by Susan Jeffery
12 Nov 2019
The 5 Most Common Types of Toxic Employees
and Why They Can Wreak Havoc on Your Culture
How to deal with a toxic employee before bad behaviors turn into bad habits
As HR professionals and business leaders, you work hard every day to create a work environment and company culture that drives productivity, boosts engagement, and supports employee happiness. This is critical for running a successful business for the long-term.
However, even in spite of all your amazing efforts, you can’t control people’s inherent attitudes and behaviors. Whether you like it or not, you will eventually have to deal with employees who bring their negativity, personal baggage, and other gripes with them to work every day. In other words, you will have to figure out how to deal with a toxic employee (or two) from time to time. Because if left unchecked, one “bad seed” can wreak widespread havoc across your company.
The truth is, no one ever wants to work in a toxic environment—and for good reason. It creates emotional stress, increases apathy, and literally sucks the joy out of the air. That’s why it’s not uncommon for employee turnover to skyrocket in companies where toxicity prevails, regardless of the source: from oppressive managers to team members who don’t pull their own weight to abusive senior leaders (and everything else in between). Good work and great results are never a byproduct of a negative work environment. Never.
Here’s why this matters as well as why you should care. You’ve taken the time and used valuable resources to recruit, interview, hire, and train your employees—most of them chosen to fill a specific role because they are the best at what they do. Therefore, it’s up to you to continue nurturing them to succeed and thrive in the workplace.
But the troubling news is that these “good employees” are 54% more likely to quit outright if they are forced to work with a toxic employee or if there’s as little as a 1-to-20 ratio of toxic employees on their team. This is accentuated even further during a job seeker’s market—like what we’re experiencing today in the U.S.—as talented employees no longer have to settle for a job that makes them unhappy. They are simply unafraid to jump ship at the drop of a hat.
Even worse, it could cost your company thousands in collateral damage, where hiring an unknowingly toxic employee into a team of 20 can cost a company upwards of $12,800—a direct result of voluntary turnover—whereas hiring a non-toxic employee from the very start simply costs an average of $4,000.
The writing is on the wall: when a toxic employee rears his or her ugly head (figuratively speaking, that is), you must act quickly to nip that negativity in the bud. To help you do just that, we thought it would be useful to outline the five most common toxic employee types along with some guidance on how to deal with them before they create a domino effect that throws a wrench into the company culture you’ve so hard to establish.
How to spot them: These employees don’t necessarily intend to be toxic, or even see their actions as toxic in any way. But the fact that they constantly ask for help or too heavily rely on others to correct their mistakes—oftentimes putting more work on their colleague’s plates—they become a nuisance that quickly puts a damper on productivity and morale.
How to deal with them: There could be a few things going on here, but more often than not it’s the direct result of a skills gap. This is where learning and development can become your greatest ally for correcting these “needy” behaviors. The best way to help these employees become more self-sufficient is to give them opportunities to learn how to do their job better. This, in turn, will give them the confidence to tackle day-to-day challenges head-on, without having to rely on others to do the heavy lifting. Implementing a content subscription library with ready-made curriculum playlists can fast-track these employees to success—while also giving all your employees the opportunity to learn new skills or refine existing competencies.
- Thumb Twiddlers
How to spot them: These are the employees that just can’t seem to get work done, even if their life depended on it—oftentimes characterized by low motivation, a reputation for missing deadlines, and a lack of focus (or rather, far too great of a focus on social media!).
How to deal with them: These employees need serious structure to succeed. They are simply not self-starters. Their managers need to set clear goals and expectations—and be transparent about the ramifications of not achieving certain performance standards. Setting regular check-in conversations with these employees to gauge progress, course-correct issues, and identify opportunities for additional learning and development are critical. Not only will this help managers adjust less-than-desirable behaviors early on, but it will also allow the toxic employee in question to take ownership and accountability of his or her success. A performance management tool, like Cornerstone Check-ins, can help maintain a semi-formal record of these check-in conversations to ensure that progress is being made over time.
- Gossip Queens
How to spot them: These people are all too prevalent in both the workplace and our personal lives. When they get wind of a juicy morsel of gossip—even if completely unsubstantiated—they cannot control themselves from starting a proverbial game of “telephone.”
How to deal with them: Gossip, for many, is a form of perceived power. The biggest “gossip queens” love attention and love to stir the pot even more, regardless of the underlying reasons for doing so. These behaviors can quickly create a downward spiral that undermines any semblance of trust within a team. Therefore, as a first step, it’s important to have a private conversation with these employees to explain the negative effect that gossip has across your team. And if they continue to demonstrate these behaviors, do not hesitate to call out those actions on-the-spot (gently, of course), because they may very well be blissfully unaware that they’re even doing it in the first place. As a manager, this is an opportunity to be a coach and mentor, without being perceived as a disciplinarian (which will just add fuel to the toxicity fires).
How to spot them: This culprit of toxicity is especially common in highly competitive work environments. These people will oftentimes take on more than they can chew—thinking that it will help them get ahead in some way—and then complain incessantly about how busy they are or why they have no work-life balance.
How to deal with them: This is problematic for two reasons. First, it can create an unwarranted belief among other employees that their lack of stress is a sign that they are under-delivering or not taking on enough challenges. Second, it’s a sure fire recipe for burnout, which can create a ripple effect of other toxic behaviors down the road. The best way to manage this is to have regular check-in conversations wherein you make a point to discuss workload and set realistic expectations for what success looks like. Sure, there are over-achievers out there who will push themselves to the limits, regardless of what you say, but it’s up to you to help them see that productivity isn’t about “doing more,” but rather about achieving great results that make a positive impact on your team and your company as a whole. Help them focus their energy on tasks that matter, as this will remove the “clutter” of busy work that’s causing their to-do list to grow at an exponential rate. This is where learning and development can play a critical role, too. Suggest stress management, project management, and other soft skills courses that can help them take back control of their time, be more productive, and find a happier balance.
How to spot them: In many ways, this is the worst kind of toxic employee of all, as these people lack a general sense of respect and will almost always go out of their way to inflict pain on others or do whatever they can manipulation any situation in their favor.
How to deal with them: The sad truth here is that no amount of coaching will likely change such deeply ingrained negative behaviors, especially if, in both in these people’s personal and professional lives, others have simply turned a blind eye or were too afraid to confront the issue head on, thus letting these bullying tendencies persist. Even so, it’s your responsibility to step in and set clear behavioral expectations the minute any sort of bullying behaviors surface—and then immediately document those behaviors as complaints pour in, of course, with the help of a performance management tool. Having a formal record of both complaints and the actions taken to address them will make it easier to build an infallible case for termination, should that be the only path forward. This isn’t to say that some people can’t change. But not being able to evolve someone’s attitudes and behaviors isn’t an excuse to simply let a bully run wild. There is never a place for bullies in the workplace. Period.
Creating a thriving company culture isn’t always easy. The workplace is made up of different people from different backgrounds with different challenges—all of which play a role in how they act on a day-to-day basis. But that doesn’t mean bad behaviors can go left unchecked. With the right coaching, performance management, and learning tools at your fingertips, you can help all of your employees—even those of the toxic sort—succeed. Learn more today.