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Trouble with Toxic Coworker

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My coworker gets mad when I “work” at work. We have shared office space, which houses 5 adjunct instructors, at our university. One of the people in my office gets mad whenever I leave the door locked or take/make phone calls at work.

Last week I had to make 3 different calls to the IT HelpDesk to get software on my computer working correctly so I could make video lectures for my class. The distraction of me talking on the phone bothers her.

Yesterday, I went in when I thought she wouldn’t be there to create the lectures, but she came in & got mad that the door was locked, to keep students from interrupting, as I talked to myself. She and all the other instructors have a key, so they could still access the office. I just had the door shut so I wouldn’t be disturbed by students.

Because I’m an adjunct, I also have outside jobs. Occasionally, I have to take a call on my PERSONAL CELL PHONE for those jobs. She gets mad and says it’s an abuse of state resources to take phone calls for another job while sitting in a University office.

This morning I arranged with my boss to come in early and borrow his webcam because I needed to Skype with a publisher in the EU. To accommodate the time change I came in at 7 AM and left the door locked, so eager beaver students wouldn’t barge in and disturb my SKYPE conference. At 7:30 AM she barged in and started bitching about the door being locked while I was in the middle of my conference. Thankfully, she went to the Dean’s Office to complain so I was able to finish the conference (and managed to land a 3 book contract; Whoo Hoo!) But the vitriol she spewed afterwards was a real downer.

Afterwards I talked to the Dean who said that she gets upset over what she sees as misuse of state resources. I am the Creative Writing Club Advisor and he likes the idea of having published faculty on staff. In the future he said I can use the conference room instead, but I still have to work in the same office with this woman.

How do you recommend I deal with a co-worker who doesn’t like it when I “work” at work?

Trouble with Toxic Coworker

Answered by on -


You have stated that your coworker doesn’t like it when you “work at work.” In all fairness, your statement isn’t exactly fair. It seems from your letter, that your coworker is quite happy when you “work at work” as long as your work activities are those that she approves of.

She doesn’t approve of your activities. She believes that you are breaking university rules and policies. She is acting like a watchdog for the well-being of the university. That would seem like a noble idea but it is not her job to do so. She is not your boss nor a paid watchdog of the university. Her job description does not include “supervising other adjunct faculty.” She is clearly engaging in behaviors that are not acceptable. The real problem is that the university administration, who is aware of her behavior, chooses to do nothing about it. They have a problem and they know it and they are just hoping that it will go away or perhaps resolve itself. Perhaps you will quit, and problem solved. Or perhaps she will quit, and problem solved. Either way the problem is solved and no administrator had to expend any effort in resolving the matter.

What she is doing to you is obviously unfair and I am here to state emphatically that her behavior is not within the bounds of normalcy. She should be aware of the fact that she is overstepping the boundaries of adjunct faculty members and the normal boundaries of social interaction. Yet she appears unaware of the inappropriate nature of her behavior. Let’s say that you are guilty of all of things that she has accused you of. How should she react to you? It is within her boundaries to “unfriend you.” It is within her boundaries to report you to the Dean or to her immediate supervisor. It is not within her bounds to take any action towards you, in the smallest of ways. She should not reprimand you or attempt to correct you. You are being supervised. You have a supervisor. It is their job to observe you and critique you and reprimand you when necessary. It is not the job of the adjacent adjunct instructor.

You have already spoken to administration about the problem with your coworker. They have chosen to do nothing. There is nothing more that you can do, unless one of the two of you chooses to buy a gun and kill the other. I would not imagine that you would be the one to buy the gun but I could easily imagine that she might. If you look at workplace shootings and trace the history that led to the shooting, often it is over an incident or a series of incidents, just as trivial as the one you are involved in.

I am in no way suggesting that you have instigated this problem but many people are in traffic accidents and may in fact die, who were not at fault in any way. They were following the speed limit, following all traffic laws, were in the middle of their lane and having done nothing at all wrong, were killed when a drunk or suicidal driver slammed into their car at 80 miles an hour. You don’t want to be an accident victim. If this problem does not improve, if your coworker’s behavior does not return to normalcy, then I would sincerely advise you to quit this particular teaching job.

I’m sorry that this problem has been brought to your doorstep through no fault of your own but it is there nonetheless. Good luck.

Dr. Kristina Randle

Trouble with Toxic Coworker

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2018). Trouble with Toxic Coworker. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 27 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.