All of us have days when we do & say things that we later regret. But then there are those employees! Those are the toxic employees we often refer to as control freaks, manipulators, bullies, narcissists & gossips.

Toxic employees displaying an ongoing pattern of counter-productive work behaviors are prevalent in the workplace. Employees say that:

  • 95% have & 64% are working with a toxic employee
  • 50% have thought of quitting & 12% did
  • 25% have reduced their work effort due to a toxic employee
  • 20% feel they are a target weekly & 10% see toxic behavior daily

Even so, I was still surprised when 66 people participated in a webinar I recently facilitated on this topic.

Toxic employees cause significant overt, covert, people-related & financial damage with their visible behavior just being the tip of the iceberg. Toxic employees cleverly:

  • Utilize their technical expertise to intimidate & manipulate
  • Know who to flatter & who they can abuse – turning their toxicity on & off depending on the impression they want to make

Organizations can prevent & address toxic language & behavior by:

  • Using behavioral-based interview questions to screen out toxic applicants
  • Conducting employee feedback surveys – allowing employees to identify any toxic behavior in the workplace
  • Defining appropriate & inappropriate interpersonal interactions – with behavior-specific descriptions & standards
  • Utilizing Executive Coaches to work with toxic employees who are in key roles
  • Training managers in how to address toxic behavior

Sometimes managers attempt to fix this problem by addressing a toxic employee’s attitude. While a toxic employee’s attitude certainly affects his/her behavior, managers usually find that influencing an employee’s attitude is next to impossible. Managers can be much more effective by:

  • Focusing their counseling feedback on the inappropriate behavior
  • Using positive & negative consequences to influence that behavior
  • Asking toxic employees to describe in writing how they will change their behavior

The following three models are being utilized by many managers to navigate these difficult counseling conversations:

Starting the Conversation:

  • We may have different views about … so I’d like to present mine & hear yours
  • We’ve had some difficulties recently & I’d like us to agree on how to address two issues
  • I have not effectively talked to you about how your behavior has impacted the team. So, I’m going to start now. I want to discuss an incident that occurred this week

Conducting the Conversation:

  • I would like to talk to you about …
  • I’ve observed … [the inappropriate behavior]
  • I am concerned about this behavior because … [the negative impact]
  • What do you think will be the consequences if you continue to …?
  • What are you going to do to correct this behavior?

Ending the Conversation:

  • I wish we had had this conversation sooner, but I’m now pleased with our direction
  • I feel that if we had not talked, our relationship would have deteriorated
  • I appreciate your candor. It was not pleasant for either of us. But I am hopeful for our positive working relationship in the future

These folks can be a challenge and their behavior is not likely to change if we:

  • Wish & hope they will change – Management’s silence is approval
  • Appease them – ‘I don’t want to bother you but…’
  • Abdicate our responsibility – ‘Just stop’
  • Are bureaucratic – ‘The policy says …’
  • Are two faced – ‘It doesn’t bother me but …’

Many times, organizations wait, wait, wait & then terminate. But even termination is often not a cure-all because:

  •  Toxic-enabling people & cultural reinforcers may remain
  • Employees impacted by the toxic employee may resent not only the way they were treated but also the time it took the organization to react
  • The toxic employee’s competencies & experience are lost

“When a workplace becomes toxic, its poison spreads beyond its walls and into the lives of its workers and their families.”
Gary Chapman

Read More Newsletters…