“You make me sick!”
“It’s the most stressful job I ever had. My colleagues loved finding fault.”
“I’m unhappy with my colleague!”
Does these sentences sound familiar? Difficult colleagues don’t just cause the Monday blues. They could be disrupting your health, wellbeing and productivity at work. With people spending so much time at work, you probably spend more time with your colleagues than any other individual or groups and it is hardly surprising that the grouchy girl in the next cubicle can greatly influence the way you feel. Like the perennial rotten apple, difficult people can cause far-reaching havoc at the work place, affecting the personal lives of other colleagues and the overall performance of the company.
A University of Michigan study of 2,300 adults over 10 years found that stress over interpersonal relationships at work was more likely to cause loss of sleep than working long hours and worries about losing a job. Respondents who were frequently upset or bothered at work, or had ongoing conflicts with bosses or co-workers, were 1.7 times more likely to experience sleep problems than those who work in a positive environment.
Massive changes over the past half-century have reshaped the workplace with major implications for sleep. For many workers, psychological stress has replaced physical hazards. Physical strain at work tends to create physical fatigue and leads to restorative sleep, but psychological strain has the opposite effect, making it more difficult for people to sleep.
In general, the brain perceives your stress level when dealing with a problematic colleagur and reacts by increasing stress hormone concentration in the blood. This in turn could cause headaches, lack of concentration and panic attacks leading to health-threatening conditions like sudden spikes in cholesterol and insulin readings.
Toxic colleague can also, literally kill you. A two-part Finnish study that surveyed more than 6000 male British civil servants without prior coronary heart disease (CHD) reported that subjects who felt their bosses considered their viewpoints, treated them truthfully and included them in decision making processes were 30 per cent less likely to develop CHD than those who consistently experienced the flip side.
According to Barry Winbolt, write, lecturer and consultant, he had seen a lot of scenario where difficult people affects work productivity. He said had regularly seen entire projects jeopardised because of the behaviour of one person. He met staff who changed jobs because they felt unable to improve a relationship with one colleague and has known many effective and competent managers who have found themselves powerless in the face of the disruptive actions of one or two employees. The impact of an ongoing dispute at work can be catastrophic to those in the dispute, but also to their colleagues and the business as a whole.
The good news is that the opposite also holds true – good colleagues do make the going much better. Havn’t you pulled an all-nighter with a group of supportive co-workers and still felt great, perhaps even happy, in spite of the fatigue?
Good vibes are contagious. Our brains are wired with what are kown as mirror neurons, which cause us to unconsciuosly imitate or mirror the people we pay attention to. Hence, being around pleasant, postive colleagues will sway you in the same direction and vice versa.
This is further reinforced by emotional contagion – the tendency to catch and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those others. Professor Sigal G Barsade, associate professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylavania, defines it as ” a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behaviour of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotional states and behavioral attitudes.
In simpler terms, it means that the emotional state of terms or departments can affect morale, rapport, performance and productivity with leaders being more contagious than other members of the team.
So, it’s really a case of smile and the world smiles with you, cry, and you cry alone. Well, not quite because you could be making a whole bunch of people cry along with you.