, the first time things really escalated it was because I was reading behind the counter and they caught me red-handed. I was caught off-guard because even though they were in front of me (behind the counter), I thought they were going to walk away, but they made a quick turn behind the counter and it was too late for me to put the book away.

So immediately my co-worker complained that I was “doing nothing” and that they were (sarcastically) happy for me with all of the passive-aggressive vigor you could imagine. They mentioned something about their legs hurting them and how they wish they could just stand behind the counter and do nothing. I tried to argue with them that I had finished most of my tasks (they pointed out a bin and I replied it wasn’t in a section I’m supposed to go) and was helping customers.

But none of that was good enough for them and they went over to my manager (luckily my favorite one) to complain about me and ask why I wasn’t working. My manager felt forced to assign me whatever task was left over but remarked that the co-worker was annoying and whatever I didn’t finish could be theirs for all my manager cared.

Here is a good place to point out that no one, as far as I know, likes this co-worker. Most people find them annoying and someone they don’t want to work with. One of my managers (another one I like) is considering talking to the store manager about them because they keep showing up late and being a general nuisance. So it’s not just me.

Back to the situation, at first I was too furious to talk to this co-worker. I kept quiet for an hour or so and when they eventually came back from their break (15 minutes later than they originally told me) and I attempted to say that if they could let me know, in the future, if they are gonna switch times they take their break at. Instead of talking to me politely (as I was trying to), they decided to say, “Well sorry, I had actual work I needed to finish before I could go on my break.”

Attempting to explain (again) that I’ve been taking care of customers (and fairly frequently once they left) was pointless and they kept talking over me and telling me to go on my break. So I called one of my co-workers and vented to them from a safe distance, I remembered what my co-worker said about their legs hurting and wishing they were up front.

So when I got back I used some form of non-violent communication (which I typically don’t do), in this example all that really means is: 1) I saw their underlying needs 2) I tried to address them in a calm and compassionate way. I offered them the front counter for the rest of the day and I could take on their responsibilities.

This not only benefited my co-worker but it also meant I could use my smartphone, have less interaction with customers as well as my manager and most importantly the co-worker themselves. It was a decent win-win on both sides and I got the approval from my manager which helped seal the deal.

I wasn’t just doing this to help their legs, but I was also doing it so they wouldn’t feel so bitter and hostile to me. I figured I could get away with slacking so long as their needs were met, and I was right. It wasn’t an ideal situation because my co-worker still took advantage of my strategy a few times (extended breaks, etc.) but it led to an overall calmer situation.

Most of all their hostility and bitterness went away (or at least died down) so that I didn’t have to worry about them snitching on me to future managers. That was my major concern, so in a way my co-worker had me in a (mentally speaking) pretty precarious situation that I was eager to get out of. Luckily, I did.

More recently however, this addressing of needs has slid into me being a bit of a pushover for them. I’ll let them take whatever breaks they want, switch shifts with me if they need to and use the front if it helps their legs. And yes, while I’m at least partially doing this for their benefit it’s also for my sanity and keeping my distance from them.

But switching shifts with them (they had a movie date) wasn’t really benefiting me much (the increased pay was paltry and certainly not worth it) and neither were those extended breaks they took sporadically. They had very little consideration for my own schedule and what was required of me, despite my best efforts and intentions.

All of this has culminated in me wondering how I can help their needs being met while still making sure that I’m not a pushover. I must admit I’m not completely sure how to do this without tipping it to one side or the other.And on that note it also seems preferable to be a bit of a pushover then get a manager on my case about reading.

On the whole, I know my preference is just to satiate them until they get themselves in trouble or do in fact leave. But what if that never happens? And what if I keep being a pushover to them and this makes the situation worse?

As you can see, I still have questions about this situation but I thought writing down my experience would shed light on possibilities for dealing with bad co-workers and how I’ve tried to handle it myself.

I don’t claim my methods are the best, just that they’ve (sort of) worked for me. How have you dealt with co-workers like the one I’m talking about? Do you think passivity is better than cooperate in this case? Should I try to be more assertive and make sure I at least have some level of autonomy within the (non)working relationship?

Thanks for reading and happy slacking!

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2 thoughts on “From Cooperation to Passivity: Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers

  1. Hey man, seems you got some traction on this site. Feel free to use/modify my articles from my similar antiwork site for your own purposes if you need more content. Link in website field.

    We have to team up to reach a world without work!

    • Hey, I go by she/her pronouns, just so you know.

      Anyways, I checked out your website and I don’t agree with you on capitalism or being a MGTOW. So I think it would be tough for us to have some common ground here.

      By the by, if you haven’t already, watch “Welcome to the NHK”, which is a fantastic anime about NEETs.

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