Dealing With Insecure Coworkers-Survival Tips

by LPerry

Dealing with insecure coworkers is one of the biggest headaches that any employee may have to face on the job. Find out ways to survive the tactics of insecure people at work.

Let's imagine that you have just found a great new job. As you arrive on your first morning eager and ready to start work, all of your new coworkers step forward with handshakes and smiles to welcome you to the team. All but one, that is. The expression on his or her face is a bit odd. Ding! Ding! Ding! Your alarm bell should have gone off. This coworker could be a potential problem. The vibes are in the air.

Consider yourself lucky if you happen to catch those vibes right away so you can prepare yourself for any potential problems. If you are young and new to the workforce, it may take time to hone your character-judging skills. It took me a few different jobs before I began to notice the same pattern of behavior in certain individuals everywhere I went.

How Insecurity Plays Out At Work

Without getting too technical and trying to sound like the psychology page from Wikipedia, I can tell you that insecurity can be played out in many different ways at work. There are hundreds of emotional and psychological issues that can cause a person to feel insecure. People have different levels of insecurity. They can be fine in one area of their lives, yet very frightened and worried about loss in another area. Insecurity is a deep-seated fear of a perceived loss or threat to their well-being. Notice I said perceived.

The thoughts they think make them act that way towards you.
What can we actually DO to deal with them? Because we can't sit down and offer them psychotherapy treatments or free frontal lobe removal (without anesthesia), we have to get a clue about human self-esteem and how it plays out in the workplace. The more you understand about workplace personalities, the more ammunition you will have to protect yourself.

Insecure People Can And Will Make Life Miserable At Work

So what if my coworker has issues with insecurity? How does that create misery for me? The problem with not feeling secure and happy with yourself is that you become dependent on outside reinforcement to bolster your self-esteem. In the workplace, this becomes the person who puts other people down to feel better about themselves.

The misery-making antics of these coworkers can show up in a variety of ways:

  • Whining
  • Constant Criticism
  • Vicious Gossiping
  • Acting Tough/ Swaggering/ Excessive Bragging
  • Having An Air Of Superiority
  • Veiled Threats And Innuendos

The list can go on, however. The deep unhappiness comes when you experience all of the above behaviors either from a coworker or manager on a daily basis.

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Every Work Place Has Insecure Employees

Learn What Type You Are Dealing With

Anyone who has had the frustration and unhappiness of dealing with these types of people at work will learn one thing as they spend more time in the workforce. There is no escape. They are everywhere. Every job has one. Most jobs have many. Unfortunately, most of us have to leave the comforts of home to go to work everyday. One of the reasons why so many people are trying to earn a living online is to escape the hassles of dealing with workplace toxicity.

People are insecure at work when they perceive a loss or a threat to their job title, status, image or popularity level with customers, bosses and other coworkers. It can also be as stupid as you reminding them of a childhood babysitter that didn't change their diapers often enough when they were little. Your facial expression may trigger a vulnerable memory in their past that they want to forget.

Is It My Fault That My Coworker Feels Insecure?

You Cannot Control The Thoughts Of Another

In the past, I have made the mistake of trying to hide my light under a bushel, so to speak. In other words, I would try to downplay my expertise or hide my skills to make the insecure person feel better about themselves and not look at me as a threat. It does not work. People can sense your intelligence level, motivation and dedication to doing your job assignments well.

Staying quiet, ultra-humble and passive can only do so much to lessen the anxiety of the insecure coworker. If they look at you as a real threat, you can easily become a doormat for their hostilities.

Eventually, you may find that you are full of resentment and buried anger. Trust me, the anger will come out and most likely, it will be YOU, and not your coworker that will be in trouble.

Should I Try To Make Friends With An Insecure Coworker?

Make Peace, But Be Cautious

As exhausting as this sounds, the best way to act around an insecure coworker is to maintain a polite, respectful professionalism at all times. My warning to you is to never, ever give them any personal or business ammunition to use against you. Keep your guard up while maintaining peace in your work space. Forget about making that job your home away from home.

If you relax and trust, you will eventually let slip some tidbit of information that will be used against you at the most opportune time. Believe me, they know how to wait and pounce.

Does Gender Play A Role In Workplace Insecurity?

Are Females More Insecure At Work?

There are many books and articles available that study gender traits in the workplace. Both men and women can feel insecure about almost anything in their lives. The biggest difference is the way men act when they feel insecure about something versus that of a female. Many men pretend that nothing bothers them and will secretly try to "up" the competition by simply working harder or updating their business image. Working with men can be easier because they are not as emotionally complex as women and are able to air out a perceived threat verbally which clears the air so everybody can move on to the job at hand.

An insecure female coworker, on the other hand, can be a nightmare. Because women are more emotionally complex and less apt to confront directly, their insecurities can come out in various  ways : spreading rumors, gossiping, tattle-tailing, dirty looks and so on. Workplaces can quickly take on a junior high school vibe when insecure female coworkers are around.

Employees With Deep-Seated Insecurities Can Be Treacherous

Bringing You Down Makes Them Feel More Secure

The danger with the insecure person is that your very being causes them discomfort through the fear-based recesses of their minds.  In their minds, you have to go. They can and will think of anything to get rid of you or to bring you down to a lower level where they feel more at ease. Their thoughts will not let them feel comfortable for long. Even if your coworker manages to smile in your direction, they will have radar up looking for any incriminating behavior they can report to your manager to get you in trouble. I mean ANY petty thing will do. I have seen people reporting toilet paper rolls that were put in with the sheets facing under instead of over and stories of workers who take cell phone pictures of food crumbs to email to a clean-freak supervisor. Can you see why I advise controlling your temper? This makes you want to kill your coworker!

How The Insecure Think

Here are some of the inner thoughts that insecure employees have twirling through their brains:

  • Why did they hire her? They must be getting ready to replace me.
  • She is always so happy. The customers are going to like her better than me.
  • He "smells smart". I bet he will notice all of my mistakes and tell on me.
  • Her eyebrows remind me of my bossy older sister. I have to get rid of her.
  • He sure is ambitious. I bet he is after my job.
  • My boss really likes her. I bet he thinks I'm a piece of Swiss cheese now.
  • That new guy is getting all the attention I used to get. He sucks.

The list can go on and on. Can you see that these people are operating from a sense of lack? In their minds, there is not enough to go around. Positive traits in other human beings set off fear-based thoughts of losing something for themselves. Sad, isn't it? Not only is it sad, it can be toxic dealing with these people everyday just to earn a paycheck.

I understand your pain. Here are just a few of the things that have happened to me in my life:

  • At 18 years old I was hired as a grill assistant for a deli that had a lot of male truck drivers as customers. The lady training me was about 35 years old. The regulars were flirting with the "new face" at the deli. I asked my trainer if it was okay to smoke a cigarette on my break. She gave me permission to light up in the bathroom. The next morning the deli owner called me to say I had been fired for smoking in the bathroom which was reported to him by the trainer!
  • During my stint as a bank teller, I received notice from my manager that the teller next to me was upset about the candy dish at my station attracting all the customers which supposedly led to me meeting my referral quotas. I was accused of cheating with chocolate. The tattling teller helped herself to the candy, however.
  • I have had my locker emptied and personal contents thrown in the trash on my first week at a new job by another female employee. Since I was the one who changed the trash bags, she knew I would see my things there.

This list could go on as well. Insecure people are not good coworkers. It takes a solid self-esteem to embrace and love the superior qualities of another human being and to know that it does not take anything away from you when somebody else is great at what they do.


Toxic Management Can Play A Part In Creating Insecure Workplaces

When the economy is bad, something evil takes place within the hearts of many businesses. They begin using threats and fear of job loss to make employees walk on eggshells.  In other words, there are so many desperate unemployed people that are eager to get that job, that you better put up or shut up. The fear factor sets off a train reaction where people do vicious things to their coworkers to safeguard their own job security.

What can any of us really do about insecure people and workplaces? Only to read and educate ourselves so we can deal with them using techniques that have worked for others. If you have read down to the end of this article, you may be at your wits end at your job. Search the resource books listed here, for they offer wonderful survival tips for difficult workplace situations.

You are the victim of a person who has low self-esteem and uncontrolled fear-based thoughts that are directed at you.  I hope that I have been able to offer some comfort and words of advice for  you today. You have my deepest sympathy. I have been there. Earning a living is enough of a daily chore without these types of people driving us nuts at work and destroying the quality of our lives.

Updated: 05/02/2021, LPerry
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WriterArtist on 05/01/2021

Very well written. These days with the CV pandemic there is a growing fear of insecurity in work places. Unfortunately, in most cases it is turning out to be real. The insecure people with low self esteem have nowhere to go. Management and rising uncertainty is to blame in such cases. People who have serious issues should use the help of counsellors and psychiatrists. They have to learn to deal with the situation. One cannot be to too confident either, unemployment is on the rise.

katiem2 on 10/29/2018

Well written and oh so true, it seems the work force is becoming more and more sensitive, thank you for this very helpful guide. I guess I am not imagining things or over analyzing others. A place of work is just that a place of work.

Deborah on 09/13/2017

I did finish reading to the end of this article and of course that is the reason why because I'm dealing with the same issue. Being better looking as a female or perhaps male doesn't help either. I have been blessed to go to a self development course 12 years ago in Las Vegas Nevada called Choice Center and this has made me tolerant of these people and sympathize with these people but everyone has a line that if it is crossed enough is enough. Thank you so much for solidifying the thoughts of everyone who was on the opposite side of the insecure coworker.

LPerry on 07/04/2017

@ Sunnyday- I agree with you. It sounds exactly like she is projecting her own thoughts and feelings onto you.

Sunnyday on 07/03/2017

Thanks for this article it really helped me understand the root of the behaviour my coworker is exhibiting. I just go to work and do my job and had no bad feelings toward anybody in fact I thought my department was great because of the good morale between my coworkers-I'm fairly new there and one of my coworkers was normal at first then one day she asked me if I was okay-I responded with "yes, I'm fine" then two more times she asked me if I was okay and she told me that my body language is telling her that I'm mad at her. It was so shocking to me because I didn't think I was any different than any other day and I always try to keep a happy disposition and remain harmonious with everybody. I told her she must be projecting something onto me because I was fine and certainly not mad at her. Since then she's been unpleasant to say the least- she just grunts when I say hello to her, yes, really! I realized recently that she must be insecure and is indeed projecting her own negative feelings about me which probably come from jealousy or any other of the things you listed. Thanks again for the helpful tips about how to respond.

LPerry on 04/20/2017

Tu, let me know how it goes.

tu on 03/14/2017

I think next time my insecure young co-worker takes a random jab at me to pump herself up, I'm going to respond, "Feel better?" in my best "mom" voice and leave it at that. She might be thoroughly confused the first couple of times, but I bet she'll catch on. 😬 You're so right, LuvR--its not us, it's them. No one else in my world treats me that way, so that leaves only one possibility.

LuvR on 02/07/2017

This article was just what I needed to remind me it's not me, it's them. I work with two women who are super insecure, one older, the other newer and the new one is the worst. Thank you for these wonderful tips and thorough information.

Chad on 10/13/2016

Absolutely fantastic, I have got recently a new job, and gues what, insecure coworker is sharing with me same tasks.........imagin that!!!! I lost my previous job due insecure one, and now !!!! One more. Wish me good luck please!!!!

Jonathan on 08/04/2016

This article is fantastic. Excellent descriptions and helpful information!

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