Most offices are made up of several generations of workers. From “Millennials” to “Baby Boomers”, you could have employees that range from their 20’s to 60’s in age. So, why do adults behave like children? It is really hard to identify what turns good workers into difficult employees with behavior issues. But the fact is, many companies are dealing with “toxic” employees. Give leadership the tools to be good managers by educating them about how to identify and address bad behavior. It underscores the importance of dealing with difficult situations instead of ignoring them.
First, what would be considered a “toxic” employee? The first tell-tale sign is when someone is walking around like a work “zombie” – not engaged, not participating, the quiet-but-still-working individual. When this person is no longer interested in their job or the success of the organization, other behaviors begin to creep in, such as:
- Finger Pointing
- Poor attendance
- Poor performance
- Insubordination, bad attitude
But why would this happen? What would cause someone with talent and ability to all-of-sudden become a liability to workplace morale and culture? It may be one of several reasons:
Feeling unappreciated. Nothing breeds resentment more for an employee than if they feel like they are unrecognized for their contributions, not rewarded for extra effort, or respected for what they have brought to an organization. And they are not looking for money (well, a little does help) – they are looking for other types of rewards and remunerations: benefits, gift cards, social opportunities/events, etc. Plus, company-wide e-mail (electronic pat-on-the-back) recognizing employee contributions are FREE and have a huge impact!
They don’t trust you. Harsh? Well, maybe a little. But it’s true. Many employees don’t trust their supervisors, managers, executives, or business owners. They see the closed doors, they notice changes around the office, and they hear words being said with no action to back them up. It’s hard to build trust, especially if it’s been broken in the past – but it can be done. Get out of your office, have meetings with your staff informing them of changes BEFORE they happen, ask them their thoughts AND listen. Do you have a vision and mission? Do your employees know what they are? Develop an effective way to communicate with your team on an ongoing basis.
They have their own problems. Even though we would all hope that employees could leave their personal life at the door, that rarely happens. Problems can run the gamut from a refrigerator on the blink to marital strife. If employees are unhappy at home, it often seeps into the workplace. But just because it is affecting your business, you shouldn’t make it “your business”. This is when having an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or a wellness program in place allows you to help your employees without getting involved in their personal problems.
They are a bad seed. Some people thrive in conflict, whether it’s starting the fire or feeding the flames. Their negative attitude is innate and they wreak havoc. The thing is, you probably saw signs of it in the beginning of your work relationship: bad work history, lack of references, the tone or words they used during the interview, etc. The issues were there. They either covered things up or you were too desperate for an employee that you ignored them. Remember, during the hiring process, candidates are supposed to be on their best behavior. But even the best actors/actresses shouldn’t fool you if you do your due diligence. Read the resume/application, check past employers, check references, perform a profile assessment, and even sleep on it to make sure that every new hire is a good hire.
Unfortunately, there is a long list of different reasons why you might have a toxic employee – but what should you do when you know you have a problem? Here are some next steps you can take:
- Confront It! Problem employees don’t magically improve if you ignore them. It’s time to get to the root of the bad behavior – you can’t solve it until you do! Whoever is approaching the employee should ask open-ended questions and listen. Don’t pass judgment or jump to conclusions. Dig into the facts so you can better understand their negative attitude.
- Clear it up! Once you know what the problem is and it can be fixed, DON’T DELAY! Whether it is behavior modification needed by the employee, management or ownership, failing to fix what you know is broken will only deepen the feelings of hostility and may make them contagious. Develop an action plan to address the situation.
- Curb it! Have a problem with bullying, gossiping and other types of similar behavior? It’s time to get out the Employee Guidebook showing your company’s clear expectations. Reminding employees about the type of work environment and culture desired helps with disciplinary actions later when policies are violated.
- Cut it! Yes, sometimes you just have to let the employee go. You provided feedback and counseling, but no improvements could be seen. Or maybe you just know the employee is no longer (or was ever) a good fit for your organization. Terminating problem employees not only removes the “disease”, but you may also be helping other team members who felt helpless working with (and sometimes, under) the toxic person. So, get into your haz-mat suit – it’s time to remove those toxic elements before your work environment goes nuclear!
The negative impact of a difficult person in your company cannot be overstated. Communication is key when setting your employees up for success from the start. Get to know their strengths so they are appropriately aligned with their role, then you create a win-win situation for you and your employees.
MidwestHR, a leading Certified Professional Employer Organization (CPEO) in Illinois, has developed best practices that encourage employees to be their best selves. For over 20 years, clients have outsourced their HR functions to our team of trusted experts. Leaders can stay focused on growing the business knowing we’re handling any payroll, benefits, retirement questions, employee training, policy development, help with hiring and so much more. Give us a call at 630-836-3000 and learn how we can help you discover roots causes behind poor performance and fulfill your vision for a positive workplace.