Top 5 Worst Types of Co-Workers

A great co-worker is priceless – they make your work better, create a good work environment, and make you look good in front of the boss. A bad co-worker can make your life painful, make you dread work, and can derail your career.

But there are a bunch of types of bad co-workers.

Here’s my top 5:

1. Slacker – You’ve been assigned a project with Bob. You both should share 50% of work. But he is the slacker – he never does his part and then right before the big meeting/deadline – he comes to you and asks if you can help him. This is not Reality Bites – slackers are not cool.

2. Star – He/she is the golden child of the office and knows it. They make sure to take all the plum assignments, take credit for all the work you did together, and generally looks down on you.

3. Inviter – He/she wants to do everything with you. Want to go get a coffee? A movie this weekend? Lunch? Talk for an hour about the latest gossip? Nope…leave me alone. If we weren’t co-workers, I wouldn’t hang with you.

4. The Complainer – The spirit of life has been sucked out of them. Everything sucks and they want to tell you about it. Why the office used to be better 5 years ago? Why the boss is horrible? Why the work is meaningless? Nobody likes Debbie Downer.

5. Full of Smoke – This person looks good on paper. They seem nice, they seem to know people, they seem knowledgeable. But the confusing thing is they are “full of smoke”. It may take awhile to figure out but they actually don’t know what they are talking about. They give misinformation. Their supposed friends don’t even know them.

What did I miss? What are the other worst types of co-workers?

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AJ Malik

1. Naysayer delights in shooting down ideas.
2. Spotlight Stealer, a glory seeker who has never heard a good idea he/she wouldn’t pass off as his/her own, to take full credit for collaborative efforts and impress higher-ups.
3. Buzzwordsmith sacrifices clarity in favor of showcasing an expansive vocabulary of cliched business terms, industry-specific jargon, and obscure acronyms that muddle both written and spoken messages.
4. Inconsiderate Emailer is addicted to the “reply all” function, this “cc” supporter clogs colleagues’ already-overflowing inboxes with unnecessary messages.
5. Stick in the Mud is all business all of the time. Disapproving of any attempt at levity, the constant killjoy doesn’t have fun at work and doesn’t think anyone else should either.

Stephen Peteritas

I had a guy I used to work with who would BCC the bosses on everything and then proceed to press your buttons in the e-mail hoping for a lash back so you’d get in trouble. Not cool! This is why I will never BCC again in my life.


I love the buzzwordsmith…you get confused if you are ignorant or they are. Sometimes takes a few minutes to realize they are full of smoke.

Chris Hoffman

“The Asshole” as defined by Stanford professor Robert Sutton in The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. A highly recommended read, including much more rational and quantified arguments against the employ of the maladjusted than the title may lead you to infer. It’s hard to argue, mathematically or intuitively, against the conclusion that people who meet the following criteria cost more than they provide value.

Two tests are specified for recognition of the asshole:[5]

1. After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
2. Does the person target people who are less powerful than himself?

Amanda Blount

The Parasite – The Off-Spring of The Golden Child, The Full of smoke, and the Slacker.
They are normally found sucking up to the boss, after sucking every last bit of infomation out of your head. You will know them by their wide smiles which resemble the devil. Possible high hair to hide the horns.

This co-worker got where he or she is today by sucking every living idea and experience out of your head that you ever did (professional or personal), and then when your brain is dried up to a raisin, they move on to the next person and leave you to rot. Then present your hard earmed education and tough experience as information they; learned in their own, found on the internet on thier own, created on their own, or experienced themselves. Great resume, but must rely on the full brain matter of others to survive in the workplace.

Beware of the person who always insists that they would like a copy of your report or PP for future reference on such-in-such topics, and they never give you anything in return. This person may be a parasite.

Henry Brown

Just there:
Doesn’t volunteer for ANYTHING, doesn’t much comment either, IF assigned to a project will provide only the bare minimum input: doesn’t complain about anything; In the military we called this type of co-worker on the ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) program.

Scott F. Nolan

The “Devils Advocate” who takes the initative to debate the postive outcome of a report, event, or a general conversation you are having with a colleague. This co-worker claims to be helpful and will go to great lengths to identify every negative possibility that may exist leaving a group with a sense of dread and gloom. The “Devils Advocate” will always seek out assistance from those with a more balanced perspective and positve outlook when they are about to hang themselves when interacting with groups outside of thier own network.

I have learned over the past 15 years that commenting only when necessary and generally ignoring the negative “what ifs” has proven effective in managing this toxic co-worker, Great topic…enjoying the comments.

Nina Adrianna

The BullShitter. Speaks for way to long, and everything sounds important, but at the end of the soliloquy no one’s really received any info. This is a variant of the Buzzwordsmith, aggravated by a massive tendency towards power tripping and ego building.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

The Mysterious Project – Not really a type but a perfect excuse. I had a co-worker who was constantly running off to work on a super secret project that was supposedly assigned by the top management. He couldn’t his regular work and would shift it off to others because he was just so busy with the “Project.” After a year and a half of this, someone discovered that he was running a real estate business on the side. Still haven’t figured out how he snowed his boss and other management folks into believing he was actually working on an assigned project.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

The Admin Nazi – a person is assigned a minor task. They proceed to turn it into their personal empire and soon are issuing policy manuals and requiring everyone in the office to follow increasingly bizarre processes related to the task. Assistants are hired, software solutions are created, and ultimately, a new department is created around what started out as a 15-minute task that needed to be done once a week.

In my first government job, one of the secretary’s in the typing pool was assigned to inventory the supply cabinet once every two weeks. Before long, she was dictating when and how you can take supplies out of the closet and even had two assistants who would go around and inventory your office to ensure that you were not using too many supplies. The final straw was when she started the “Used Pen” box where you had to take a pen from the box and demonstrate that you used it up before you received a new pen. She was stopped before a supply department could be established.

Vern (Terry) Minton

President Reagan had a sign on his desk, “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” It’s a Harry Truman quote.

David Dejewski

These responses are fun! I’m enjoying the comments. I’ll add a couple of my own in a sec.

A word about “the Devil’s Advocate:” As painful as these people can be when they’re picking on my project, I’ve adapted my management style to deliberately include them in discussions. They pick and poke and ask hard questions, but as long as they are thoughtful, I need them to keep me honest with myself. I prepare better when I know there will be a pain in my butt in the room. They also help to point out holes in my logic. I call them my “saw sharpeners” after a favorite Covey read; & I try to look on them kindly, find one to put on panels, include in meetings, etc when I can.

My contributions:

1. I’m not a fan of the ones that say “we can’t do that.” They are as correct as the ones who say “we can do that,” but they tend to forget that their attitude is what makes things possible or impossible. I’d take one “how can we do that?” or a “we could do that if…” over 10 “we can’t do that’s” any day.

2. I’m also no fan of the smirker. You know this person… not in a position to say no, but communicating passive aggression like a skunk with it’s tail raised. You just know that no matter what is said or agreed to, this person is going to go back to their office or cube and do everything they can do to undermine progress. No helpful suggestions, no objections, just a smirk. Then nothing.


A great portfolio of organizational animals, no doubt! Thanks for letting me share. Here are my Top 3, the Unholy Troika, my “Legion of Doom” typologies:

The Martyr–someone who has created most of the problems over the years yet complains loudly with absolute certainty about a whole litany of grievances, and on and on…if only anyone will listen! And gosh forbid, when asked about it he/she couldn’t possibly fix them all because he/she has been trying so hard for years and management messed it all up, and 20 years ago it was never like this, and let me tell you something….(get it?) Also tends to exaggerate how “plain speaking” and “bottom line” reasonable he/she is and gosh, don’t you realize what a grand genious he/she is?!

The Sniper-Bully—takes over all communications and uses presumed authority to ignore team members, procedures, and other professional niceties to make them look useless or foolish. Then makes sudden announcements out of the blue about how and what things his/her decisions are without consulting team members, catching all by surprise (“Blam-o! Got you all!”)

The Playground Snob–chooses a few “friends” and fawns over them constantly, even elevating them to saint-like status, in front of others to the point of being almost syncophantic about said relationships. Then slams everyone else for various infractions, flaws, weaknesses, subpar performance, etc.

Caryn Wesner-Early

Miss Two-Face (there may be Mr.’s, but I’ve never encountered one):
Compliments you, asks for your opinion, makes you feel as if you’re the most valued employee in the organization, then goes behind your back and talks you down to higher-ups. A variation on this is the boss who loves you so much that when you apply for another job, she talks you down to potential employers so you won’t leave.

Andy Nelson

Not sure what to call them:
1. Those who do little to no work and complain and fight when they are given the smallest assignment or part of a project. They often complain to the colleague doing most of the work.
1.a. Those who do little or no work and spend all day on the phone speaking to family members. Any request for them to do their jobs is deflected or completely ignored.
2. Those who egregiously abuse their time and even do things like run a business out of their cubicle. These people often have the nerve to complain about other people’s activities.
2.a. Those who do the above and brag about it!
3. Managers who know, and sometimes foster and participate, and refuse to do anything about 1 and 2. This includes managers who readily confess to other employees “I can’t give them work because they won’t do it,” and makes excuses for said employees with whom they have an unusually “close” relationship.
4. Hijackers of and time-wasters in meeting and conference calls. Usually accomplished with off-topic subjects, side-conversations, and general idiotic comments/questions.
5. Team members who never offer solutions, only criticism. When asked to offer solutions, they either disappear or turn into #1 above.
6. Phantom busy. S/he always seem to be busy and claim s/he is swamped but no useful product or outcome is ever seen. This person usually is talking on the phone 8 hours a day.
7. Attempted usurper. This person makes contact with people in others’ territories and tries to initiate projects in another person’s work – often while neglecting his/her own.

I’d better stop here. This list could get quite long.

Andy Nelson

Oh, and forgot the “RIP” – Retired In Place. Got their 13/14/15 and now shows up and sleeps, talks on phone, watches tv on their computers, comes in late and leaves early through the freight elevator, uses up all the travel funds to attend “meetings”, disappears for hours . . .

Andy Nelson

Technophobe: never learned to type, is scared of the computer, never learned – or has forgotten – how to use basic programs, and always interrupts you to ask questions or seek help instead of going to the contractor we pay large sums to provide assistance.
Techno-psycho: form of technophobe who frequently goes crazy – cussing, screaming, slamming keyboard around, and beating on desk and computer.

Peter G. Tuttle

Hi Steve. My “favorite” undesirable co-worker is the liar or the one who is unethical. Generally, we as humans, can overlook or work through quite a bit, but it gets tough to do that when you can’t base a working relationship on a foundation of trust.

BTW, the responses have been a hoot! Great thread.


Eileen Roark

Great topic! I had co-workers who would have sent Freud into therapy:

1. The Norman Bates: Mother has forbidden Norman to go TDY or perform shift work, even though it’s a condition of employment. So while Norm was in the attic tending to Mother, the rest of us had to pick up the slack and inconvenience our own families by our constant travel.

2. The Ergonomist: Convinced that they are dying, these workers constantly harass HR to order them the latest in Ergonomic Wear. Their cubes look like a hospital with chairs, keyboards, footrests, and special lighting (for their Seasonal Affective Disorder). They get no work done because they are constantly perusing the GSA Catalog for more items.

3. The Wet Nurse: aka “Mother Hen,” these female workers make Mother Bates look like Mother Teresa. They just can’t help themselves from adopting their male co-workers and are always there to wipe faces and change diapers. They escort the males everywhere, even to the restroom, to make sure nothing untoward happens to them. Obviously, neither they nor their “charges” perform any substantial work.

4. The Nature Lover: He regales co-workers with tales of bravery from his Deer Hunts and brings in foul-smelling meat for everyone to sample. The “Birder” spends all day coordinating bird watching jaunts and bores everyone with the latest in environmental news (I saw a rare yellow-bellied pigeon!).

5. The Little Napoleons: Short in stature but highly dangerous, these male supervisors delight in sending their subordinates to winter in Russia. Their advancement depends solely on the number of bodies that pile up, while Napoleon of course, takes all the credit.

Margy Rhodes

These are fabulous descriptions of coworkers we all, unfortunately, have had the pain of working with. People who do not work for the government think that these misfits are the only types of employees the government has. To counter this argument (which really irks me!!!) I’ve developed a training course for these types of workers and their management that turns all of these misfits into productive happy employees. It requires the employees to take a brutally hard look at themselves and to own responsibility for what they do (or don’t do) and at the same time makes management aware of how they have contributed to the employee’s behavior and how they can break the cycle.