Mean, rude, and angry: Tales of the toxic office

Beware of the nasty, mean-spirited, or competitive person in the next cubicle who can muck up a tech pro’s job

Friend, foe, or frenemy? It\'s hard to say

Friend, foe, or frenemy? It's hard to say

Smart colleagues, supportive co-workers, and an encouraging team spirit -- who hasn't nursed this dream of an ideal office environment? Instead, we may find ourselves laboring alongside nasty, mean-spirited people. These abhorrent associates can even play dirty and become an obstacle to doing your job. Or in some cases, force you to clean up after their bad behavior.

Published in the anonymous InfoWorld Off the Record blog, here are real-life stories from IT pros who encountered such people -- and survived to tell the tale.

IT pros, if you have an on-the-job experience to submit about managing IT, developing apps, supporting users, a humbling moment, or a time when something went very right, send your story to If we publish it we’ll keep you anonymous -- and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque.

An unpleasant welcome

An unpleasant welcome

A newbie prepares for many scenarios on his or her first IT job -- but a disgruntled office mate isn’t necessarily one of them. We left behind that kind of drama in grade school, right?

"Bob" the office mate delivers the message loud and clear for the newbie reporting in on the first day: “If you have another job, go back to it. You won't make it here. This is a bad company.” The newbie tries to establish a dialog, but Bob offers no help, only his trademark cold shoulder.

Two difficult weeks later, the boss calls the newbie into his office. The newbie fears the worst, but instead the boss shoots the breeze and passes along praise from customers. As they go back to the newbie’s office, they see Bob packing up and a security guard hovering, ready to escort him from the building. The dire predictions had come true -- for Bob, anyway.

That attitude won’t endear you to anyone

That attitude won’t endear you to anyone

There’s self-confidence. Then there’s a huge ego with an in-your-face attitude to match.

A tech takes a job developing new software to update a company’s proprietary systems. Leading development is a new hire: a well-known programming guru named “Wiley.” But the project quickly goes south when the company discovers Wiley has no plan in place. Wiley assures them it's a more efficient way to work and insists on sticking to his standards, even if they're subpar.

Then the tech meets with the first users to try a component from Wiley's systems, which had taken six months and millions of dollars to build. They complain the system is unreliable, and it's harder to use than what they’d had before. The tech relays the message to Wiley, who hisses, “I don’t need to talk to users about what they need. I tell users what they need.”

The tech wisely decides there’s no use working in this situation and leaves for another job. Eventually Wiley leaves as well, though not necessarily on his terms.

Angry? Get some help
Shane Desloges via Flickr (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Angry? Get some help

How about the people who are deeply unhappy over their situation and take it out on anyone around? You have to wonder what they think they’ll gain through such tantrums.

A tech’s company takes over a division in another city. Dealing with the transfer of phone and Internet information, the tech calls the division’s office manager, “Jane,” who launches into a lengthy gripe about the merger and how her feelings are being ignored. At no point does Jane give the tech the info needed. Follow-up phone calls aren't returned, and Jane continues to sabotage the transfer.

The company threatens to cancel the acquisition if such shenanigans continue, and the tech finally gets the information and proceeds with the transfer of accounts. Thankfully, Jane moves on -- out of the picture.

The headaches continue as negotiations ensue for a lower rate, but at least the surly encounters are no more. After the earlier round of issues, they're kind of a relief.

It’s right to treat people with respect

It’s right to treat people with respect

One bad apple is tough enough to deal with. But how about a whole team?

A tech is part of a seven-person IT support group marked by insubordination, bullying, name-calling, and bad attitudes. Management refuses to remedy the situation because the group’s skills are critical to the company. Also, they're only dealing with internal personnel, not paying customers.

Bucking peer pressure, the tech strives to treat employees with respect and gets noticed for the effort. The tech even wins Employee of the Quarter, lauded for a "caring and genuine regard for other employees' feelings and a can-do attitude." In response, the other team members taunt the tech for being “nice.”

Eventually, the business files for bankruptcy and workers are let go. The tech hangs on for awhile and, with an ear to the grapevine, finds out the team members' lack of professionalism bites them again as they move on to new positions. In the end, the tech is the only one still working in the IT profession.

Thanks for the warning

Thanks for the warning

Job advice to live by when your colleague is a pain: Stay calm, never stoop to their level, and don't be intimidated.

While interviewing for a job working with videoconferencing technology, the tech is warned about "Tony," the disgruntled trainer. Confident in his people skills, the tech gets the job, but mentally braces for the unpleasant encounters. Over time, the tech gets to the bottom of Tony's displeasure: He’s near retirement and wants to get a promotion so that he can collect higher retirement payments. However, Tony had failed thus far in his goal.

In the meantime, Tony makes life miserable for the tech. He puts the tech on the spot, shares unprofessional information, and predicts the tech won’t last long. Tony goes so far as to complain to the managers and threaten to leave the team. The execs grant Tony's request and move him.

With Tony gone, the tech leads a three-fold expansion of the videoconferencing infrastructure. Lo and behold, after a year Tony wants back on the team. Hmm.

Confidence and competence are not the same

Confidence and competence are not the same

Behold the bloated ego caught in a mess of its own making. Is there a more gratifying sight?

“Eric” works in desktop support. He's known to be arrogant and brash, with a history of landing in HR for harassment.

Eric's undoing begins when he gets an entry-level certificate for networking and worms his way into a position as the company’s senior network admin. Eric coasts through at the beginning on his predecessor’s careful work. When tasked with fixing the weak Wi-Fi signal in parts of the office, he brags he knows exactly how to do it with the $5,000 budget.

The jig is finally up when no less a presence than the CEO can't get on the network. What had Eric been up to? It turns out Eric's master plan involved installing $30 home wireless routers directly into the corporate network.

Even after his mistakes are exposed, Eric insists he was right all along. The IT director disagrees and tells him to come up with another solution. When he fails to do so, Eric is sent back to desktop support -- where he survives only a few months before his other misdeeds catch up to him.

Lying won’t help you in the end

Lying won’t help you in the end

You won't keep a job by bullying and lying. That means you, sleazy salesman.

A company builds systems for external clients, and the boss brings in a new salesman. This salesman is desperate to prove himself and meet sales quotas -- and will use any means necessary to do so. He makes impossible promises to clients and expects the tech team to meet the demands, including software that doesn’t exist, systems that can’t be built, or service contracts that are completely unrealistic. When called on his absurd expectations, the salesman belittles, yells, and threatens the tech team. Even worse, the boss doesn’t believe the techs, and the salesman can do no wrong in his eyes.

However, the techs keep meticulous records about each contract the salesman writes up, along with notes and follow-up actions. They then dutifully file them with the boss ... and wait.

Finally, the day comes with a large corporate customer sends a rep to complain. Furious, the boss calls the tech in to explain why they hadn’t met the expectations. The tech calmly finds the paperwork and hands it to the boss, who finally pays attention to what is really going on. Sorry, sales guy, your time is up.

What’s your story?
Wikimedia (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

What’s your story?

Share your true IT tale of personal blunders, coping with poor managers, trying to communicate with users, and resolving tech problems. Or other memorable experiences from the tech job.

Send your submission to If we publish your story -- anonymously, of course -- you’ll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.

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