Toxic Employee Behaviours – The Bane of Workplace Culture


We have all encountered toxic people in our life – we may even live with one.  Toxic people are everywhere – at work, at the grocery store, driving the car in the next lane, at a restaurant.  

When we encounter these individuals out in public – we have the option to walk away and leave.  However, when that toxic person works in the next cube or desk or is a member of a project team you collaborate with – the story changes.  As an owner of a business or a manager/leader of employees it is your obligation to rid the work environment of toxicity.  Easier said than done.  The most important thing that you can do is acknowledge the behaviour and act.  Toxic behaviour will breed and grow very quickly.  

Firstly lets examine what constitutes toxic behaviour.  Please note that conflict is not necessarily toxic – conflict in work groups if handled correctly can actually inspire great ideas.  The most productive and idea driven teams have conflict – it’s how they deal with the conflict that counts.

Here are some behaviours that Toxic people exhibit –

* Negative or Bad attitude

* Drama and Gossip initiator 

* Bullying or harassing behaviours towards co-workers

*Unprofessional/Inappropriate comments that make others uncomfortable

*Blame others when things go wrong – never accept any responsibility

If you have an employee who displays some or all of the above behaviours and other employees don’t want to work with them – you have a problem.  Ignoring these behaviours will generate a toxic environment over time and you will end up losing good employees and possibly clients to your business.  

Remember that there is a difference between a “difficult” employee and a “toxic” employee.  Toxic employees tend to spread the behaviour to others – this is what makes them extra dangerous to your workplace and culture – they can suck the energy and enthusiasm out of an entire team.  If left uncontrolled you could find the behaviour of others in the group mimicking the undesirable traits, people who were once polite and engaging will soon become negative and possibly toxic towards others.  This is one behaviour in the workplace that you don’t want to ignore.

How can you deal with this behaviour?  It starts with “due diligence” in the hiring process – try and identify if this behaviour exists at the interview stage.  No matter how much experience someone has – if you identify behaviours during a job interview that don’t fit with your team and your company culture – DON’T HIRE THEM!  It can be extremely difficult, time consuming and expensive (both $ cost and cost to the engagement of your team) to get rid of them later.   By bringing on someone who is toxic and is not a good fit for your team – you risk losing some of your very valuable employees who will leave this type of work environment.

Once you become aware of the behaviour, as a leader, it is your responsibility to manage it.  Identify the behaviour and look deeper – is there a reason for this person to be acting in this manner?  Without asking personal questions – can you ascertain if there is a situation in their personal life?  Divorce?  Sick family member?  Once you have had a conversation with them and nothing medical or family wise has been identified – it is time to start managing this situation.  You will need to provide them “direct feedback”.  Identify the behaviours that you are witnessing and how it is affecting the team.  Very often these individuals are oblivious to their behaviour and how it affects others.  Make them understand that you are concerned and are giving them an opportunity to change.  Give them very specific goals that you expect them to meet and the consequences of not meeting the goals/timelines.  This now becomes a Progressive Discipline situation and you need to ensure that you are documenting everything.  If the situation doesn’t improve, you will be moving to termination and the documentation will be critical to that step.

If you have a toxic employee in your team and you need some assistance in dealing with the situation, please give us a call at 204-451-0111.  We can provide you with the guidance that you require to deal with the individual.

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