How to deal with toxic employees and maintain effective work culture

Every employer wishes that the work environment in their organization is productive, positive and efficient. Every employer wishes that employees of his organization are motivated, reflect the organization values and have a high employee morale. But, not always do the things we wish for come true, do they? Maintaining a positive and proper work culture in an organization can be tricky as it is a very delicate topic. A workplace has employees from different backgrounds, beliefs, thinking and opinions, so making sure that all reflect the organization values and gel easily into your work culture can be difficult. As a business Consultant and Life Coach in Nashville, TN, I, Gordon Grigg, believes that even one employee who does not share company values or just doesn’t fit in the workplace culture can lower the morale and affect productivity of other employees. In HR discussions, these employees are usually referred to as the ‘toxic employees’.

A study by Harvard Business Review reveals that avoiding hiring a toxic employee can save an organization twice more than what they would have earned from hiring a well performing employee. Studies also show that 54 percent of good employees are more likely to quit their job when there is a toxic employee at the workplace. Yet hiring a toxic employee is inevitable. No matter how well defined and filtered your hiring process is, toxic employees somehow slip through and become a part of an organization. It is very important for companies to take steps to identify toxic employees and deal with them in the best possible way.

Warnings signs that toxic employee is present in your organization
Did you know dealing with a toxic employee is not difficult? The most difficult part is correctly and timely identification of toxic employees. From a bully to gossiper, slacker to ignorant, burned out to social butterfly, toxic employee can be of various types. Any of these types of toxic employee can create an imbalance in the work culture and cohesion of your organization.

Want to check if there are any toxic employees in your organization? Check out for these warning signs:

1. Negative or low response to company initiatives – You may often come across people who do not support most company initiatives. Not only they seem uninterested, they involve other people into their negative thoughts too but never openly. You may have often heard people talking hush hush about some new team building activity or gathering the company is planning. If you feel an employee or group of employees are harboring negative thoughts and spreading them to others, they can be classified as toxic.

2. Instances of workplace bullying or harassment – Have you often come across complaints of a person bullying his team members? It may be an official complaint or come to you through the grapevine. Have you seen a team member bulldozing other people’s ideas or opinions? Well, bullying or bulldozer traits are a clear sign of toxicity and you should watch out for.

3. Displaying privilege or pride – It has often been seen that employee with special skills or with a long history with the company or a good position in the company display pride in their interactions. No employee likes having a “know-it-all” as a peer or senior. When an employee displays privilege, they often disregard the ideas, thoughts and views of other employees, especially juniors and new employees.

4. Constantly complaining or whining – Do you have an employee who is constantly complaining about something or the other? His whining may not always be about something at work, it can be related to anyone or anything. People who complain constantly find something wrong in everything and build up negativity. This building negativity often spreads to other employees in your organization.

How to deal with toxic employees and maintain proper work culture
Toxic employees have a negative impact on the overall work culture, employee productivity and happiness. So, never take toxic traits of employees lightly. Even though it may seem small at the time, it will grow and act as a poison for your work culture. The sooner you deal with toxic traits of an employee, lesser is the damage done to your organization. Every employee and situation are different, so careful consideration and communication is required.

Here are few ways that you can use to deal with toxic employees and stop them before they poison the entire business process:

1. Identify early on – Keep an eye open for situations that showcase someone’s toxic trait, no matter how minor or severe. Early identification will help nip the problem in the bud and reduce the effects on other employees. Chances are the employee does not even realize his behavior is toxic. For example, they may feel that gossiping with fellow employees is just for entertainment and do not realize the negativity being spread through it. Sometimes, a single discussion with them may change things just ensure that you take action proactively.

2. Never avoid confrontations – It has been often seen that managers or HRs avoid confrontations related to toxic traits. The belief that everyone is grown up at the workplace and has a good understanding may not always stand true. Whenever, you come across any situation that indicates toxic trait of an employee, no matter how minor it is, don’t turn a blind eye. Have a one-on-one conversation with the employee and share your concerns.

3. Create a clear set of guidelines – To ensure that everyone receives the same treatment, it is important to have clear set of rules and processes, and what are consequences and actions that can be taken. Document clearly what is considered as professional behavior and what is not. This document should be shared not only with new employees but also with existing employees. Ensure that you make this document as a part of your onboarding process.

4. Do not use threats as a measure of action – Remember, no one wants to be toxic on purpose, but their background, current situation in life, past difficulties and other factors may be influencing their behavior. Try to understand what they are going through in life, and understand if it is resulting in a negative behavior in their personal and professional lives. Remember, empathy is always better than threats. When you show empathy towards a person, they will be willing to share their problems and understand the solutions you are proposing. If you use threat as an action directly, they will feel cornered and attacked and may become more toxic.

5. Practice what you preach – As a leader and stakeholder in the organization, make sure you practice what you want the employees to learn. For example, if you find that in a team the hardworking people are always covering the mistakes or pending work of a fellow employee, do not turn blind eye just because the work is getting done on time. If you do so, you will become an enabler allowing them to continue, thus being unfair to your hardworking employees. If you show preference towards an employee or give special benefits to someone, then you may become the root cause of toxic environment. You need to ensure you follow consistent standards for everyone, irrespective of their seniority.

6. Create a plan of action and follow-up – Firing an employee is not the only solution for dealing with toxic situations, you can guide them to improve their behavior too. The choice between letting an employee go or allowing them to change their behavior will depend on what are their toxic traits, how it is affecting the work culture and their willingness to bring a change in their attitude. Be a mentor and guide the employee at every turn they need.
When an employee understands his toxic behavior and is willing to change, then create a detailed action plan for the time moving forward. Set clear expectations in terms of behavior. Regularly monitor and follow up on the plan. If there are no improvements, you may need to consider termination. Remember, bringing a change in a person’s habits and personality cannot happen overnight; there is a long road ahead.

7. Be communicative and transparent – When an employee leaves the organization or is terminated, make sure you clearly tell other employees on what happened and the steps you took for improvement. Being clear about how you tackled toxic behavior of the employee or how their toxicity affected the work culture. Make sure you do not talk negatively about the person who left, talk about them with respect and dignity. This will build transparency and trust among your people. If you keep the entire thing hush hush, it leads to speculation among employees and adds fuel to the negative environment.

Dealing with a toxic employee is never easy! Though it may hurt, sometimes, letting go is the best option to preserve the brand, culture, and growth. It is always better to seek the help of a life and business coach to bring the transformation you wish to see in your organization. Myself, Gordon Grigg, has been helping businesses in Nashville, TN bring a change in their work culture, help employees build a positive mindset and reduce negativity. Share your thoughts and concerns with me, and we will together find a way moving forward.

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