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Monthly Business e-Tips Vol 7
Issue 7

The Toxic Employee

"A business organization whose employees are happy is more productive, has a higher morale, and has a lower turnover." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In an economy that forces companies to squeeze more out of less, the survival of the toxic employee comes as a surprise. I am currently working with two clients, both struggling with how to handle a key employee who causes more problems than solves.

The toxic employee can be charming and may even perform well independently, but they are not team players. They can be manipulative and backstabbing, and are often responsible for spreading office rumors. Masters at the blame game and talking big, they repeatedly fall short on follow through, arriving late and heading out before a project is complete. They complain constantly. Often they are passive aggressive personalities, which causes destruction to spread subtly. But their negative attitude and rude behaviors affect morale and can cause significant damage. Sound like anyone you know?

In their book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, Christine Pearson and Christine Porath present data from a national survey documenting the damage caused by toxic employees. They write, "To understand the impact of incivility on performance, we polled several thousand managers and employees from a diverse range of U.S. companies about their responses to rudeness at work and learned that among those on the receiving end:

48% decreased their work effort,
47% decreased their time at work,
38% decreased their work quality,
66% said their performance declined,
80% lost work time worrying about the incident,
63% lost time avoiding the offender, and
78% said their commitment to the organization declined."

So how do you handle a toxic employee? Here are my recommendations:

  • Address the issues immediately. Take action and respond before this person poisons your company's culture and infects its core values. Avoidance will only contribute to the problem and you'll risk losing the respect of your employees.
  • Check out your concerns with others. Get confirmation. Verify behaviors and incidents by collecting specific details from colleagues and team members. You'll need this clarity before speaking with the employee. It is important to document all incidents, and one-on-one meetings, to protect yourself legally.
  • Discuss behavior with your troubling employee. Communicate clearly and be specific about the issues and events. If you are vague or try to sugarcoat the situation, the message will not come across. Listen to their response then put together a plan asking for specific changes in behavior within a targeted timeframe. Take responsibility if you haven't been clear about expectations.
  • Provide a written warning notice. If the terms are not met, be quick to terminate.
  • Meet with affected employees. After the dismissal, accept responsibility for allowing that employee's behavior, while letting your staff know it won't happen again.
Protect your valued employees by stopping the disrespect immediately. Return to a
healthy and productive work environment by acting NOW!

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