A Few Thoughts on How to Deal with Toxic Employees

Chef und Mitarbeiterin stehen sich gegenüber

They have different shticks and strategies, faces and can be male or female. But we all know the, and we just have the most horrible time dealing with them: toxic coworkers. Be it the people who play office politics, the people who engage in the blame game and seek out everyone’s faults (exept their own, of course), the tattletales who fuel the rumour mill and bad-mouth colleagues, or the overall negative people. There are many kinds of toxic peopleand you have at least some of them in your company, too.

One of the questions you asked our speakers at Global Female Leaders 2017 was about exactly this topic, and in this post we will try to tackle it. It was posed during the Dr Linda Sharkey’s Insight Presentation on How to Futureproof your Workplace.

Your question:

How do you manage toxic peers? Do you engage in eliminating them from the company? “

We will try to discuss this topic from a leader’s perspective. What can be done, if you are confronted with leading toxic people?

Why toxicity is bad for business

Today we know that the quality of our social circle is important for more things than just for our leisure time. For one thing, friends have real health benefits and being isolated is about as bad as being an alcoholic, twice as dangerous as being obese and as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Of course at work we are not completely isolated. But even here the quality of our social contacts does have an impact. Because good, healthy relationships enhance our well-being, while poor social interactions do just the opposite. And our well-being is directly correlated to our performance.

Consider these facts:

  • People who feel good get more and better sleep. Better sleep means performing betteraon a cognitive level and, thus, making better decisions, being better at focusing, working creatively, or paying attention.
  • Well-being gives people a feeling of purpose that is linked to personal growth and control, making them more able to concentrate on completing tasks effectively.
  • Among other things it makes people more creative, it makes them exercise more and it prevents burnout.
Geschäftsmann entspannt am See

All of these things can be enhanced (or inhibited) by the organisational culture that surrounds us. And, while we all want to cultivate an atmosphere in the workplace that is positive, open and inviting to creative thinking and proposing ideas, toxic people can disrupt any attempt of achieving this, creating what we know as a toxic workplace. In this work environment drama, infighting and personal battles will harm productivity. And usually, a few toxic employees (or leaders!) can be enough to destroy your corporate culture.

How to deal with toxic employees?

The best way to do this is obvious, but for our purposes we will ignore it: don’t hire them!

Sadly, this isn’t always possible because we can’t look into a person’s head or judge everyone’s character right by talking to them a couple of times. The other side of this coin would be firing a toxic employee, but this also isn’t possible in many cases. So let’s assume, there is already a toxic person working in your team. Here are some pointers on how to deal with them.

1) Analyse how they affect the workplace in a negative way.

When you first realise that somebody is a toxic co-worker, it is best to analyse exactly how they impact the workplace in a negative way. Do they constantly put other people down? Do they spread rumours? Do they have the need to one-up their colleagues whenever possible? Analyse the nature of their toxic behaviour in order to know how to proceed.

2) Talk to them and try to understand.

There are instances, when toxic people don’t even realise what they are doing. In other scenarios they do know what they are doing, but they do it anyway for emotional reasons. Maybe they cannot stop themselves. Maybe they are frustrated, don’t feel valued or their workload puts a lot of pressure on them. Maybe they have personal problems. Try to find out just by talking to them and, in case you can, offer some help. Help can come in many forms, like coaching, literature and other resources, or even just meeting for lunch every now and then to talk.

3) Don’t forget to tell them!

As their superior it is your responsibility to tell them about their specific behaviour that is impacting the workplace and point out its effect. Give them clear pointers on how to change it
and explain clear consequences should they fail to do so. Of course, in doing so you shouldn’t confront them with impossible goals. Improvement is a step by step process.

And what if this doesn’t help?

Well, some people just won’t change. Maybe they even find their behaviour entertaining. In that case, the only thing you can do is build a long-term case against them and limit the amount of damage they cause. We found a very well put-together article on that in the Harvard Business Review and hope you enjoy reading it.

Pictures: contrastwerkstatt, zmijak, alphaspirit | de.fotolia.com

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