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To understand a rotten apple, look at the core

Almost every workplace has encountered at least one rotten apple, also know as toxic colleague. My 7 years NHS experience has presented its fair share of these types of individuals, and they come in all forms of job role, and when you least expect it.

Many of us will have encountered this type of person; distinguished by the fact that much of their time is spent dwelling in negativity, they can not handle constructive feedback but are quick to criticise others, and they are quite content to distract others in the team...the "bad apple" that ruins the barrel.

Do you, when you think about it, observe passive aggressive behaviours from such individuals around you? Well I have seen it first hand, and want to share with you my insights.

Passive aggressive behaviour such as giving backhanded compliments, ignoring a coworker, or one minute engaging with and the next purposefully excluding someone?

For some of your colleagues passive aggressive could be a chronic behaviour and it can be difficult to become aware of when they’re doing it, and even harder to make a change, and if anyone dares to mention this to them, unfortunately, they fall under your radar of this person and they will subject such behaviour towards them.

Another noticeable trait of a passive aggressive person is when their capabilities are being questioned, when they used to perform and now they do not, whether in the same role or a new role, it is common for a person who feels threatened and insecure about their own ability to deflect such a blame to another, and instead will adopt very easily the victim role, portraying another of victimising them, even though this obvious behaviour is apparent to colleagues, more often than not, many do not feel comfortable to intervene.

While this is not acceptable, nor is it right, and for the employee who is behaving in a passive aggressive tone within the workplace, the first step to them changing, is learning more about it. 

How do you articulate to this person their behaviour is apparent to their colleagues, and that perhaps you have identified it as a coping or defense mechanism?

Toxic employees who use this outlet tend to do it when they feel threatened, jealous, or insecure.

It is a known fact that if such an employee only copes with workplace irritations and with their own feelings through aggression toward coworkers, need to get it out in a more productive way. 

For example, exercise releases endorphins and happy hormones, and can be a great release of frustrations and anger and other such negative feelings.

Common causes of passive aggressive behaviour which can be displayed and perceived as toxic, can be brought about by forms of jealousy. This is especially true if this employee happen to be credited as a  brilliant employee in the past but are currently toxic within their current job role.  Again we all know such a colleague, the one who's used to getting promotions, accolades, and pats on the back.  

Does the heart of such jealousy lies insecurity? 

Well this is because this employee begins to obsess about other people's achievements and this can distract them from their own successes and career goals. “They have what I want” I have observed this with a colleague getting aggressive about Christmas gifts, because another was given a nicer bottle of wine.

Another reason for such jealousy can come from having someone’s undecided attention over a sustained period of time, and instead of being jealous of their success, this person turns bitter about the lack of attention they now receive from such a colleague. “They do not give me what they used to”.

To summarise, do not let that rotten apple with leave you with a sour taste, and do not assume they will eventually fall from the apple cart and disappear. But instead let them know they are part of a collective bunch of apples, and that they reflect the rest, each one wants to shine, and be picked, and enjoyed.