Responding to Toxic Employees (The Right Way)

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Almost every employer has had at least one experience with a truly toxic employee. “Toxic” employees aren’t just bad; they’re bad and difficult to get rid of. They aren’t just a problem; they’re a problem that seems impossible to solve. Ordinary bad behavior and poor performance can be dealt with by adhering to the employee handbook and simply following the established HR protocols (typically a series of documented warnings followed by a suspension or termination). But toxic employees are those who stay in place despite multiple warnings and multiple red flags, often leaving a trail of damage behind them for years at a time. Sometimes managers even promote them or transfer them to other parts of the company in order to keep them at a distance. When you’re facing a toxic employee, keep these considerations in mind.

Take reports and complaints seriously.

Often, a toxic employee’s direct reports (or the company’s clients) have submitted formal complaints on multiple occasions, but he’s still here. So it’s time to change the response to these complaints. Instead of denying, dismissing, or minimizing them, take them seriously. Hesitation and failure to act can lead to turnover, and then more turnover, which can cost more than you’ll ever save by protecting a “brilliant” or “indispensable” manager.

Get to the heart of the matter.

Don’t ask yourself “Why are these employees complaining?” or even “Why does the toxic employee behave this way?” Instead, get straight to the most important question: “Why is she still here?” Is it because she has an excellent reputation among your clients? Is it because he’s credited with exceptional work? Is it because her managers are literally afraid to fire her? (It happens.) Is it because he’s doing the work of two people for half the salary? Whatever the reason may be, there’s a path around it and that path needs to be found.

Recognize potential obstacles.

Terminating a bully, a perpetual coaster or an employee who is universally disliked for any specific reason will come with a unique and specific set of hassles. Depending on the nature of the toxicity in question, these hassles may include potential legal backlash, ugly threats, or destructive behavior on the way out the door. Be ready, but don’t be afraid. Get this unpleasant task over with and move on.

Close the gap.

As soon as the employee is gone, the reason for his persistence in the workplace may become clear (if it hasn’t been made clear already). Prepare for a rocky transition or a host of surprises when, for example, your clients want him back, or your workflow becomes bottlenecked in his absence. You’re better off without him, but it may take some time and patience to fully reset.

For more on how to remove bullies and toxic employees from your workplace, contact the Little Rock staffing experts at CSS.

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