When your co-worker’s behavior runs past “self-care” and into “selfish,” how can you deal with it without it affecting your own work? In this article, we’ll discuss why some employees seem so selfish in the workplace, and what you can do about it.
Some types of "selfishness" are okay, and should even be encouraged in the workplace, like self-care, personal development, and setting boundaries. But some forms of selfishness can be downright toxic. The American Psychological Association defines “selfishness” as “the tendency to act excessively or solely in a manner that benefits oneself, even if others are disadvantaged." In the workplace, this can translate to decreased productivity, low employee morale, and reduced employee engagement, all things businesses want to avoid.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the phenomenon of selfishness in the workplace, including:
Why some employees are selfish in the workplace
Is it okay to be selfish at work?
5 signs of selfish behavior in the workplace
How do you deal with inconsiderate coworkers?
There are a myriad of reasons people behave selfishly in the workplace, from general insecurity about themselves, having a lack of awareness about their behavior, to viewing success as a "zero-sum game" — if others are successful, that means less success for them. But chances are, if you have a particularly selfish co-worker, that behavior extends to their personal life, too. According to a study published in Cognitive Science, a person’s behavior is the main guide for how they wish others to behave. In other words, intrinsically selfish people tend to penalize kindness and boost selfishness in others even if it's to their own detriment. As lead author Paul Bogdan said. “If everyone around me is selfish, then I’m going to learn to accept selfishness and behave accordingly. But we show that your judgments of other people’s behavior really depend on how you behave yourself.” In other words, people gravitate and reward behavior that lines up with their own — akin to the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” If one person acts selfishly, chances are the behavior will spread to those around them.
While selfishness can be sort of an "I know it when I see it" thing, there are specific characteristics of selfish coworkers that you should be aware of.
They show a lack of respect for others time
Being quick to point fingers
They are poor communicators
They have a need to make others look bad
Understanding why people behave the way they do is the first step in dealing with selfish coworkers. You don’t have to accept it, but you do have to start from a place of empathy and self-reflection. Some steps you can take are:
Setting boundaries and sticking to them
Being aware of your own behavior and practicing self-care like meditation, gratitude journals, or deep breathing
Avoiding the selfish coworker when possible
Being aware of the company culture — is it modeling positive behavior?
Not taking it personally – their behavior is not a reflection on you
Letting it go — don’t bring that person’s selfishness home with you
Whether your selfish co-workers are unaware of the effect their behavior has on others or seem to relish it, you don’t have to feel like a victim. It’s important to remain calm, focus on your own work, and try to be that co-worker who elevates others. It’s tough, but in the end, you can’t control others behavior — you can only control how you choose to respond.
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The behavior of selfish employees can lead to decreased productivity, low employee morale, and reduced employee engagement.
intrinsically selfish people tend to penalize kindness and boost selfishness in others even if it's to their own detriment.
Selfish employees show a disregard for their co-worker’s time, are poor communicators, and actively try to make others look bad.
When dealing with selfish employees, it’s important to set clear boundaries, not take it personally, and let it go at the end of the day.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.