Toxicity: What It Means To Deal With A Toxic Employee

Redhead businesswoman pointing at the door to dismissed employee. Smiling female coworker behind. All with formalwear. Man holding a box with documents.

Most everyone can bring to mind a person in their office who can best be described as “toxic.” Attitude, work ethic, general personality, whatever the characteristic, this person can poison an otherwise healthy organization, rot it from the inside out, and cause it to close its doors.

Who are these people?  How can you identify them? What can you do to immunize your organization from the effects of their toxicity?

One common misconception we should address is: A toxic employee  does not necessarily mean a poor performer. Often enough, the opposite it true: This employee could bring in a fantastic amount of business. He could work hard, possibly harder than other members of your staff, and yield quality results.

He could also claim credit for other’s’ work, be overly opinionated on anything and everything, or be a domineering bully who uses force or threats to push his way up the ladder. Their actions could prove counter-productive with fellow employees and cost on average £9,400 per year to retain such a person, even as a highly productive member.

A good employee’s productivity, also on average, runs around £5,000, just over half that amount.

Another matter to address: Such toxic personalities don’t always respect the boundaries of your office. Of course, employee morale will suffer under the barrage of negativity and training resources will dwindle as you hire, fire, and handle resignations to keep your organization adequately staffed. You can expect a cost of approximately £5,500 per employee to hire and train your replacement personnel. Your workflow can experience backups when personnel come and go, but what about the potential for lost business?

Your company thrives on its reputation, a thing hard earned and easily lost. Toxic employees can leave poor impressions in customers’ memories: A negative experience, poor service, disrespectful attitudes or actions. But what about the impressions left with those former coworkers? People talk, after all, and a person might leave your employ for that of another competing agency. He might not share any of your inner workings, but he could talk about his experiences with a particular individual or how someone at his former workplace (mis)handled accounts or behaved behind customers’ backs.

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Rumors’ power doesn’t end with high school graduation, unfortunately, especially if they can be proven truths.

Despite their potential for devastating consequences, it remains a simple fact: It can be rather difficult to screen and weed out toxic personnel until things reach a certain amount of damage. They are often highly productive and may well follow company policy to the letter, though this dedication hides narcissistic tendencies and self-serving motivation. What might one do to try and detect these traits before your business suffers any harm?

Managers scolding an employee

Certain traits should pop during the interview process, chiefly among civility. Instead of hypothetical behaviors – cases in which ideal answers will likely be given and, in most real life examples, almost impossible to meet – ask how your candidate handled past occurrences. You’ll still need to follow any legal avenues (no confidential information or violations of binding agreements), but with several examples, you will be able to form a basic idea as to how your candidate acts in pressure situations.


Related Article: WHY DO GOOD EMPLOYEES QUIT?

Don’t be vague: Make certain your candidate understands exactly what you want. This leaves less wiggle room for exaggerations or hubris, which means these traits can be easier for your to identify.

Check with everyone who interacted with your interviewee, from the receptionist who checked him in to the assistant who guided him back to your office. See how he behaved with them, whether he seemed courteous and respectful or arrogant and rude. Discrepancies between his conduct with you and your coworkers could indicate just how he might behave not only in your workplace but with your customers. Would you want a double-faced representative on your team?

Do your homework and go for extra credit: Check with people outside the proffered reference list. Reach out to the company and ask, within reasonable limits, about your candidate and his behavior on the job. Did he work well in a team environment? How did he react to authority figures? See what subordinates thought of his as a leader and superiors thought of him as a protege.

While these measures might work fine in pre-screens, what can you do if a toxic person slipped through and started to infect your business?

First and foremost, you need procedures in place in the event that a toxic incident occurs. This may seem straightforward, but a number of small businesses may not consider such things when they construct policies. While it’s best to create your own guidelines, you can also rely on the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) best practices to serve your needs.

Whenever you receive a complaint (or lodge one), investigate the matter thoroughly. Everyone goes through a bad day now and again: Make certain the incident in question didn’t happen to be a one-off occurrence. Should that not be the case, then you will need to hold a review board to determine if a disciplinary meeting is necessary. The severity of the offence, the number of prior incidents (if any), and your own procedure guides will help decide the outcome.

If you find yourself unsure, remember: Your focus is the best for your business and your employees as a whole. Toxicity can spread and spoil everyone’s efforts. Act wisely from the start.

Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
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