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Toxic Employees & How to Handle Them

July 23, 2018 | posted by Abacus Payroll

While a colloquially “toxic” employee has historically included anyone from the guy with garlic breath to borderline sociopaths, your average toxic employee is just a negative influence who ultimately detracts from your bottom line by decreasing morale and creating a hostile work environment. If you’re currently dealing with a toxic employee, here are a few ways to prevent them from ruining your day (and your workplace culture).

Avoiding Toxic Employees

Naturally, the best way to deal with a toxic employee is to avoid hiring one in the first place. Toxic employees can take a myriad of different forms, but primary behaviors to look for during the interview process include the following:

  • Aggression
  • Lack of manners or proper interview etiquette
  • Negativity
  • Blaming others for failures or setbacks
  • Inability to process criticism
  • Extreme emotions or lack of composure

Any one of these behaviors in an interview setting should be an immediate red flag, but you may notice multiple different instances in one person. If so, consider scratching them off your list.

In some cases, you may have to coax out the behavior. Ask the prospective employee to detail times during which they were vulnerable at their last job, to explain what their prior boss(es) would have to say about them—both good and bad—and to tell you positive and negative qualities about themselves. Many employees will struggle with these situations (they’re supposed to), but a potentially toxic employee will most likely not be able to give you satisfactory answers at all.

Of course, you can often stop a toxic employee before they even enter the interview stage. Call your applicants’ references and ask for specifics, such as how they handle working with new people or what they do when confronted with criticism. Employers may be more forthcoming with their past employees’ faults when pressed for these kinds of details, so don’t be shy.

Ultimately, you can’t stop every negative influence from entering your workplace, but diligence during the pre-interview screening and the interview itself will be more than enough to filter out the bulk of them.

Addressing a Toxic Employee

Unfortunately, you can’t stop every threat to your company’s culture from entering, and toxic employees are no exception. The important distinction to make ahead of time is whether your dealing with a toxic employee or a difficult one. A toxic employee’s influence on the people around them is ultimately negative, resource-draining, and expensive; if you merely have an employee who gives you a hard time but does contribute in a positive manner, there are other ways to address their behavior.

Toxic employees have several characteristics which turn an otherwise pleasant workplace into a hostile environment. These characteristics include relatively unchecked negativity, aggression, and/or passive-aggressive tendencies, often focused on one person or a group of people. Just as the common cold can spread through your office, a toxic employee’s behavior can infect your other employees with begrudging attitudes, strained interpersonal relationships, and a downturn in productivity.

It’s safe to say that a toxic employee makes for a suboptimal workplace—so how can you be proactive about their behavior?

When approaching a toxic employee, your first move should include discussing their behavior with them—no one else—in a comfortable environment in which you clearly control the conversation; your office, the lounge, or an HR room are all good examples. Give them concrete examples of how their behavior is damaging the workplace culture, then recommend solutions. Depending on their conduct thus far, you can also give them a chance to explain their actions at this point.

Damage Control

Isolating an employee shouldn’t be your first move, but it’s a good way to prevent the toxicity from propagating. Allowing the employee to work from home or restructuring your office environment will accomplish this task.

If push comes to shove, firing a toxic employee is solution guaranteed to alleviate part of the problem. An employee’s toxicity can linger in your workplace long after their departure, however, and the circumstances under which that departure takes place can determine the rest of your employees’ conduct in the months to follow. Honesty is your best bet here: explain the situation to your employees and be ready to answer any questions in the following weeks.

It’s also important that you don’t develop tunnel vision during this process. Addressing workplace strife is a crucial part of your job, but so is running your business; if you spend too much time zeroed in on one person or task, your business will suffer as a result.

Having to identify and counteract toxic employees is an unfortunate inevitability in any workplace. For more information on how you can cultivate a positive, enthusiastic workforce and avoid employee toxicity altogether, call Abacus Payroll at (856) 667-6225 today!

About the Author: Abacus Payroll

Abacus Payroll, Inc. is a leading provider of payroll solutions for businesses of all sizes. Whether yours is a family-owned small business or a national corporation, we provide payroll, tax and other financial services on time and at an affordable price. Unlike other payroll providers, Abacus Payroll will assign your very own payroll specialist who will understand your payroll needs inside and out. So no more speaking to a different person each time, no more sitting on hold for hours and most importantly no more missed deadlines! Contact us today to see how we can help your business. You can count on us.