Toxic Employees: How to Detect and Deal with Them

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Charles interrupts Anne during her presentation and makes a snarky remark. The next day when Anne enters the lunch room he stops mid-sentence, and the people he is talking to go silent. As soon as Anne makes her coffee and leaves, she hears him whispering and snickering with co-workers.

No matter what form they take, you can be 100% certain that toxic employees are affecting your organization’s performance?

A study in a Forbes article,  indicates that rude employees and workplace incivility costs companies about $14,000 per employee due to lost productivity and work time.

If you’re in a positon of leadership and not paying close attention to this problem, you’re actively hindering the success of your company.

The first step to addressing this issue is detecting the people that are killing your workplace culture and probably causing the good ones to question if they’re working in the right organization.  

The bully

If you think that bullies only exist in schools, you’re wrong. In fact, according to research by Dr. Judy Blando from the University of Phoenix, 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

The bully isn’t always the scariest person on the team; in fact, they can come off as charismatic. The bullies in your office are the ones making fun of others. Some of them do it lightheartedly because they’re trying to get a laugh.

Then there are the worse kind of office bullies; they're the ones who corner others, make them feel bad, feed on their insecurities, and manipulate them to do their work for them.

The whiner

Employees should be encouraged to have a voice to share their concerns and grievances. It's ok to stand up for what is right; however, there's a difference between speaking up against something that is wrong and whining about something you personally don't like.

The whiner has to let everyone know when they’re unhappy about something. They may not agree with a policy or don’t like the new software everyone is expected to transition too. Whiners complain in the hopes that they find someone to agree with them so that they can be miserable together.

The yeller

Not every organization has yellers; the ones that do will tell you they’re no fun. They’re the ones who lose their temper easily. They shout at co-workers or even at people they’re on the phone with. They sometimes get away with it by claiming they’re “just having a bad day.”

Whether they’ve got something going on in their personal lives or they just lose it under stressful situations, it’s still uncomfortable for the people who have to witness their breakdowns.

The slacker

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break occasionally; in fact, it’s good for productivity. But imagine someone who looks like their breaks last longer than the actual time they work. These are the ones surfing the net all day or hanging out in the break room shooting the breeze. The reason these people are toxic is that their laziness can be infectious.

The gossipmonger

The gossipmonger is one of the most toxic of the bunch. Some gossip for giggles, while others do it to manipulate colleagues. Gossipmongers are the ones who treat the office like a soap opera, injecting drama and intrigue in everything for their own entertainment.

Gossipmongers thrive on attention and are constantly looking for anyone to exchange dirt with. While some of the stuff they say is true, there’s never a good reason why people in the office need to know about other’s private business.

Dealing with Toxic Employees

Before you confront a toxic employee, establish their pattern of behavior and document instances when their behavior has negatively impacted others.

Everyone has a story. And as irritating and poisonous as the toxic employee is, they have one too. Some people might not be self-aware. The ones who are willing to acknowledge their actions and express willingness to change, are the ones worth having a second conversation with.

Dylan Minor, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management, tells Harvard Business Review, “A manager can use this information to coach the person, or suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.”

If an employee is coachable, help them work through the behaviours holding them, and others back. Make sure their intention is honest though.

Someone who wants to change just to save their job (and reputation) isn’t changing for the right reasons. Make sure it’s because they believe in self-improvement . If they’re a high performer, you might consider hiring a coach to help them with a plan for improvement.

In situations where the toxic employee has already been called out for their behavior and they still haven’t demonstrated willingness to change, it’s time to show them the door.

The cost of onboarding a new employee might cross your mind but think about the cost of not letting them go. You could end up losing your star-performers if your company culture isn’t healthy.