9 signs you can't trust your coworkers


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy George Smiley distrust suspicion

Focus Features

Are your colleagues straight out of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" by John Le Carre?


Untrustworthy coworkers can put a serious damper on any workplace experience.

Just read John Le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," in which British spy George Smiley becomes convinced that one of his former coworkers is a Soviet mole.

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Hopefully, your struggle with a less-than-honest associate won't lead you into a tangle with the Kremlin. Still, it's important to pick out the coworkers that don't deserve your trust early on. Otherwise, they might end up stabbing you in the back.

These are a few solid signs that you shouldn't trust a certain colleague:


1. They're envious

Watch out for anyone displaying signs of what's been called the least fun of the seven deadly sins, writes Dr. Neel Burton in Psychology Today.

Envy is a universal trait. However, if left unchecked in the workplace, it leads to problems. Envious people desire what their successful colleagues have, leading to resentment, shortsightedness, and toxic relationships.

How to deal with envious coworkers:

Dr. Mary Lamia addressed several helpful strategies to combat envy in Psychology Today:

"... People who fear being envied tend to behave in ways that are pro-social - helping others who might envy them. They speculate that people who are better off might use such an appeasement strategy to dampen the destructive effects of envy, and it can help to improve the situation of those who are worse off."

Run screaming from coworkers that constantly gripe about others' accomplishments. When you achieve success, their inner green-eyed monster will turn on you too.


2. They're dishonest

Here's a shocker: You can't trust dishonest coworkers.

Crazy, right?

If you regularly catch a coworker lying, or they steal credit for your work, they're probably a dishonest person.

Keep in mind, even if their lies don't directly effect you, they've already proven themselves untrustworthy. You can't depend on liars to keep your best interests at heart.

How to deal with dishonest coworkers:

If you've been impacted by a dishonest coworker, Forbes contributor Scott Edinger recommended confronting the person's behavior in this 2012 article: "Notice I did not say the person, though the two are linked. When dealing with a transgression of nearly any kind, it is always best to focus on the situation or behavior, and not the person."


3. They gossip

In "The Picture of Dorian Gray," Oscar Wilde writes "... there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

That quote may sound like a ringing endorsement of gossip, but consider that it's from a novel about a guy who's so shallow that he sells his soul to look hot (also, there's a crazy, creepy painting involved).

A little bit of workplace gossip among friends is normal. But it's a bad sign when a colleague seems overly preoccupied with gossiping. Rumors can harm reputations and others' feelings, so steer clear.

Plus, the old middle school adage applies here. If the gossip is talking about other people behind their backs to you, they're probably also bashing you to other people.

How to deal with coworkers that gossip:

In his 2015 Inc. article, John Boitnott highlighted the dangers of rampant office scandal-mongering.

"It can be tempting to listen in on office gossip but to do so puts your career at risk. Although work may be frustrating for you at times, it's best not to indulge in the exchange of incendiary workplace stories, even if it helps you cope with your frustrations. The best thing to do is disassociate yourself from the person and try to defuse any gossip when you find yourself unable to get away."

Boitnott recommends avoiding the rumor mill altogether and being firm and direct with colleagues who insist on spreading hearsay.

4. They undermine people

Watch out for the conniving, undermining people in your office.

Writing for Salary.com, Aaron Gouveia notes that these types tend to start small:

"Did you discuss a great idea with a coworker only to see that person steal it and use it as their own? Are you missing meetings because your coworker leading a project keeps 'forgetting' to email you the invites?"

Maybe they've started messing with your work. Maybe you've noticed them taking credit for others' ideas. Either way, you'll want to stop them from bringing you down.

How to deal with undermining coworkers:

First off, know that they're acting this way because they're scared of you. You're a genuine threat to them. Note this and watch your back. Ignore their attempts to be pals and don't share crucial information with them, when possible. And report any serious duplicity to your boss.

5. They suck up

A good relationship with your boss is crucial. However, some people take that too far, focusing on impressing the higher ups rather than working hard and achieving results.

Even if they're a favorite among the higher ups, don't trust this kind of colleague to lift you up with them. The boss's pet will do anything - other than work hard at their job - to maintain their top spot.

How to deal with suck ups:

According to Jappreet Sethi writing for LinkedIn, it's best just to ignore the bootlickers in your office and hope your boss is smart enough to determine which employees are truly valuable.

"Yes, such behavior in others is disturbing at the workplace," Sethi explains. "However, you would do well to remember that they rarely get the results they want. Most managers do not mistake subservience for effectiveness. In fact, you should train yourself to ignore the bootlickers. Many enlightened employees have found that getting to know the brown-noser better on a personal basis can defuse the situation entirely."

6. They don't care about your work-life balance

This type of untrustworthy colleague may not be gunning for your career, but they're bad news nonetheless. This is the boss or coworker that always expects you to drop everything else in your life to accommodate work.

Of course, sometimes work will take precedence. This post just refers to the unyielding people in your office who do not respect your work-life balance. Such people rarely have your personal or professional well being in mind.

How to deal with coworkers who don't care about your work life balance:

In a US News and World Report article, Alison Green broke down how to deal with a boss or an organization that's overworking you:

"Pick a time when your manager isn't rushed and ask to talk about your workload," she wrote. "Explain that it has become unmanageable and why (for instance, that you've taken on the responsibilities of someone who left without anything being removed from your plate, or that a particular account has doubled in size in the last year). Explaining what's behind the workload increase can help because your manager may not be focused on the facts as you."

7. They disrespect you

If someone deems you unworthy of basic respect in the office, then you certainly shouldn't trust them with anything else. Signs of fundamental disrespect include anything from threatening body language cues to stolen ideas to slander.

How to deal with disrespectful coworkers:

Talk to your boss if you're not being shown basic human respect at work. If management is part of the problem, consider bringing in HR.

8. They'll do anything to get ahead

If you're stuck in a workplace where anything goes, it's probably best to not place your trust in any one person. You don't want to be paranoid, but if an individual is determined to succeed at all costs, they won't hesitate to throw you under the bus.

How to deal with coworkers who will do anything to get ahead:

When dealing with such colleagues, it's important to just remember that, while they may not hold any personal grudges against you, they'll still sell you out if it's convenient for them.

9. They're just a symptom of a negative workplace culture

When it comes to untrustworthy coworkers, sometimes your colleagues are just a sign of a larger problem. Your company's work culture might be encouraging a dog-eat-dog environment. Consider the tone set by your organization's senior management. Are they setting you up for collaboration and support, or hypercompetitive backstabbing?

How to deal with a toxic work environment:

Dealing with individual coworkers is hard enough it can be next to impossible to change the way an entire organization operates. In most cases, it's probably best to cut your losses and start looking for work elsewhere.