Toxic Employees: You’ve Identified One at Your Business, Now What?

Angry crazy modern designer in glasses with beard yelling and crumpling paper on his workplace

Toxic employees aren’t uncommon. In fact, some experts predict it’s likely every organization has at least one on their team right now. And while many business owners and hiring managers believe the best defense is a good offense - never hire a toxic candidate in the first place - it’s inevitable one will slip through the hiring cracks and their destructive behavior will begin to damage your business.

Early Identification Matters

The first step is to identify the bad apple. In a previous blog, we discussed 10 types of toxic employees. When an employee is toxic, not only does their behavior impact the team, but it has the ability to spread among its members. Whether the employee in question gossips excessively, manipulates coworkers and managers, constantly passes judgment or is just plain twisted, all types of toxic employees are capable of single-handedly breaking your company down from the inside out creating factions, causing turnover, decreasing productivity, generating drama and creating resentment. Consider this statistic - one study found good employees quit at a 54 percent higher rate when they work with a toxic employee.

Toxic Employees: How one bad apple spoils the bunch

Management Can Be Difficult

If working with a toxic employee is difficult, imagine managing and being held responsible for their performance and behavior? Not knowing what to do, managers may freeze. Often it can be difficult to get other leaders in the organization to believe the toxic employee’s behavior is grounds for termination, as it may not go against previously established guidelines (i.e. violence, harassment, substance abuse). Or the manager may fear confronting the toxic employee could result in litigation if not handled properly. What about when the toxic employee is the organization’s highest performing employee? Worry about not being able to replace the employee’s specialized skill set is a big factor in not acknowledging the toxic behavior.

Strategies for Managing a Toxic Employee

If terminating the toxic employee is not an option at this time, or you are hopeful the employee’s behavior can be curtailed with some proper coaching, here are some tips to guide the way.

Take a closer look. A toxic employee is still human, just like all of us. There may be issues outside the work environment that are negatively impacting the employee’s attitude at work include a struggling personal relationship, death or financial troubles. On the work-related side, the employee may be bored or unhappy with the duties currently assigned to them, or the individual may have been dealing with a difficult client for some time. If anything is revealed, remember to show empathy and provide support.

Provide feedback.  Surprisingly, toxic employees rarely see themselves or their behavior as problematic. When providing feedback, be honest and direct citing incidences of the damaging behavior. This will give them the best opportunity to identify and correct the problem. Beyond citing the problematic behavior, provide examples of acceptable types of behavior.

Consider coaching.  Coaching should be engaged in a positive manner, rather than as a punishment. Demonstrate your first approach to this type of situation is to work with the individual in a productive manner - building them up, not tearing them down. When coaching, remember these tips for a successful experience:

  • Ask questions.
  • Actively listen.
  • Work through problems.
  • Offer creative solutions.
  • Provide resources.
  • Clearly define expectations.
  • Agree upon next steps.

Explain consequences.  Some people need to see what they risk losing before they are willing to change. You can start by revoking certain job perks, like work from home privileges and flexible schedules. More severe consequences include:

  • Transfer.
  • Termination.

Document everything.  It’s a fact of life - some people won’t be able to change or will choose not to change. If it comes down to terminating the employee, you must have proper documentation to protect your business in the event of a lawsuit. Other benefits of documentation include:

  • Allows managers to organize their thoughts.
  • Provides a “Script” for the counseling meeting.
  • Establishes a written record of facts.
  • Helps the employee know what to do.
  • Demonstrates consistency.
  • Allows the organization’s business reasons to stand up in court.

Whether the toxic employee is your high-performer or a major procrastinator, you must have one set of rules by which all employees must abide. Rationalizing one employee’s behavior because he regularly exceeds his sales goals can be as toxic as the toxic employee himself. As a manager, creating a culture of accountability should be your goal, even though it may be uncomfortable at first.

In difficult situations like this, it may be in your best interest to contact a qualified HR professional, like the experienced team at Axcet HR Solutions, to provide guidance on how to turn the employee’s behavior around, proper documentation strategies, effective discipline and, if needed, expert advice on offboarding and terminating the employee.

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Written by Cori McClish