June 28, 2022

What to do if a Coworker is Sabotaging You

Let's take a look at how to tell if a coworker is sabotaging you, and what to do when you know it’s happening. 

coworkers making fun of coworker

What to do if a Coworker is Sabotaging You 

While most of us would prefer not to say it out loud, we’ve all likely worked with jealous coworkers before. The worst kinds are those who knowingly make your life more difficult by intervening in your career. After all, you’re both working for the same company — shouldn’t your success benefit them?

As if. While they’ll say (and believe) that their reasons are for the greater good, jealous coworkers often engage in behaviors that help them succeed at the expense of others, rather than alongside others. 

You might not think a jealous coworker is something worth losing sleep over, and others will probably tell you to “just ignore them,” as if that’s going to solve the problem. While your friends and family may call that the mature or right thing to do, it actually works against your favor to let a jealous coworker continue to intervene in your career. 

Why? Because, if left unchecked, what might otherwise start as harmless envy from a coworker could eventually turn into a toxic situation where it’s nearly impossible for you to fulfill your job duties effectively. Beyond the harm this can do to your mental health, enough interference from a colleague could lead to you being fired for something completely out of your control. 

Since nobody wants that, here’s how to tell if a coworker is sabotaging you, and what to do when you know it’s happening. 

How do you know if a coworker is sabotaging you?

1. They force you to do additional work 

Do you get the feeling that your colleague is making you do more work than you need to in order to get the job done? It might be hard to spot at first, but consider watching how they give others tasks versus how you’re asked to complete a task. If you find yourself constantly bogged down with additional red tape that others don’t seem to have to deal with, your coworker may be sabotaging you.

2. They create drama about you 

Gossip happens in every workplace. If you’re the subject of someone else’s hushed conversations in the break room, you might have a jealous coworker in the wings. The best way to stop these kinds of conversations from happening is to alert the drama-seekers that you know they’re discussing you, and that you’d like it to stop. Otherwise, it can grow into a full-blown sabotage attempt from your colleague. 

3. The tell lies about you to your boss

What’s the best way to get someone written up? Tell their boss that they’re not doing a good job. While that would be a very neat setup and punchline for a rather on-the-nose joke, the truth is that it happens all the time. 

If you’ve got a jealous coworker on your hands, they might be talking to your boss about your “lackluster performance” even though you work very hard. Or they may tell your manager that you consistently take extended lunch breaks — when normally you eat at your desk. If your manager seems upset with you about false claims, it’s time to take your jealous coworker to task. 

4. They don’t invite you to important meetings 

This is a tricky one. Some coworkers will sabotage you by simply not letting you into the room where it happens. If you’re missing key pieces of a project because you didn’t get the invite to the kickoff meeting, you might look slow, forgetful or lazy to other coworkers… even if it’s not your fault that you didn’t know the meeting had even happened. 

5. They take credit for your bright ideas

Taking credit for someone else’s work is a classic example of coworker sabotage. Sneaky coworkers will try to meet with you just before an important conversation or group meeting in order to poach your ideas, bring them to the larger table, and then take credit for them. For these reasons, don’t allow your sabotaging coworker to get too close to your ideas before you present them. 

6. They’re manipulative 

They’re sweet to your face… and then they turn sour behind your back. A manipulative coworker will try to play both sides of the field, making it seem like they’re rooting for you, and then gutting you the moment you’re out of the room. At worst, they’ll use information you gave them while they were pretending to be nice in order to sabotage you down the road. 

What to do when your coworker is sabotaging you 

Once you know that you’re being sabotaged by a coworker, there are a few things you can do. Here’s how to approach the situation for the best possible results:

1. Start with damage control 

If your reputation has  taken a hit, it’s important to set the record straight with company leadership. Talk to your boss, your boss’ boss and HR about the situation that’s happening. Moreover, make sure you have a good reputation with these people — doing so will make them question your jealous coworker every time they bring up something bad about you to them. 

2. Keep evidence 

In a he-said she-said game, nobody claims victory. It’s important to keep track of important emails, files, projects and information that might be relevant when disproving the claims of a sabotaging coworker. Doing so can demonstrably show that you haven’t done anything wrong, and it’ll also expose your coworker’s lies and manipulative tactics. 

3. Avoid trying to “change” them

At FOM, we’ve coined a saying that goes “don’t try to get water from a wall,” meaning don’t expect certain behaviors from people who have never exhibited those behaviors before. That’s especially true of your sabotaging coworker: no matter how much you sit down and talk to them about their backstabbing ways, you can’t expect them to change. 

If they do? Great! That’s amazing. And, truth be told, you owe it to both yourself and your coworker to have an honest confrontation about what’s happening. But if they stick to their ways, it’s time to stop hoping they’ll shape up. Instead, focus on what you can do to remove yourself from situations where you have to interact with this coworker. 

Try to move to other departments, work with other teams and pursue projects that don’t involve your jealous colleague. Doing so will do leagues for your mental health, and it’ll also help you gain valuable face time with people at your company who will actually appreciate you for the work you do. 

4. Focus on what you do want, not what you don’t 

You know what’s funny? By showing you all the worst traits an employee could exhibit, your sabotaging coworker is actually giving you valuable information about how you’d like your career to go. If you hate the way your colleague behaves, think about the opposite of that person… and then try to craft a version of your career that mirrors it. 

Are they petty and manipulative? Be mature and straightforward. Do they steal other peoples’ ideas? Come up with your own, and present them as meaningfully as possible. Are they constantly gossiping? Avoid the break room drama and get additional work done at your desk.

It may sound frustrating to have to take the “high road” — especially when someone else is doing the exact opposite — but you’ll find that behaving in contrast to your coworker’s petty antics will help you feel much better about the work you’re doing. 

5. Think about who you CAN count on 

Maybe you can’t count on your sabotaging coworker, but you probably have some office allies that would stand up for you. Make sure you stay close to the people who have your back, because they’ll be important if you ever need to escalate the situation and speak with upper management. 

6. Assume positive intent 

It’s helpful to assume that your jealous coworker is doing what they’re doing for a reason. Maybe that reason ultimately harms you, but in their minds, their “intent” is positive. Think on it for a minute… 

Do they think that they can do your job better, so they’ve taken to redoing your work? Do they believe they’re a better public speaker, and that’s why they took your idea and presented it to the client in advance? Or do they think the company made a mistake in adding an extra position — yours — to the team, and they’re bitter about it because they think the business functions better when there’s fewer cooks in the kitchen?

While we already discussed that you can’t “change” your coworker’s beliefs or behaviors, assuming positive intent within them helps you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. And having an understanding of why they’re acting so badly can give you clarity about how you need to act moving forward. 

Don’t let a bad coworker stop you from pursuing your career aspirations

Dealing with a coworker who wants to sabotage you is hard. The thing is, you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help confronting someone who’s making your career miserable, we’re here to help. Reach out to us and we’ll discuss ways to stop your jealous colleague in their tracks.

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