Let’s End the “Toxic Employee” Talk

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People are complex—which makes for an interesting workforce. Since we do not live in a perfect world, problems and complications arise at work, potentially bringing out some undesired traits from your employees. That said, labeling employees as toxic is counterintuitive to building workplace culture. Employees can have a bad day or week at work, but should they define how leaders view their talent? Great leadership requires one to look beyond the surface to see where the heart of the issues lies. Instead of writing team members off as toxic employees, look into what’s driving their behaviors and how you can work together to address these toxic behaviors: 

Behavior: Negative Nancy

Employees who speak negatively about their work environment can spell trouble for a company. It’s true, they decrease morale, but there may be a valid reason for their dissatisfaction.

Solution: Talking about problems is awkward for anyone—especially in the workplace. Instead of opting for a formal sit down—which can be intimidating—partner with your employee by taking a softer approach. For example, grab a cup of their favorite coffee or beverage and have a casual chat. Mention that you’ve noticed they seem a bit unhappy and offer your help in fixing the situation. You might find that they feel unrecognized, or a personal matter could be throwing them off of their game. When you meet your team on their turf, they’ll be less guarded and defensive, which allows them to be honest. When handled properly, leaders can turn a disenfranchised worker into their most loyal employee.

Behavior:  Slacking

Perhaps you have an employee who started out trailblazing the organization, turning in phenomenal work on time and exceeding expectations. Recently, though, they begin to miss deadlines, offering up excuses with no solutions to the issue.

Solution: If they started out on top of everything, chances are, something is not quite right. Pop in and ask about their workload. To be clear, don’t start the conversation talking about their decline in performance, as your employee might feel cornered. Instead praise them for the things they are doing well then segue into how they feel about their workload. There could be too many commitments assigned to your employee and they were not sure how to broach the subject. In doing so, you’re coming to your employee as a support system rather than an enforcer.

Behavior: Bullying

This is an employee who lacks in the social etiquette department and can be insensitive to others, creating a sense of opposition in the workplace.

Solution: As this employee can potentially create a hostile work environment, it’s best to use a swift and progressive approach. Set up a meeting with the employee and tactfully explain the issue at hand. Give them the opportunity to explain their behavior and then encourage them to take workplace sensitivity training courses. It may very well be that their social graces need refining, but no one gave them the chance to actually work on the problem.

The Takeaway: Toxic Employee Behavior

People are not inherently ‘toxic,’ however they may display negative behaviors from time to time. It turns out there’s a common theme to all of these behaviors — it’s all about communication. Because humans are complex creatures with varying emotions, it’s necessary to check in and see how things are going. If supervisors and leaders have their heads in the sand, many cues to ongoing issues go unnoticed. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to initiate such talks, especially because they can be challenging and employees are not sure on how to approach the conversation. Remember, you hired your team for a reason, and while they possess the qualities that prompted you to hire them, they still need feedback and support. Unsure of where to start? Try collecting feedback through anonymous employee surveys to test the waters. Survey your team and see how they feel about their environment. When you take the time to communicate, you’re ultimately investing in your people, making your workplace culture that much better.

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