If you are reading this, I can assume you know what a toxic employee is. Probably, a handful of names who fit the bill just popped in your head.
In case you aren't sure, a toxic employee is someone who creates issues in the workplace – but on an almost epic level. The difference between someone having a bad stretch and a toxic employee is the longevity and persistence of the issues.
How To Know Someone Is Toxic
Normal, competent, fantastic employees can be less than stellar from time to time. Maybe they or someone they love is dealing with health issues, maybe things aren't great at home.
Toxic employees are a different story. They consistently make the work environment difficult. It might be by spreading malicious gossip, it could be passive aggressive and snipey e-mails.
You might have someone who is aggressive in how they talk to co-workers or maybe they can't take any form of criticism without lashing out.
Whatever it is, when you have a toxic employee, they aren't just annoying. Toxic employees negatively impact the entire work environment.
Does It Matter?
In a nutshell, heck yes it does. Toxic employees create bad workplaces. They make it uncomfortable and they anger your best employees.
A toxic employee is poisoning your eco-system. When people have had enough, they quit. If you let it go on, you'll likely lose many of your best performers. And if you don't, you'll lose their trust and confidence.
I have seen fantastic employees get ground down by toxic behavior and it isn't pretty.
If you don't address it, other employees view it as encouraging the bad behavior. They stop feeling you are on their side.
What Do You Do About It
Sure, addressing bad behavior is awkward and unpleasant. But, you have to – if you are a manager it's your job!
If you quickly identify and correct toxic behavior you'll stave off employee dissatisfaction. You might also stand a chance of straightening out the toxic employee. Maybe no one has ever really called them on it or they aren't aware of how they come across.
Toxic employees don't just “snap out of it” or stop what they are doing.
With that said, let’s schedule a meeting with the employee who’s driving everyone nuts! Here’s how to do it:
1 – Prepare
Prepare specific examples of the offending behavior. Ideally, you'll have observed this first-hand so they can't turn it into a he said/she said moment. It isn't productive to say “I've heard you've been having a bad attitude lately.” They are going to react with a “when and what proof do you have” kind of response.
If you need to map out exactly what you'll say, write it out. If not, just figure out a rough outline in your head.
2 – Schedule A Private Location
Don't do this off the cuff in the middle of your office or in an open cubicle. No one deserves to be chastised in the open. Respect their privacy and realize they likely are going to have a reaction.
3 – Use The Sandwich Technique
If you are talking instead of terminating, you must value the toxic employee. You want to keep them on your team and maintain communications. It is easier to hear criticism when it is coming from someone who respects and values you.
4 – Be Direct
You want to be diplomatic and professional, but this isn't the time to be touchy-feely. Few toxic employees are truly aware of their behavior or the magnitude of the consequences. Don't beat around the bush.
“I've seen you struggling with your temper lately. Today, you threw a cup in the break room and I heard you yelling on the phone yesterday.” is a better approach than “Are you OK?”
5 – Realize They Will React
It is going to be uncomfortable. Humans usually react first and then respond. Be ready for blushing, excuses, tears and probably a little lashing out. Give them a moment to compose themselves. It will be awkward, that's OK!
If they can't pull it together or get abusive, you have a few options. You can say “I understand you are upset, but this behavior is unacceptable. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I need you to pull yourself together so we can continue talking.” If that doesn't snap them out of it, consider sending them home for the day.
I would be really clear, they need to come back the next day to continue talking and have an improved attitude, or you'll be faced with taking harsher action.
6 – Create A Plan For The Next Steps
You've addressed the issue, so how do they prevent it from continuing? Whether they need additional training or to work on their personal issues outside of the office, you should help them figure out how to move forward.
I would suggest you come up with a plan of a few regular meetings so you can provide support and make sure they are improving.
If you want to help prevent a toxic environment, I'd suggest regular check-ins with all of your staff. You'd be amazed at how open employees are when you have simple conversations.
Addressing Toxic Employee situations is never fun, but vital to maintaining employee morale and your office environment.
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