Ask an HR consultant about the best way to deal with toxic employees and they’ll tell you to avoid hiring them in the first place! While this is sound advice, it comes as cold comfort to you if you’ve already made the hire and are now dealing with managing toxic behaviour.
Don’t beat yourself up. Toxic employees can be difficult to spot when you first meet them.
Be sure they are true toxic employees
The first step is to make sure you’re dealing with a true toxic employee, as opposed to someone who’s just being difficult or lazy or going through a tricky time or transition. It may just be a case of an underperforming employee, so investigate the situation to understand precisely what’s going on before you jump to any conclusions.
The root cause of the behaviour may be of a personal nature, such as a relationship breakdown, or money troubles, rather than being hell bent on destroying your business. If this is the case, most HR professionals say it’s best not to get involved beyond lending a supportive ear or helping them find resources that might help them with their problems. Obviously, if their performance continues to suffer, then you’ll need to manage this as well.
However, if the person is behaving in ways that are harmful to your company, then it’s likely you’re dealing with toxic employees. A toxic employee can potentially put the brakes on business productivity, damage your business reputation, and destroy morale – all which can come as a big blow to your bottom line.
So how do you spot truly toxic employees? Know the signs and watch for these four common behaviours:
4 telltale signs of toxic employees
1. They constantly complain
Incessant negativity, and employees who never seem to be satisfied unless they have something to criticise are sure signs of toxicity. A toxic worker generally has negative things to say about the workplace, their workload, and the business. And they don’t mind telling anyone who’ll listen.
2. They say, “that’s not my job”
As you know, in small businesses it’s important that everyone thinks on their feet and can adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes to get things done. Now, we’re not talking about asking your marketing staff to clean the bathrooms, or your accounts department to go out on sales calls, it’s more an attitude of willingness to jump in – sometimes without being asked. Those who simply say “that’s not my job”, probably aren’t well suited to a small business environment, or being a team player. In fact, this type of behaviour can quickly destroy overall team cohesion.
3. Toxic employees gossip
There’s nothing harmless about gossip when it means employees are wasting time that could be better spent on productive conversations. Gossip can quickly become a breeding ground for negativity. And worse, it could actually undermine a colleague’s self-esteem, or cause good people to leave your business.
4. They slack off
Those employees who never seem to get any work done and don’t pull their own weight will drag their team down, and with it your business. Remember, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have a team of star employees, along with one slacker, the slacker in the team will quickly bring everyone else down to their level. Not only do slackers fail to do their work but they can also distract others.
Tackle infection head-on before it spreads
If you have spotted any of these toxic behaviours, try and tackle the infection head-on before it spreads across your team.
If it comes to having to fire a toxic employee, don’t be rash. Make sure you follow due process, and give them every chance to mend their ways.
For your employees, think about providing some education and coaching about toxic behaviours during your onboarding process, and training managers to detect early signs.
Of course, like we said in the beginning, the best way to deal with toxic employees is not to hire them in the first place. Learn to spot toxic traits at the interview stage with these five potent behavioural questions.
For more on detecting toxic behaviour early and avoiding the damaging impact of bad apples in your business, download our free eBook, How to manage a toxic employee.
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