The Characteristics of a Nightmare Colleague

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An important part of any manager’s role is to create an atmosphere that is harmonious and conducive to doing good work. It helps the manager to have a team of hard working, motivated and self-aware team players, but typically there will be a few team members that do not possess these qualities. The Institute of Leadership and Management last year published a survey of over 2,000 workers which reveals those aspects that make a colleague a ‘nightmare’ to work with, and which outlines recommendations on how to be a ‘model’ colleague.

According to the survey, the ‘nightmare’ colleague does the following: 

Arrives late for meetings

Cited by 65% of those surveyed; lateness is an inconsiderate behaviour, especially if frequent. If others have made the effort to arrive on time for the meeting, why don’t you?  In some contexts frequent lateness is a ground for termination – harsh, but understandable.

Leaves dirty bowls and plates etc. on their desk after lunch 

Cited by 63% of those surveyed by the American Dietetic Association, seven in ten Americans eat at their desk several times a week, but this is no excuse for not clearing up!

Gossips about other workers

60% of those surveyed said gossiping is seldom necessary and does nothing to benefit either the person gossiping or the person being gossiped about. In the playground, it’s understandable, but not in the workplace.

Discusses confidential work matters openly

54% of those surveyed said breaking confidence at work or elsewhere should never happen, and if discovered, could result in the collapse of trust between the person breaking the confidence and the one whose confidence has been broken. Relationships at work or otherwise are meaningless without trust.

Sends you an email when they’re directly opposite you

56% of those surveyed believe that if your colleagues are sitting next to you, or opposite you, you can simply talk to them. Email’s not necessary.

Leaves their mobile phone on loud 

42% of those surveyed believe the office is a place where people work; and to do good work, they need the minimum of distractions.  Putting your phone on silent mode will help.

Takes regular cigarette breaks

39% of those surveyed stated smoking pit stops are unpopular with many employees – even amongst those who are smokers.  Regularly going outside the office for cigarette breaks is a time-wasting activity that’s right ‘up there’ with walking up and down the office corridors chatting to office mates throughout the day.

Comes into work sick when they should have stayed in bed

34% of those surveyed consider constantly sniffing, coughing and sneezing over colleagues will earn you no points from them, notwithstanding your evident commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice.

Brings their children into the office

Cited by 27% of those surveyed. Unless it’s ‘Bring your kids to work’ day, it’s best not to bring your kids to work. Over a quarter of employees do not want this.


The Institute of Leadership of Management, which describes itself as “Europe’s leading management organisation”, recommends the following tips for those keen to be seen as ‘model’ colleagues:

1. Treat others the way you would wish to be treated.

2. Don’t be late for meetings

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3. Don’t use ‘corporate speak’ (jargon) excessively.

4. Think about the most appropriate way to communicate with your colleagues.

5. Don’t disturb your colleagues with noise.

When office based teams work closely together for extended periods of time, behaviours that seem initially innocuous can develop quite quickly into ‘nightmare’ behaviours that affect teamwork and morale.  The value of a survey, such as this one, is that it helps identify potential problem areas which can then be proactively addressed.

Institute of Management and Leadership




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