20 Subtle Ways You Could Be a Jerk at Work Without Even Realizing It

Gossip Coworkers

Blatant “jerky-ness” at work is pretty easy to spot; these types of toxic coworkers or bosses are often rude, manipulative, aggressive, liars, and in general create a pretty negative work environment for everyone they encounter.

There’s no mistaking the typical “office jerk.” And According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, they’re in no short supply, with around 50% of Americans reporting that they have either witnessed or experienced workplace bullying from toxic coworkers or bosses.

But what about more subtle forms of negative behavior or attitudes that are even more common in the workplace? Even relatively “nice” people can exhibit eye-rolling, jerk-like behavior from time to time. And while these types of actions may not be so obviously inappropriate that they give cause for immediate disciplinary action or dismissal, they do add up over time and can have a kind of cumulative negative effect on your reputation, even leading your colleagues to doubt whether or not they can trust you or even want to be around you.

You may be coming off as a bit of jerk to your colleagues if you...

  1. Don’t give credit where it’s due: Do you have a hard time complimenting your coworkers or giving them credit for wins? Do you feel especially reluctant to lift them up when your boss or company leadership is present? The inability to offer authentic praise for your colleagues’ successes can make you seem petty and insecure and, well, like a bit of a jerk.
  2. Don’t respond to messages or requests in a timely manner: Everyone misses the occasional message now and again or goes through especially busy periods where our response times suffer. But if you’re consistently difficult to get a hold of or slow to respond to your coworkers’ messages or requests, people will begin to get frustrated and likely seek out some other channel for help. If you’re the only point of contact for them and they are forced to keep reaching out to you, they may end up resenting you for your lack of attention to their own needs or deadlines.
  3. Never inquire about how other people are doing (and genuinely listen to their response): Simply asking “how was your weekend?” or “how is your day going?” can go a long way to creating a good rapport with coworkers and signaling that you care about their well-being. If you can’t remember the last time you asked a coworker a non-work-related question like this, then you may be coming off as unfriendly or disinterested.
  4. Rarely smile: Perhaps you’re not a very peppy or bubbly person -- nothing wrong with that. But, if you never smile or exhibit positive, open body language that signals to your coworkers you’re happy to see them and open to communicate, then your non-verbal cues could be giving off some pretty negative vibes.
  5. Never volunteer… for anything... ever: Not everyone is a “joiner,” but exhibiting some small level of interest in office goings-on shows that you’re engaged and invested. While you don’t have to raise your hand for every little event to be seen as a team-player, try to be a part of extracurriculars at least a few times a year.
  6. Leave off greetings and salutations on emails: Poor email etiquette can have a significant impact on the way others perceive you at work and can also affect the tone and content of their response. Brush up on basic email etiquette techniques to make sure you aren’t perceived as an “email jerk.”
  7. Always send last-minute requests: Urgent requests are unavoidable at times, but don’t make this type of disrespectful ask “the norm.” It signals that you’re demanding and don’t value their time. This is a sure-fire way to annoy your coworkers and over time may cause quite a bit of friction in your working relationships.
  8. Keep to yourself too much: Are you the office loner? Even the most introverted of introverts can make small efforts here and there to connect with a coworker. While you may never be a social butterfly, be careful not to isolate yourself too much from the rest of your department or team or you could find it difficult to call on someone when you actually do need to collaborate.
  9. Rarely give positive feedback: If you’re in a position where you have to give regular feedback either to subordinates or colleagues, make sure that you’re not only speaking up when something is wrong. Be sure to point out their success, the things they’re getting right, as well as areas that need improving.
  10. Bombard colleagues with emails: It’s been 30 minutes since you sent your coworker a request over email, and you’re getting antsy. You send another email asking if they’ve had a chance to see your first email. An hour goes by with no response, so you send another. And another … and on and on. This type of badgering can be highly offensive or annoying to people, and it signals that you’re not very respectful of their own workload and time.
  11. Never share anything about yourself: Are you always asking questions of others but never offering anything up about your own projects or personal life? Building a protective wall around your own life can do just that -- wall you off from the people you work with and erode the quality of your interoffice relationships.
  12. Always seem distracted: Forgetting deadlines, running late to meetings, never being prepared… You can be the nicest person in the world, but over time these bad habits will frustrate your coworkers (who probably end up having to pick up the slack on your behalf) and give you a bad professional reputation.
  13. Are only friendly when you need something: If you want to build healthy working relationships with your coworkers, be authentic. If you only reach out to them or show interest when you need something in return, they’ll quickly catch on and dismiss you as an office jerk.
  14. Engage in office gossip: While a bit of gossip may endear you to a coworker in the short-term, over time they’ll wonder if you can be trusted. Gossiping can pose a serious threat to your credibility and trustworthiness.  
  15. Have a “potty mouth”: Cursing or telling off-color jokes may be your attempt at humor, but this could be offensive to some people, even if others don’t have a problem with it. Best to leave the swearing, rude jokes, and the like for outside working hours.
  16. Are too hard on yourself: Chances are if you’re much too critical of your own productivity or workload, you’re likely just as critical of those around you. If you know you’re a perfectionist, be careful not to let high expectations turn in to unfair demands from your coworkers (and the subsequent judgment they’ll get from you when they fail to meet your impossible standards).
  17. Don’t have any friends at work: If you can’t count one single friend in your workplace, you may start to think about what kind of impression you’re giving off that could be keeping you from forging good relationships with the people you spend most of your time with.
  18. Feel like people are avoiding you: When colleagues have a negative feeling about someone, they tend to avoid them when possible. If you find people going out of their way to avoid interacting with you, you may want to question why.
  19. Never share what you’re working on: Insecurity in the workplace can manifest itself in subtle yet toxic ways. If you never like to talk about your own workload or progress and have a distorted sense of ownership or secrecy over your tasks (perhaps you fear that sharing your work will make you vulnerable or expose your shortcomings?), your colleagues will sense your unease and in turn pull away from you as well.
  20. Come late and leave early: In general, if you give off a sense that you’re not interested to be at work, not invested, and are just doing the bare minimum to get by, your coworkers will understand that you really don’t care about your job, your workload, or them.

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