How to Handle Toxic Employees

Posted by Lee Yarborough on 5/26/21 1:45 PM
Lee Yarborough
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Posted on: May 26, 2021

If you have ever felt like you needed to walk on eggshells at work or considered calling in sick because you did not want to deal with a co-worker, then you may have experienced a toxic employee. The toxicity from just one employee can be overwhelming and disruptive to an organization. Toxic behavior can manifest in many ways making the conduct hard to identify. There is the office gossip who likes to stir up drama. Or the team member who always makes an excuse by saying that is “not my job.” Or the Know It All who thinks they are smarter than everyone and not open to learn. There is also the workaholic, who is prone to burnout, yet complains that no one else has their superior work ethic. And the worst is the manipulative bully who has no regard for authority or policies.

AdobeStock_303768661_01Do not confuse a toxic employee with a difficult employee. Difficult behavior can be coached and managed into more productive conduct. It usually stays isolated to the individual. Toxic behavior spreads and can poison an entire team. The saying, “one bad apple can spoil the bunch” holds true. One toxic employee can ruin morale, damage brand reputation, and undermine authority. Toxicity can increase stress, erode culture, and impact overall performance. Overall, they are harmful to an organization.

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Toxic employees hurt the bottom line due to lost productivity, higher turnover, and potential legal expenses. Cornerstone OnDemand studied the impact of employing toxic employees. The study found that good employees are 54% more likely to quit when a toxic employee is on their workforce. Higher turnover translates to hard dollars for replacement and training. Cornerstone OnDemand’s research quantified the cost of hiring a toxic employee as approximately $12,800 greater. Toxic employees can also impact production of the entire team by 30% to 40%.

If you have a toxic employee at your organization, this problem is too big to ignore. Here are some steps on how to proceed to detoxify your workplace.

Gauge the Behavior

AdobeStock_118359948_01Be aware of difficult behavior that crosses over to toxicity and begin to take steps. Are there underlying issues that are contributing to the behavior? Is the company morale eroding? Listen to other employees and gather information before determining next steps.

Talk to the Employee 

Once you have gathered information, it is time to sit down with the individual. Be straightforward and set clear expectations. Do not just say, “you need a better attitude,” give specific examples of the behavior and the impact to the organization. Make sure HR is involved and respect is displayed so that the employee does not become defensive. Set boundaries as well as firm deadlines to expect improvements.

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Follow the HR Golden Rule and document the investigation, specific incidents, the discussion, and the expectations. Establish regular meetings for follow up and feedback.

Isolate the Employee

AdobeStock_321354405_01We have all learned the value of social distancing over the past year in a pandemic. A toxic employee can be like a virus and the negativity can spread. If possible, minimize the amount of time he or she works with other members of the team. As you are working with the employee, it is best to keep the rest of the team focused on being positive and productive. This will also minimize gossip and office politics.

Be Prepared to Terminate

Unfortunately, there are times that counseling will not help, and you will have to make the difficult decision to end the employment relationship. Make this decision thoughtfully, yet quickly. If the individual is not showing signs of improvement, it is important that swift action is made to reduce the potential harm to your organization.

During my years in HR, I have seen too many businesses avoid dealing with toxic behavior because the employee was so brilliant, too important, or the best salesperson ever. It is tempting to rationalize that an individual is “too valuable”, but it is not wise. As business leaders, it is important to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole. Your credibility is at stake as well as the company’s performance and values. When faced with a toxic employee, act quickly and soundly to mitigate damage. Once the bad apple is removed, you will then be able to focus on building your organization and nurturing the rest of your team.

Propel HR President Lee Yarborough was recently elected Chair of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO) Board of Directors.   She spoke with PEO Insider  magazine to share where she thinks the industry is headed and how NAPEO can continue to grow.   Download a pdf version of the full interview:  A Passion To Serve 

About Propel HR.  Propel HR is an IRS-certified PEO that has been a leading provider of human resources and payroll solutions for more than 20 years. Propel partners with small to midsized businesses to manage payroll, employee benefits, compliance and risks, and other HR functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and reduces costs.

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Topics: Featured, Human Resources, Employees, Relationship Management, HR, "HR Services", Outsourced HR Services, Human Resources Services, Human Capital Management

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