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Managing toxic employees

Wednesday September 02, 2015
Four out of five workers believe their organization’s leaders aren’t doing enough to combat toxic employees in the workplace.

The new survey from Fierce Inc., conducted among more than 500 employees earlier this year, also found that 41 per cent of respondents cite a negative attitude as the most detrimental trait an employee can have, trumping blaming others (11 per cent), gossiping (10 per cent), and laziness (six per cent).

Thirty-two per cent feel passive aggressiveness causes the most toxicity in an organization.

The impact a toxic employee can have within a company is extreme and, for most, the negative outweighs the good. Eighty-eight per cent of employees believe a special talent or skill infrequently compensates for the negative impact of a toxic employee. While it is clear employees feel strongly that keeping negative employees around is, in most cases, not worth it, only 40 per cent of managers would fire a negative employee.

“There is a clear disconnect between an employee’s stance on toxic colleagues, and how they perceive their leadership is handling these troublesome individuals,” said Susan Scott, founder and CEO of Fierce Inc. “Most of us spend a large percentage of our lives in the office, and our colleagues impact our lives significantly. When those individuals bring us down, it plays a huge role in how well we are able, and willing, to do our jobs. Organizations need to act quickly and efficiently when toxic employees rear their ugly heads, not only for the individuals affected, but for the overall health of the business.”

There are a number of reasons employees can become toxic, and it is important to get to the root cause of their negativity. Some possibilities can include:

  • Feeling undervalued. Employees who feel disposable, commoditized or who don’t understand their role within an organization often hold on to negative energy. No one wants to feel undervalued in such an important aspect of their lives, which can show up in a foul mood.
  • Lack of recognition. Asking for the best of someone and giving them nothing in return, except perhaps a paycheck, can be demeaning. If an employee feels they are not being recognized sufficiently, then over time they are likely to become bitter. This can quickly turn toxic.
  • Interpersonal conflict. The survey found that over half of all employees argue with their co-workers at least once a month. Not resolving these conflicts, which are inevitable, can leave an employee with feelings of helplessness and futility.

Once the reason behind the toxicity is identified, Fierce recommends moving forward by communicating with everyone in the organization. Creating a culture of recognition is key to employees’ happiness, which in turn will result in fewer toxic employees. If and when a toxic individual does appear, it is critical to confront the behaviour head on, and if necessary, cut the cord.

“There are always going to be individuals who can’t move past their issues for one reason or another, or can’t get out of the victim mindset,” Scott said. “When this occurs, set your organization free and terminate the relationship. It may seem hard at first if their work is solid, however the havoc they are having on the organization as a whole isn’t worth an individual’s contribution in most cases.”

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