When a "co-worker from hell" poses a real problem to your career and sanity, here's what to do.

Share story

How many hours of the day do you spend with your work colleagues? Eight? Ten?

That is possibly more time than you spend with your partner or your kids, which makes relationships on the job very important — to your career and to your daily happiness.

Ideally, we want to like the people we work with, or at least get along with them in some cordial fashion. And happily, most of the time, we do. Sometimes work friends even turn into real, lifelong friends.

But sometimes the opposite happens. In fact, sometimes we find ourselves working alongside a person who for some unknown reason just hates us.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The workplace nemesis — it’s a surprisingly common phenomenon. And it can sap the life right out of your day. After all, it’s so unfair/bizarre/weird! You have no idea what you did to earn this person’s hostility. You get along fine with everyone else. You’ve never had this problem before. You have even tried to talk with this person, to ask what the problem is, but you got nowhere.

How to deal?

It’s not easy, but your best bet here is to try to subtract as much emotion from the situation as you can. Instead, focus on your job and the work that needs to be done every day. The key here, for your own sanity, is to detach, detach, detach.

That’s not all. Next, identify the specific ways this crazy dislike affects the work being done. Make a list. Then take that list to your manager, whose role it is to make sure that personal problems don’t do damage to the greater good. After all, it’s management’s responsibility to provide a harassment-free work environment. (But no one can make people like each other, so do be sympathetic with your manager. You are presenting him or her with a problem that is not easy to resolve. Try to keep the focus on the work.)

Meanwhile, continue to do your job well while conducting yourself with polite professionalism. Put energy into maintaining strong positive relationships with the rest of your co-workers. Most of all, keep management up to date and aware of your performance and successes.

And, from time to time, remind yourself that your nemesis is most likely far more miserable than you will ever be.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.