Toxic Employees and Protecting Your Team

A good manager can make a team; in the same way, a toxic employee can break a team. We have all experienced toxic behavior in the workplace and understand that it can seep into the morale of the team, detracting from productivity and making the workplace less positive. As an employer, this is concerning. One toxic employee can affect organizational satisfaction, productivity, and ultimately your bottom line.

Toxic employees are more than just difficult, they are disruptive. Knowingly or unknowingly, they spread discontent, causing conflict in the office, and making other employees uncomfortable or unhappy. Toxic behaviors can come in many shapes and sizes. These behaviors can include a disruptive attitude or behavior, unwillingness to cooperate or work with peers, spreading rumors or causing conflict, or attempting to exert power over their peers in a damaging way. Whatever the behavior, it is clear an employee has become toxic to your workforce when they begin to alienate, intimidate, and/or ostracize their peers. This behavior can fuel the development of a toxic culture, decreasing employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.

While there are many ways to approach specific toxic behavior, here are some general tips:

  1. Always approach a toxic employee with empathy and understanding. The situation can be frustrating and this can be difficult, but trying to first understand where your employee is coming from and remaining diplomatic will result in the best outcome for everyone. If the behavior is a symptom of stress they are experiencing outside the workplace, the solution could be as simple as guiding them to your employee assistance program (EAP) or offering additional support.
  1. Understand why the employee is exhibiting the toxic behavior. While some individuals exert power in order to feel in control or are disruptive because they enjoy it, others exhibit this behavior as a response to stress. Understanding if your employee feels overwhelmed with their work, or is facing stress at home will help you to offer them the best option and provide a supportive solution.
  1. Provide training and support. In some instances offering recognition for an employee that seems demanding, or providing training for an employee who does not understand their role can provide the support an employee needs to be productive and positive. Offering options like this can also show a toxic employee that they are not finding the angry response they’d hoped for and the behavior may cease.
  1. Whatever solution you decide to implement, the first step should be a discussion with the employee. Listen to their side but make sure they understand why they are there. Give clear concise explanations of policy and what will happen if the behavior does not cease. In addition to on-going conversations, it is essential that you document everything. In the worst-case-scenario, the employee will not cease the behavior and disciplinary action will be necessary. Documentation is important at this stage, to ensure the protection of your organization and the understanding of the employee.

While handling toxic employees is never an easy task, your job is ultimately to protect your team, maintain a positive working environment, and ensure your organization is productive. When a toxic employee cannot change their behavior, it is time to let them go. At this step, it is important to remain empathetic and understanding. Be honest with the employee about their violation of organizational policy and ensure they understand what has brought them to this point. This will not only help you to protect your organization but may help the employee to improve their own performance in another position.

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