Prevent Toxic Employees From Infecting Co-Workers & Clients

4 tips to reel in, repair, and prevent bad behavior in the workplace

Toxic Employees

Dealing with difficult employees is draining. But: Making excuses for bad behavior only makes things worse!

Rather than allowing a toxic employee to damage the morale of your entire team, rather than brushing the issue aside and forcing everyone to cope to make it through the workday—seize the opportunity to make positive change, advises human resources expert Carol Hacker. In her AudioSolutionz webinar, “How to Stop Toxic Employees from Side-Tracking Your Organization,” she explains how you and your managers can learn to recognize productivity-sapping behavior before it becomes a crisis. Plus, she shares dozens of practical tips, such as the “I’m in your court” approach to discipline.

Know What Toxic Looks Like

Toxic employees come in many forms. They are “workers who prey on other employees, fight management at every turn or create an atmosphere that is negative, counterproductive and anything but positive,” according to Psychology Today.

The toxic employee “could be someone with anger management problems, someone who doesn’t bathe, or someone who openly views inappropriate content on his computer,” notes Monster.

Because there is no one type of “difficult” employee, there really is no one-size-fits-all solution either. But in all cases, your goal is the same: to put an end to the bad, disruptive behavior. And that requires taking action.

Intervene Early to Stop the Spread

Toxic behaviors won’t go away without intervention. “If there’s an employee whose behavior is having a negative impact on the department, you need to nip it in the bud,” cautions Insperity. “Be timely about it because negativity can spread like wildfire.”

The far-reaching toxic behavior trail can affect:

  • Other employees. Toxic employees have adverse effects on co-workers. “Victimized employees can and do suffer emotional and physical harm such as stress-related illnesses,” states HR Gazette.
  • Your organization. Aside from co-workers, you have to consider your clients. “Toxic employees who operate from a negative, abusive perspective and who mistreat fellow workers rarely treat customers with respect,” further states HR Gazette.
  • Your bottom line. Toxic employees cost you money when frustrated co-workers jump ship. “You will spend a great deal of money in turnover costs as you lose great employees simply because they cannot stand the toxic working environment,” warns Applicant Pro.

Start with a Private Conversation & Coaching

You’ll need to invest time and effort to rid your workplace of toxic behaviors, so the earlier you get started, the better. Use these tips to begin:

  • Confront privately. Your toxic employee needs to be confronted, but do so with tact. “Whenever possible, confront a toxic individual in private,” states Psychology Today. When you confront an employee in an open forum, they can become agitated and hostile, which can make the situation worse, suggests Psychology Today.
  • Coach employees to success. Your employee might need behavioral modification assistance. “Once the employee begins to understand that these negative behaviors are real and experienced by others in the organization, the manager or someone from human resources should begin to coach the difficult employee in displaying more acceptable and appropriate behaviors,” affirms Entrepreneur.
  • Consider Termination. While not a first response, termination should still be on your list of solutions for dealing with a toxic employee. “If the employee continues to deny his inappropriate behavior and refuses to try to improve the situation, the manager needs to place this person on the fast track towards termination,” notes Entrepreneur. You should have a well-documented termination procedure in place, and allow the employee a last ditch effort to improve behavior before closing the door on their employment, suggests Entrepreneur.
  • Update corporate policy. Finally, don’t fall into a trap of thinking you can’t or shouldn’t do anything about the toxic employee. Some managers “believe that behavior issues are subjective and unenforceable,” states Insperity. Make sure your corporate policies outline acceptable employee behavior toward co-workers and customers so these behaviors are benchmarked as a performance issue, suggests Insperity.

It’s clear that direct action is required to turn around problem behavior. You can learn to give critical feedback without bruising egos, causing defensiveness, or escalating the problem—and it is often very much worth the effort to work toward retaining the challenging employee, affirms Carol Hacker. In her webinar, “How to Stop Toxic Employees from Side-Tracking Your Organization,” explains how to set standards for positive behavior, get toxic employees to agree that there is a problem, and build a culture of trust where no one loses face and the outcome is a win-win for all.

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About Amy Palermo
Amy is a regular content contributor for the AudioEducator and AudioSolutionz Blogs. A freelance editor who has worked in all phases of publishing over the last 25 years in both print and digital formats, Amy specializes in healthcare, human resources, technical skills and other key industry content. She is also experienced in book and journal layout and design, traditional and digital illustrations, and photo editing.