How to Deal With Toxic Employees

November 23, 2015

Toxic employees can be like any other dangerous substance. They can poison a workplace. What might have once been a congenial group of employees can seemingly turn into a renegade band in which no one has loyalty to the business or cares what happens in the future as long as paychecks continue to be received.

Good business owners and managers must be well aware and vigilant of employee attitudes and needs. This is a result of open and honest communication. When interaction breaks down between different levels of employees…owners and managers…managers and subordinates, the stage is set for toxic employees to become focal points for other employees.

Of course, situations that have nothing to do with a business might be the cause of an employee’s discontentment…family, financial, or health issues. Regardless of the source of unhappiness, it must still be dealt with if affecting the business environment. It is precisely for this reason that toxic employees must be handled properly, so the overall employee attitude and company efficiency is not negatively impacted.

The following are ways to handle difficult, toxic employees:

1. Be patient and maintain composure - Toxic employees can be like a keg of gunpowder ready to explode at any second. They look for any opportunity to express their frustrations, intimidate, or be aggressive with anyone they are communicating with at the moment. Push the wrong button and havoc reins supreme. Rather than being provoked into an argument than can probably never be won, it is important for owners and managers to just “keep cool.” Rather than challenging an upset employee and inflaming an already tense situation, a calming approach rather than a defiant approach can allow the employee to regain a sense of stability and rational thinking. The idea is to reduce tensions not elevate tensions.

2. Be direct - Strong and clear communication is a necessity. Dealing with a toxic employee is not a time for “beating around the bush.” Employees must know what is expected of them and consequences of their actions - both good and bad. When employees do not have clear expectations, they are more inclined to “push the limits” testing management to see exactly what will and will not be tolerated. Successful leaders and strong, direct communication are interrelated.

3. Be proactive - During conversations with a toxic employee, think about what can done to improve the work environment that might alleviate the employee’s level of stress and anxiety. In other words, be proactive in actions rather than reactive with actions. This is a time to depersonalize the situation and think like the employee…symbolically putting yourself in the shoes of the employee. Rather than you against the employee, think emphatically about what you can do to help turn the toxic employee into a positive, energetic employee.

4. Remove the spotlight - Toxic employees love to be in the spotlight. It is their time to shine and get attention. When the glare of the spotlight is removed, many times “issues” seem to disappear. Management’s time is valuable and cannot be consumed with attention seeking employees. It is far better to work with employees with great attitudes that can help a business achieve its goals. The time must come when toxic employees need to either get “on board” or plans made for a timely exit. The spotlight needs to be on the company not on individual employees.

5. Be consistent - All employees have to be handled the same. Boxing gloves cannot be used on some while “kid gloves” used on others. Rewards and praise need to be given for superior performance, as well as consequences for poor performance and bad attitudes. The good employees resent unequal treatment while the toxic employees relish inconsistent behavior of management.

Business success depends on every employee at every level being as productive and efficient as possible. Toxic employees cannot be allowed to disease an energetic workforce. We’ve all heard the expression, “One rotten apple spoils the barrel.” Well, one toxic employee can ruin a workforce.