Managing Toxic Employees
Toxic employees, while representing only a small percentage of the total workforce, do indeed exist. In fact, according to Cornerstone On Demand’s 2015 study, “Toxic Employees In the Workplace: Hidden Costs and How to Spot Them,” of 63,000 employees, approximately 3 to 5 percent of those employees met the criteria for being disciplined as a “toxic employee.” Furthermore, the presence of one bad apple can cause the entire team’s performance to drop by 30% to 40%. With such a drastic impact on the work environment, toxic employees can create an incredible burden to your staff and your organization.
Is it your imagination, or are they really toxic?
In his book The People Factor, Van Moody, a relationship expert, compiled the following checklist to determine if someone was a toxic colleague:
- Someone who stifles others’ talent and limits their advancement opportunities
- When pressured, he or she will twist circumstances and conversations to his or her benefit
- Someone who scolds or punishes others for mistakes (often publicly) instead of helping them make corrections
- An individual who reminds co-workers constantly or publicly of a disappointing experience or unmet expectation
- He or she takes credit for others’ new ideas and extra efforts, or simply avoids giving them any recognition for them
- Someone who focuses solely on meeting her or his goals at the expense of others
- An individual who fails to respect co-workers’ needs for personal space and time
If the employee in question consistently exhibits some or all of the above behaviors, they fall into the toxic category.
How to deal with toxic employees
Once you have concluded that the employee is indeed toxic, you will need to approach them to address their behavior. The following five suggestions will help you handle this uncomfortable situation:
- Review all complaints brought against the toxic employee and find the common denominator. It is often said that if three witnesses see the same accident, you will get three different versions of what transpired. But within those versions, there will be very specific details that each of these accounts have in common. Remember, it is important that you stay focused on the facts, not feelings or opinions.
- Do not make it personal, do not make it public and do not back down. Your first meeting with the toxic employee should be private. Examine the situation together and analyze the facts around what is transpiring. Make sure you express yourself in a clear and professional manner to let them know where you stand. You are the manager, and this is strictly a professional problem that needs to be diffused in a positive way.
- Document all of your encounters. Keep a log of the date, time, and what transpired in each specific encounter. Write down just the pertinent facts. Don’t let your emotions paint an exaggerated picture of an already negative situation.
- Provide help if possible. If the toxic behavior stems from a personal difficulty, offer assistance available through your employer; private counseling, financial counseling and/or substance abuse services are resources many employers provide to assist their employees.
- Take it to the next level if necessary. Toxicity can cause absenteeism and high turnover among your workforce, costing potentially thousands of dollars in lost revenue. If the employee’s toxic behavior persists and all your attempts to mediate have not improved the situation, speak with your supervisor. Show them your incidents list, and be as clear, dispassionate and specific as possible. You have every right to ask for help, especially if the problem requires termination.
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