The 7 Real Reasons Your Toxic Coworker is Getting Promoted Instead of You

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
May 26, 2024 at 12:25AM UTC
Toxic people wreak havoc on workplaces. They start drama. They distract others. They place blame on others. They act selfishly, instead of for the team. And they disturb workplace productivity with gossip, negativity and/or bullying.
And, yet, they somehow stick around because, if they didn't, we wouldn't be here talking about them. In fact, despite their toxic behavior, many of these people even manage to work their way to the tops of their companies.
Here's why toxic employees somehow get promotions, even when the rest of the workplace wholeheartedly believes that they're not so deserving.

1. They show confidence (even if it's fake).

Toxic people know how to play the game. They know that confidence is key, and so they fake it until they make it. Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing to do — but toxic people can put on masks that deceive others. 

2. They're dirty competitors.

Toxic people like to compete. They want to win, and they can become obsessed with being "the best." So they brag about themselves and belittle others. And while their toxic behavior may be obvious to some people in the office, their boastfulness may get them seen by others.  Of course, there's a fine line between being proud of your work and touting your earned successes, and making yourself seem better by putting down others and throwing others under the bus.

3. They manipulate their way up.

Toxic people know how to manipulate. They'll place blame on others where it's not warranted. They'll lie to managers about their experiences and skills. They'll embellish their successes to the nth degree. They'll do whatever it takes to make it to the top, even if that means forgoing their dignity en route there. 

4. They're likable, even if they're not suitable.

A toxic employee might be the socialite of the office, always planning happy hours and getting everyone together. Perhaps they even get many people to love being around them because they're simply fun. That may be why people automatically think to recommend them for a promotion or advocate for them when there's room for advancement. 
But, while the extraverted chatter who wanders from department to department talking to everyone about the weekend might be a likable person, they can also be hugely distracting. This type of behavior is deceptively toxic; it's not conducive to a productive workplace.

5. They start drama in other's careers.

Toxic people are notorious for starting drama — and they even do this in other people's careers. They know that, if they can get rid of their competition, they have a better chance of succeeding. So they'll spread rumors, gossip and create unbearable drama in the workplace to make their competitors look like bad suitors for the promotion.

6. They're painfully negative.

Toxic people have a tendency to be negative. They may be negative about their jobs or salaries, or they may complain so much about needing more money to support their family or pay off their loans. (Disclaimer: It's never a good thing to tell a manager why you need the raise, rather than why you deserve it!)
Perhaps a pushover-type manager will be sick of hearing it and switch this toxic employee into a new position to keep the peace. Of course, this doesn't always happen. And, typically, negativity won't get you ahead in the workplace (it'll likely do quite the opposite). But a manager who is dealing with bigger issues might promote a toxic employee just to appease and pacify.

7. They're a workplace martyr.

A toxic employee might spend a lot of time telling everyone willing to listen just how much and how hard they work, even through their burnout. They'll be sure to be the first one at the office and the last to leave, and they'll create extra work and stresses for themselves out of thin air. They'll never take time off, and work-life balance isn't even a term in their vocabulary.
Of course, forward-thinking managers know that a burnt-out employee will not make a successful leader, but a misguided manager might feel for a workplace martyr and give them the promotion for which this toxic employee is basically begging.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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