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Toxic employees – know how to handle them so you don’t lose your best employees

August 30, 2018

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Toxic employees continue to wreak havoc on the workplace. However, instead of confronting them, other employees tend to do little to address them directly, according to a 2017 survey by Fierce, Inc., leadership development and conversation experts.
According to over a thousand full-time employees across the U.S., over half (53%) say they handle toxic employees by ignoring them, with less than a quarter (24%) confronting these individuals directly. 41% of respondents think that once alerted, management also does nothing to address the situation.

“In a healthy work environment, any issue that affects the way you and your colleagues work should be addressed directly, and this includes toxic employees, as even just one can impact an organization immensely,” said Stacey Engle, executive vice president at Fierce, Inc. “Company leaders need to ensure that all employees are empowered with the tools to address these toxic individuals in a productive and ultimately successful way.”

What is a Toxic Employee?
A negative attitude is cited by the majority of respondents as both the most toxic and most detrimental trait an employee can have. Other factors considered toxic include laziness and blaming others for problems.  Over half (54%) believe that whether it’s a peer, manager, or other company leader, all are equally detrimental to an organization.

According to SHRM, the most common and destructive toxic behaviors include:
·        Backstabbing, criticizing and blaming
·        Gossiping and spreading rumors
·        Agreeing in meetings, but not following through afterward
·        Hoarding information
·        Purposely undermining others
·        Caring only about personal agendas (over team and company goals)

The Impact of Toxic Employees
On a personal level, toxic employees increase the stress level of those around them and decrease overall job satisfaction. For the organization as a whole, a toxic employee decreases morale, productivity, and the quality of work product. For women, toxic employees have an even greater detrimental effect. 10% more women reported toxic employees increase their likelihood to leave a job than their male counterparts.

69% of those surveyed wish their organizations were less tolerant of these individuals. More than three-quarters (76%) say a special talent or skill never or infrequently outweighs the impact of a co-worker’s negativity.

However, just over a quarter (27%) believe an overly toxic employee should be fired, with the majority (67%) unsure, or note that it depends on the situation.

Can a Toxic Employee be Saved?
Less than 1 in 5 surveyed believe a co-worker will change once confronted. Fierce experts believe, however, that the root cause of a lack of change is likely due to a widespread lack of confrontation skills across organizations.

“While addressing issues is key to any healthy relationship, there are effective and ineffective ways to go about it, with one creating positive results and the other having the potential to make things worse,” continued Engle. “A successful confrontation will leave both parties feeling like the relationship has been enriched and issues have been resolved.”

How to Handle a Toxic Employee
1.      Dig Deeper – Set up a one on one meeting with the employee and try to find out the root cause of their behavior.  Are they unhappy?  Why?  Are they having personal life issues?  Use this information to coach them or identify resources for help.

2.      Give Direct Feedback – Often times, the toxic employee doesn’t realize the effect their behavior is having on those around them or to the company as a whole.  Objectively explain the behavior and its effects, using specific, concrete examples.

3.      Explain the Consequences – Be honest with the employee as to what will happen if their behavior does not improve.  Set forth clear expectations and be specific about potential consequences if those expectations are not met.

4.      Document Everything – Should the employee not change, be sure you’ve documented every offense, its impact, and your response.
 
According to a study by talent management company, Cornerstone on Demand, 54% of high performing employees are more likely to resign when they work with a toxic employee.  Their effect can be widespread and have detrimental effects that ripple throughout an organization.  Be sure your managers know how to identify and deal with a toxic employee.  If not, you could end up losing your best employees, while keeping the toxic employee.

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