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This advice column offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector .

A Toxic Colleague Seems Like My Fate at Work

Dear Kathryn,

I have a coworker who is like a venomous serpent on the loose in the office. He indulges in constant gossiping about people’s personal lives and creating drama about what terrible things is going to happen at our nonprofit (scaring people about possible upcoming layoffs, money issues, etc., all of which turn out to be lies). He never hesitates to put anyone and everyone down. Berating and criticizing coworkers seems to be one of his favorite pastimes.

As far as I know, this poison pill of a man does his actual job in an adequate manner. It’s his unkindness and willingness to spread constant chaos that is the problem.

I don’t know if our executive director knows how this man acts and how much he disrupts our team. Should I tell her? What should I do?

Kathryn says ...

Before you step out and get the ball rolling on this, be sure you have all the facts. Rumors and innuendo are not good enough. Be sure you can document actual examples of his negative behavior and how it is impacting you, and others', ability to get the job done.

If this man is as toxic and disruptive as you describe, your executive director should already be aware of this viper in the garden. If she doesn’t know, she is likely not paying close enough attention to the team and the organizational culture of your nonprofit.

Nonetheless, it is time to enlighten her, but I personally would not do it alone. Enlist a few co-workers who are also unhappy to join you for an appointment with the director. When you all talk to your director, try to keep it simple and use two or three specific incidents that can illustrate your experiences. Don’t get emotional or heated, as your complaints may then be interpreted as a witch hunt, rather than a constructive conversation.

If your director does the right thing, she’ll document your concerns and then meet with this troublemaker. Her job is to require quantifiable and positive changes in his attitude and behavior and to put him on alert that his position is in danger if he doesn’t change his ways. The documentation that you have provided, as well as detailing any other complaints, helps create a paper trail of employee problems, which is important if your executive director ultimately terminates your his employment. Also, a crucial element of this conversation with your co-worker should be that of protecting your anonymity. From then on, it is your director’s role to help him improve his behavior or show him the door.



The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.




Co-founder and CEO of MissionBox, founder and president of MissionBox Philanthropic Fund, founder and past CEO of Community TechKnowledge


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