In an ideal world, you get to work in a palatial, heavenly setting while you pursue your professional dreams of being CFO, controller, investment banking managing director, or a private equity partner. Saint Peter (better known as human resources) lets you pass through the pearly gates with ease during interviews and you can treasure your professional lifestyle living in the clouds. You are constantly fed fresh grapes and berries as you sit on your golden rocking chair contemplating whether to give the green light on multimillion-dollar projects.
In reality, your workplace is one place where people can be nasty, difficult, dysfunctional and downright brutish – and you still have to deal with them in a calm and professional manner. If this sounds like something you are dealing with – and quitting isn't an option – we'll help you get through these 10 common coworker dysfunctions to help you bring a little bit of heaven back down to earth.
Arrogance is the byproduct of unhealthy levels of pride and ego. In technical fields such as finance and accounting, it is imperative that professionals continuously learn new things and increase their knowledge base. Finance professionals also need to get along with a wide audience within the company, because they collect data and reports from a diverse set of groups.
Warning signs of arrogance include:
- The tendency to waste people's time by pontificating
- Looking for criteria other than business performance as a measuring device with peers (such as tenure, academic pedigree, and prestige of career titles)
- Habitually putting people down in order to artificially prop oneself up
- Blatant disregard for the feelings of others, showing a lack of maturity and emotional intelligence
- Foul language, short-sightedness and lack of tact
If you are arrogant, this puts a mental and psychological block on your mind that prevents you from learning important new data. After all, you already think so highly of yourself, why should you need to improve? How do you know that you have too much ego? Your level of confidence should be in proportion to the amount of preparation that you have put in.
Dealing with arrogant people takes a lot of patience and a great deal of self-control. Learning to identify the people who have this trait and avoiding them as much as possible will protect your own reputation, whereas confronting the arrogant person may only make you look worse.
When there is a nasty corporate culture of one-upmanship, colleagues are constantly trying to cut each other down, like a roving lawnmower slicing up blades of grass. Reveal a few things in your personal life, and it may be used against you by way of biting remarks. Engage in petty small talk and you might be looked down upon as the unfocused bimbo of the bunch.
In the finance department, you'll see plenty of qualified people, and that alone can create an unusually competitive atmosphere, especially if there are low levels of trust and teamwork. How do you know there are unhealthy levels of posturing within your group? Disdain between coworkers, insincerity between peers, constant backstabbing (such as people taking credit for others' work) and petty posturing during meetings are signs of this common office dysfunction.
People exaggerate their accomplishments, pad their resumes and pretend to have a frantic pace (when moving around the office) in a pathetic attempt to portray themselves as busy "rising stars" to the CFO. You have two choices: get the heck out of there or, just as nobly, focus on over-delivering. Because, as the saying goes: "Strive to be great, but remember to be good." At the end of the day, business results and performance are the only real sources of credibility.
Irritability and Short Fuses
In finance, there is a need for constant exchanges of accurate, relevant and timely operational, financial and accounting information. Unnecessarily short fuses reduce or prevent this flow of information. Irritability is a barrier to people doing their jobs. When people blow up or dish out nasty stares, coworkers and peers soon hesitate to raise important questions or request clarifications. When this happens, the quality of financial reporting suffers due to incomplete or inaccurate data.
If someone does something bad to you (i.e., cuts you down at a meeting or spreads unfair rumors about you in an attempt to torpedo your career), take it up with that particular person first. Do not take it out on everyone else by lashing out at people who need information from you. When principles are not at stake, be a pleasure to work with.
Finally, in some finance settings, there is a highly delusional misconception that if you project yourself as a macho creature, then others will regard you as an important person or a high-caliber individual. However, without these observers seeing impressive, credible and sustained results out of you, you merely have the "idiot" label stamped in bold, red letters on your forehead.
Fake Relationships or Hidden Motives
Being authentic is an important underpinning of effective leadership. People want to know that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. Finance will have many accomplished people working under its banner and some of them will not be entirely genuine.
A department with low levels of trust resembles a royal court filled with scheming sycophants, not a professionalized outfit with dedicated finance and accounting staff. In the real world, certain people will always have hidden agendas and motivations. While good friendships will help the workplace setting be more enjoyable, the wise professional will have to be discerning in choosing who his or her friends are. As George Washington said: "Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence."
Procrastination is a symptom of overconfidence, apathy or lack of focus. Smart people with a solid track record at school and at prior work experiences may come to believe that they can "always step things up" at the right time and can afford to slack off here and there. However, complacency lowers your personal productivity and the productivity of your team.
If you work in finance or accounting, people depend on you to provide accurate information in an efficient manner so that they can process their own work. A single bottleneck has the ability to shut down the workflows of multiple people. Workers who have grown apathetic at their jobs, or who have lost focus (i.e., their personal life is interfering with their ability to execute at work) also tend to procrastinate. Some have found their particular job to be dull, and procrastination becomes the thrill-seeker's way of getting a rush out of attempting to finish a work project in highly condensed time frames. Quality of work is the first casualty and the procrastinator's job quickly becomes the second.
Whimsical Spending Coworker
Finance and accounting professionals work with numbers most of the time – high dollar amounts that represent hard cash, securities or illiquid assets on a balance sheet. Dealing with money all day makes some in this line of work think that they have a lot of money. Most of the professional's waking hours are spent on left-brained processes and rational thinking, and many finance professionals turn off the switch to reason, logic, and prudence when they leave the office for the day. By night, you see their transformation into the spendthrift werewolf, howling at overly expensive sports cars (above their pay grade), or worse, at "models and bottles."
The competitive atmosphere in finance can spill over outside of work, where coworkers compete to have the latest sports car, expensive watches, lavish travels, and lush apartments. Finance professionals also want to uphold a certain "image of success" that their pay grade cannot afford, which is sometimes referred to as "drinking champagne on a beer budget."
Wasteful spending among finance professionals only makes the workplace even more unnecessarily competitive; you have high-income earners who are constantly broke, fighting for every scrap and crumb of a bonus in the bonus pool. If you can exhibit the control you use to advise your clients, some of this "he who dies with the most toys wins" attitude will die down at the office and your bank account will only grow.
The saboteur of the group takes competitiveness to a truly dysfunctional level. There can be various motivations for sabotaging a team's or department's efforts. For example, the saboteur may want to see others fail and, thereby, increase his or her relative standing (and compensation) within the group. Saboteurs may also strike in order to protect their own jobs. They will do harm to documents and databases in order to create more work for themselves, which they hope insulates them from being fired or laid off. Or, they may harbor a secret disdain toward their boss, peers or company, as they may have been passed over for promotion, bonuses or an attractive transfer.
Whatever the reason, saboteurs tend to be highly selfish individuals. There is not much you can do to protect yourself from these saboteurs, except to keep on top of your work and to be conscious of these people. The selfish trait is picked up by good managers, and saboteurs are often passed by for promotions because more focused peers are concentrating on how they can continually increase their contributions to the company. In the end, the saboteur only hurts himself.
Turning Green with Envy
The basis for a fulfilling and rewarding career is the opportunity to do your best to serve others in the line of work that is right for you. This is often found in a profession that you enjoy. In finance and accounting, there is a tendency to covet another person's position simply because of title, salary or added responsibility. Often, the person coveting the role only has a minimal understanding of the significantly greater burden or skill sets needed to properly execute the duties of the coveted role. The one who covets tends to only look at the benefits, such as a higher salary.
However, professionals who find fulfillment with their line of work take ownership of their careers and are team players. They know that no single person can run an entire department or organization. Professionals who covet someone else's job or title are more likely to be unhappy at work. If you work with a green-eyed monster, don't fret. There are many ways to encourage this downer individual by offering praise or complimenting their current work, responsibilities, and position. If you're this person, then take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have less responsibility and are therefore free to enjoy your weekends without bringing the stress of work home.
High Levels of Cynicism
Finance and accounting professionals have to exercise a healthy level of "professional skepticism" in their line of work. The numbers these professionals deal with every day can be inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant. The tendency to question data points can be a boon to the job description but can snowball into a habit of unnecessarily questioning everything.
Unhealthy levels of cynicism can lead to others being turned off during social interactions, afraid of the stream of negativity flowing out of the cynic's mouth. Others will develop a mental and psychological barrier with the cynic, preventing effective communication in the workplace.
Killer Health Habits
The job of the busy finance professional is to successfully juggle both short-term and long-term commitments. With a busy schedule, it is easy to fall into the trap of having unhealthy habits such as no exercise, lack of sleep and bad diet. Pressing priorities leads many professionals to "mortgage" their future health and become complacent in this important area. And once one coworker starts sliding on this slippery slope, the rest can follow suit.
Any individual who is encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle (both at work and in their off-time) will soon reflect the results of those unhealthy choices. Poor health, poor attitude and lack of attention are just a few of the effects of living with killer health habits. Maintaining a good fitness routine, healthy diet and sufficient amounts of sleep are absolutely critical for long-term success and good quality of life.
The Bottom Line
The good news is that although there may be many dysfunctional coworkers in your workplace or, worse yet, you've identified a few of these evils in your own workplace persona, we all possess free will. So, you can either chose to remove yourself from your work situation or to stay and become a leader by setting a good example to others. The latter is probably the better choice, albeit the harder one. Small steps in this area result in giant leaps toward healthier work environments.