Rebecca Ferguson is so right - we shouldn't have to put up with toxic colleagues: here's how to cope

rebecca ferguson mission impossible premiere
How to deal with workplace toxicityBryan Bedder - Getty Images

Depending on what part of the internet you’ve fallen down this week, you will be obsessed with one of three things: Glasgow’s shockingly bad Willy Wonka experience, Kate Middleton’s whereabouts (which are actually none of our business), or which actor shouted at Rebecca Ferguson.

The Dune actor, 40, set tongues wagging amongst the showbiz circuit when she revealed she refuses to work with one “idiot” A List actor who “screamed at her” when they worked together on set.

Queue a series of actors quickly looking to distance themselves from the story, with both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt quickly saying they supported Ferguson (and adding it definitely wasn’t them).

While we may never find out the actor responsible, having to deal with bad behaviour at work is a depressingly common phenomenon - research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found one third of Brits had walked out of a job due to poor relationships with their bosses, while one in 10 had faced discrimination or harassment.

But we don’t and shouldn’t have to put up with being literally shouted at in the workplace. Cosmopolitan UK spoke to career experts on the best ways to deal with crappy co-workers.

What kind of toxic behaviour can we see at work?

So, being yelled at in front of your coworkers is fairly obvious bad behaviour, as is bullying, harassment and being undermined by colleagues.

But sometimes it’s what’s not said out loud that can lead to a frigid and unpleasant atmosphere, explains Rebecca Ann, founder of The Successful Leaders' Collective.

a woman with her hands on her face looking at a laptop
Jay Yuno - Getty Images

“Being given the silent treatment, excluded from activities, unfair treatment or unfair distribution of work can all be detrimental,” she explains.

“Another common toxic trait is unfair expectation - where you are expected to work overtime without being remunerated, work through your lunchtime, unrealistic demands such as unrealistic deadlines which are often arbitrary.”

So…what do we do if someone actually yells at us?

As tempting as it might be to yell back – don’t: just because they’re being unprofessional, doesn’t mean you have to be.

“Try and remain calm and composed,” says Kelly Tucker - CEO of HR Star. “Assertively request a more respectful tone from the person involved whilst trying to understand the underlying issue that triggered the outburst, so you can contribute to resolving the conflict.

“If feasible, addressing the situation privately can avoid escalating tensions in a public setting. Document the incident for future reference if necessary, ensuring a record of the situation is maintained for potential resolution or further actions if required.”

And how do toxic workspaces affect us?

Unsurprisingly, working with absolute arseholes has huge negative impact on our mental health – with 50% of employees with poor relationships with their managers claiming it has a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.

“Exposure to a toxic work environment is also associated with decreased job satisfaction and engagement, making it challenging to find fulfillment and motivation in your professional endeavors,” Tucker adds.

woman on sofa looking thoughtful
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Overall dissatisfaction, she says, leads to “higher rates of absenteeism and employee turnover”.

How can we cope with toxic colleagues?

If you’re struggling and you really feel your mental health taking a dive, it’s time to assert clear boundaries.

“Seeking support from trusted colleagues or mentors is an effective coping mechanism,” Tucker says. “Discussing the situation with individuals who can provide guidance and understanding can offer emotional support and valuable insights on how to navigate the challenges posed.”

It's also important to document the actions of the individual you have a problem with, with a clear record potentially serving as evidence if you decide to escalate the matter.

You could also assess whether you should speak to this person, if you’re struggling.

“If safe to do so, addressing the issue calmly and assertively can be a way to communicate the impact of their behavior and set expectations for a more respectful and collaborative working environment,” Tucker says.

Ann adds to always let your line manager know that you’re planning to confront a problematic colleague: “This covers your back and ensures you are not going to be accused of any wrongdoing yourself.”

When should we get HR involved?

If you really feel things getting bad, then it may be time to escalate the matter – especially after you’ve tried to highlight the issue to others.

“If the toxic behaviour persists despite attempts at resolution, you need to signal a need for more formal intervention,” Tucker says. “When initiating disciplinary proceedings, it is imperative to follow company policies and procedures. Adhering to established protocols ensures a fair and consistent process, protecting both the employee facing disciplinary action and the business from any potential legal issues.”

Having an HR case can be incredibly difficult and draining, Ann warns.

“You have to consider what happens if the outcome doesn’t go in your favour if you are bringing the disciplinary proceedings,” she explains. “It is often your word against theirs. That does not mean do not do it - unless the behaviour is very clear cut, starting such a process should be a last resort.”

Tucker agrees that pros and cons should be weighed up before taking further action, as they are stressful.

“The pros of implementing disciplinary proceedings include the establishment of accountability and reinforcement of workplace norms,” she adds. “It also sends a clear message that certain behaviors are unacceptable.

“However, there are cons to disciplinary proceedings, such as the potential escalation of tensions and damage to relationships if not handled delicately. The process can create a challenging atmosphere, which may adversely affect team dynamics and the overall workplace culture.”

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