They say that one bad apple will ruin the bunch. In business, the ripple effect of just one toxic employee can be catastrophic to an organisations culture and, just as prominently, its bottom line. Yet how do you identify these potential bad apples and avoid inviting them into your organisation?
A toxic employee is not the same as a difficult employee. A toxic employee will infect others with their behaviour. Much like a virus their recurring de-energising conduct will provoke a sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, decrease motivation and morale, and intensify their colleagues’ intentions to leave the organisation. Removing such a bad egg from the workplace is an ideal scenario, but often their behaviour is not in breach of any employment laws. So the challenge becomes a matter of strategy, and more specifically, how to minimise their demoralising effect.
Isolation has proven a very effective management tactic in reducing the effects of a toxic employee. Now this can be achieved in one of two ways; either isolate the rotten egg or isolate those that work directly with them. Reassigning projects, rearranging the office layout, encouraging staff to work from home and programming fewer face-to-face meetings have all proven to be very successful approaches to combatting the effects of a toxic employee. And while you may achieve less encounters of the ugly kind, can you execute these tactics with discretion?
Perhaps your first step to nullifying your bad apple should be to have a direct and very honest conversation about the effects of their behaviour. Often people are unaware of the on-flow effect of their conduct. They are so engaged in their attending to their own responsibilities, they are blind to the imbalance they have created within the team. A candid conversation may actually reveal that your employee is experiencing some personal difficulties, thus they may be feeling unhappy, lost or even shamed. In this instance you can offer counselling to help them through their issues. And hopefully once on the other side, they will be a much more emotionally healthier person. Yet what if your employee isn’t unhappy? What if their life is all sweet smelling raindrops and soft velvety rose petals? Do you wield your stick and poke them where it hurts? Threatening one’s bonus may just be the trigger to correcting their toxic ways.
There are warning signs that toxic employees impart. Studies have revealed this. They even have labels for them; The One Man Show, The Overconfident Worker, The Slacker, The Self-Proclaimed Rule Follower and The Procrastinator. Fairly self-explanatory I think. Yet it may surprise you to learn that it is often the shining star employees, the ones that outperform everyone else, that are causing the most grief. It can be tempting to ignore their impact on the rest of the workforce because they generate more income and innovative solutions than most other co-workers, consequently leading the company to some very successful outcomes. However, while you may see dollar signs when you look at them, a closer analysis will often reveal the hidden costs of their behaviour are actually outweighing the income they are generating. Employees affected by a negative co-worker are likely to experience a reduction in their productivity, be absent more often, be less engaged and too dispirited to generate inspiring concepts. The dollar value of such losses can outweigh the gains of your toxic employee by as much as four times their income producing rate. In fact, one study has revealed that a single negative employee can cause a 30-40 per cent drop in a team’s overall performance (shocked emoji face!) On the flip side, studies have also revealed that high performers with an above average number of de-energising ties are 13 times more likely to leave than average performers with the equivalent number of de-energising ties. So don’t think you can ignore the slackers either!
It is every employer’s worst nightmare, hiring a person that negatively impacts the workplace. And the level of disruption can be difficult to resolve, particularly if the negative behaviour is prolonged or ignored. You absolutely must immunise your workplace against such a disease if you are to avoid costly turnovers of staff. The social fabric of your organisation must be protected from friction, drama, tension and hostility if it is to successfully move forward. Yes, the hiring process is complex. Yes, it is difficult to identify individuals who will be damaging to your workforce. No, tolerance is not the answer to managing toxic staff for in short, engaging a strategy of acceptance will see more than your bottom line suffer.