Last week I wrote a post about what I appreciate most in coworkers. Thanks to all who made it one of my most read posts for the year to date. This post addresses the flip side of the issue by discussing those things that really get under my skin about coworkers. Of course, I’m writing a summary post from 40 years or working and am not airing a bunch of dirty laundry regarding my current team – a team I am incredibly impressed with and glad to be part of.
Here are the things that most annoy me in no particular order of importance:
1. Negativity. As someone who prefers optimism over pessimism, I find it draining and depressing to be around Negative Nellies all the time. Whether this is in the form of constantly complaining about one’s work environment, other people, personal matters at home, management, work to be done, one’s health, opinions concerning project plans, or a host of other possibilities, please don’t pollute the office and the daily experience of those around you by bringing more negativity than positivity to the office. If you’re that miserable at work, then find something else somewhere else. If you’re like this wherever you work, then the problem is you – not others or the work environment.
2. Excessive absenteeism. I realize people take vacations, get sick and have family emergencies that take them away from work from time to time. Heck, I’m writing this in the middle of such a few days myself helping to take care of my wife after an accident Sunday and in anticipation of her having surgery tomorrow. But I have worked with some people who have more weeks per year with days away than weeks with all five days in the office. With these folks, there always seems to be some crisis du jour that causes them to come in late, leave early, take another day off, etc. It leaves me wondering just how many days a year these people take off and how that all reconciles with limits the company places on paid time off. Is anyone holding them accountable?
3. Not delivering results. I don’t care how many lofty plans you think up or what good intentions you announced at the last staff meeting. I want to see work completed and done so in a timely manner. I could line my cube wall with the empty promises of what others said they would do and never got around to finishing. I’d rather line the walls with lists of amazing things accomplished by the team.
4. Managers who don’t hold people accountable. This relates to the previous one, but focuses on the manager rather than the coworker. I have been on teams where managers inconceivably let slide month after month and year after year the lack of deliverables from some people on the team while others consistently churn out work at an incredible pace. Is it because the manager doesn’t see it? Does he not care? Is he clueless about how to hold people accountable for performance results? Doesn’t he realize what this disparity in apparent expectations does to the morale and potential performance of the rest of the team, not to mention the toll it takes on interpersonal dynamics? It may be easy to convince oneself that letting people self-manage and requiring team members to hold each other accountable is the emotionally mature way to go, but doing so sure smells a lot like abdicating one’s management responsibilities when individual performance issues never get addressed.
5. Backstabbing. I prefer to trust people until they give me a reason not to. One way to quickly and permanently lose that trust is to stab me (or others I trust) in the back. If you think doing so makes you look good, you’re wrong. If you’re doing it to climb up the corporate ladder via the bleeding backs of others, then you will ultimately fail. If you have something to say about the work I do, how I do it, or about any quality or capability I bring to the table, then do so to my face. If you would hesitate to say it to me, then that ought to be a clue that you shouldn’t say it to others either. Word gets around sooner or later, and a pattern of backstabbing others will get you a reputation that does you far more harm than good. Build others up; don’t tear them down.
6. Jumping to conclusions. I have to chuckle at times at the swift speed at which we go from very limited information to unfounded and inaccurate conclusions. Learn to ask more questions and find out more facts about a situation before you take off on some rant or devise some unnecessary solution for a misdiagnosed problem. I see this on our company’s internal social network all the time when someone will have one little piece of info or limited experience and then take off on some speculative discussion path rather than take the time to first inquire and understand the whole picture.
7. Failing to involve others in decision making. It is the style of some “leaders” to think they need to make decisions in a vacuum or only with the involvement of very few people impacted, and then announce that major decision to others impacted by it. That is a mistake. With today’s ease of communication in organizations via internal social media, and especially if all impacted are easily gathered together for discussion prior to decisions, we are far better off tapping the collective wisdom of the entire stakeholder community before decisions are made. This results in a far greater likelihood that the best decisions will be made and that broad buy-in from the ranks will be there from the start. Leaders who get this right will find an appreciative workforce who provides valuable feedback, feels like they are partners in the enterprise, and who are strong advocates of final decisions made. Leaders who continue to make major decisions behind locked doors, making some big announcement after everything is set in stone, only foster distrust about what will be handed down next.
8. Policy and process guardians with no common sense. People who want to respond to every bad thing that ever happens with another policy or unbending process written in stone need to lighten up. You can’t have an agile, creative, innovative, effective workplace that responds to today’s business needs and climate realities if every attempt to get work done is stifled or significantly delayed by people enforcing extremely conservative policies and complex processes that may be even prohibit the very actions they are presumably established to guide. The business does not exist to enforce its policies and processes. The policies and processes exist to help the business accomplish its objectives, and when they impede that progress, they need to be called out and changed by those empowered to do so. That seems like common sense to me, but as I’ve heard others say, “If common sense was common, more people would have it.”
9. Making it hard for others to reach you. This comes in a few different forms. For example, when I read an email, I expect a signature block to contain basic contact info, even if you are from within my own company, but especially if you are from another company. Unless you’re sitting within earshot of me, include your phone and any other relevant contact info in your signature block. I don’t want to waste time having to look you up in the company directory or in previous emails or notes every time we need to talk. If the company provides an instant messaging platform, then set up your PC to log in to it automatically every day for those quick exchanges that don’t warrant an email or phone call. If you’re out of the office for a time, update your voice mail and email to note that so I don’t think you’re just ignoring me and so I can direct my questions to others while you are away. If your area is responsible for some process that others must go through, then make clear on your website or somewhere who to actually contact if there is a need to talk to a real, live person instead of some generic email address. Go out of your way to make it easy for others to reach you.
10. Passing the buck. How many times have you been sent from one person or department to another when trying to track down information or assistance with some matter? I understand that not everyone is responsible for everything, especially in a large company. Certain business areas own certain processes and aspects of the business and need to take pride in that ownership, making the areas for which they have responsibility run as smoothly as possible. That means owning up to failures without pointing fingers to others who may have influenced failure in some way. The kind of person who most impresses me in this regard is the one who will take ownership and initiative in finding answers, information and solutions even though it most certainly is not their actual job responsibility to do so. That kind of customer and problem-solving focus is greatly appreciated by anyone who has ever experienced the exasperation of a string of people unwilling to take responsibility or to help.
So there you have the ten things that most annoy me about coworkers – a list compiled from reflecting on many years of work across many teams and under many different managers.
What about you? What annoys you the most about coworkers?