• Andreas Dankelmann

How to pinpoint and address toxic employees

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Even the best hiring managers make mistakes; occasionally employees who aren’t a great fit for the role or the culture slip through the cracks. If these employees go undetected and unaddressed, they can wreak havoc on your bottom line.

Common signs and symptoms of toxic employees:

They’re entitled. Entitlement often shows up as resentment. If an employee is resentful that they were passed over for an opportunity, it may signal entitlement.

They’re not the right fit. When someone isn’t the right fit for the role they’re in, they struggle to succeed. This eventually leads them to become disengaged, which demotivates the employee and their colleagues who get stuck picking up the slack.

They’re under performing. When an employee consistently misses deadlines, is late, or submits poor quality work, it not only indicates disengagement, but also affects team morale and productivity.

They’re resistant to changes taking place in your organization. While some people are naturally more cautious about changes taking place, if there are employees who outright oppose changes, they may end up stirring the pot.

They don’t trust their colleagues and gossip about others.

When employees engage in this kind of behavior, it erodes trust amongst the team. Without trust, the team can’t have healthy conflict and commit to decisions, which ultimately ends up impacting business results.

They disrespect authority. When employees badmouth their boss or flagrantly disobey orders, these signs point to a toxic employee. When other employees witness this behavior and see it go unaddressed, they lose faith in the team’s leadership and the overall expectations of the team drop.

How to deal with toxic employees

What do you do once you’ve spotted a toxic employee? While logic might tell you to let them go, a better first step would be to identify the root cause of their behavior. Here are some practical next steps to take:

They’re entitled: Make sure you’re having conversations with your employees about their career path. Perhaps they were overlooked because they hadn’t expressed interest in a position or promotion, or perhaps they weren’t ready for it. Either way, communicate your perspective with the employee and establish clear expectations for their professional development within the organization. If the attitude persists, that’s cause for concern.

They’re not the right fit: If an employee is struggling to perform their job responsibilities well, consider a lateral move to another role that’s a better fit for their behavioral tendencies.

They’re under performing: It’s easy to believe that under performing employees just aren’t motivated, but take a step back and ask yourself: Were expectations clearly set with regards to deadlines, quality, and meeting times? Or is there a possibility that there was a miscommunication? If expectations have been clearly set, and you’ve been consistent with feedback about unmet expectations, then you may just have an under performer.

They’re resistant to changes taking place in your organization: Some employees are naturally wired to like their work to be steady and consistent. Change may rattle them a bit. If you have employees like this, have a conversation with them about why change is happening and how it’s happening. This will help to alleviate most of their concerns. If they still aren’t coming along for the ride, they may not be a great fit for your organization.

They don’t trust their colleagues and gossip about others: This can be a difficult habit to change but can also be a great growth opportunity for an employee. Consider coordinating team-building activities to help build trust and rapport between team members. Also, address the behavior directly with the employee and let them know it’s unacceptable and what the consequences are for continuing that behavior.

They disrespect authority: This is a hard one for leaders, but self-reflection is key. Before placing the blame on the employee, consider if there’s merit to their accusations. Sometimes managers unknowingly erode trust and confidence by not consistently holding team members accountable, failing to follow through on their own promises, or not maintaining a high standard of conduct. First, have an open and honest conversation about what they’re struggling with, then set expectations for how you’ll both improve your relationship.

When to let an employee go

While the hope is to resolve these behaviors through communication and setting clear expectations, the reality is there will still be times when the best solution is to let an employee go.

If you’ve had conversations with the employee about their behavior, addressed the root cause, and given them ample time to change, and yet the behavior persists, it may be time to terminate their employment with your organization.

This is never an easy decision to make, as someone’s livelihood is on the line, but it’s a decision, leaders need to make, nonetheless. Continuing to employ a toxic person will damage your company culture and even cause your top performers to leave.

Here are three tips to letting a toxic employee go:

· Be specific --- Don’t leave them to speculate about what went wrong. Give specific examples of unacceptable behaviors and point to the conversations you had with them about changing those behaviors. If you don’t already document observations and conversations, start now.

· Keep it brief --- There’s no great way to let an employee go. The best way is to do it quickly. Be clear and concise. Let them know that their employment is being terminated and why, then say your goodbyes.

· Support your team --- Firing an employee—even a toxic one—can put your other employees on edge. Help to ease the anxiety by supporting them with the transition of roles and responsibilities.

When toxic employees go undetected and unaddressed in the work environment, they can contaminate the rest of your organization—leading to disengagement, turnover, and decreased productivity. Don’t let that happen to you. Be proactive in looking for toxicity within your organization and addressing it quickly.

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