How to Handle Toxic Employees

Written by Datis Admin

July 17, 2018

How to Handle Toxic Employees

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Happy employees do better work. A study by the University of Warwick in England found that when workforce morale is high, employees are 12% more productive. Statistics like these have executives going above and beyond to try and increase employee satisfaction levels throughout their organizations. Unfortunately, there always seem to be a handful of employees who, regardless of executive efforts, continue to spread their negativity and disengagement around to their coworkers. We call them ‘toxic employees.’

We all know the type, rarely a positive thing to say, always reluctant to help a coworker in need, and spends most of their time just going through the motions, doing the bare minimum required to get by. This attitude isn’t only infectious, but it’s also detrimental to an organization’s ability to achieve its goals and objectives. Firing such an employee may be a quick fix, but what if that isn’t an option?

First off, replacing an employee is expensive. Research shows that replacing an employee costs an organization 6 to 9 months of the employee’s salary in recruiting and training expenses. Also, toxic employees, regardless of their attitude, can sometimes play important, irreplaceable roles within their organization. With this in mind, it’s worth trying other tactics to pull toxic employees out of their slump, and bring them up to speed with the rest of the workforce before showing them the door. Here are a few tips on how to handle the toxic employees within your organization.

Identify the Toxic Employees
Fortunately for managers and executives, there are multiple ways to identify toxic employees. For starters, a big indicator of a toxic employee is his or her performance. The same study by the University of Warwick that was referenced above suggests that unhappy employees are 10% less productive. With that said, performance appraisals can quite easily narrow down your search for the toxic employees within your organization. Modern performance management software can even analyze an individual employee’s contribution towards team goals and objectives, making this process even easier.

It’s also important to remember that there are different types of toxic employees. There are the gossipers, the excuse-givers, the blamers, the procrastinators, the ‘Debbie downers,’ and many others. Paying close attention to how employees interact with one another can also help expose employees that are negatively impacting the organization’s morale and culture. Once you think you’ve identified the toxic employees within your workforce, it might be time to schedule a time to talk in private.

Understand the Root of the Cause
Before rushing to conclusions and punishing the toxic employee, as a leader it’s important to take a step back and fully analyze their situation. Asking questions to better understand their constant discontent can open an important dialogue, one that reveals reasons why some employees aren’t as onboard and motivated as other within the organization. Does the employee feel left out or isolated? Would the employee prefer to work with another team? Is the employees boss favoring other coworkers? Getting answers to these questions can indicate quick fixes or long term strategies that can avoid toxic employees form arising in the future.

Sitting disgruntled employees down to talk, not argue or criticize, shows them that you’re both compassionate and understanding. While these talks aren’t always easy to have, if it means that you’ll in turn get a more productive employee and stop the spread of negativity to other employees, it’s worth it. You’ll also get a much clearer idea as to why employees at your organization may be unhappy. If the underlying reasons are personal, it’s also important to respect an employee’s privacy and be supportive, and possibly provide them with time off.

Provide Feedback
For the most part, no one intentionally tries to negatively affect the moods and attitudes of their coworkers. A lot of times, toxic employees are simply unaware of the damage they are doing to their organization. This is why feedback and guidance is so important. Such employees need to be told that their attitudes and actions have a direct impact on the people around them. This alone could change the employee’s habits around the office or at least make them mindful that their actions have caught the attention of the organization’s authority.

When providing feedback to toxic employees, it’s also a good idea to explain the consequences if they were to continue spreading negativity. There’s nothing that invokes change more than the threat of losing something valuable. Simply explaining that certain measures will need to be taken for the good of the organization if their behavior were not to change is a fair way to show that you mean business.

Toxic employees, as mentioned before, come in all shapes and sizes. Studies show that their behavior is contagious and a detriment to the wellbeing of an organization. It’s important to identify these employees early on, and gain an understanding of the root cause of their discontent. Once you’ve sat down with these employees, it’s then a good idea to continuously provide feedback and explain that if their actions continue, there will be serious actions taken.

This DATIS Blog was written by James Clark, DATIS, on January 15th, 2017 and may not be re-posted without permission.