Have you ever experienced a toxic employee? Unfortunately many organizations are afflicted by these staff members who can at times be highly productive. Simultaneously, they are a poison to the rest of the staff and potentially your entire organization.
There’s a classic example of ‘toxic team member’ on this summer’s The Bachelorette. Have you seen this guy? The sad part is, he embodies the very personality that can affect our teams and present management with a huge headache: what do we do with a Chad?
Toxic employees often can be described as talented and productive people who engage in behavior that’s harmful to an organization, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. In fact, this current article reviews a study that found that avoiding such people can save companies even more money than finding and retaining superstars.
The challenge is that these destructive employees can be superstars. They can be major contributors who work tirelessly to bring their ideas to fruition. Unfortunately for the bigger team, developing their people skills hasn’t been a priority. The result for leaders can be a people management nightmare.
Toxic employees can be very hard workers who accomplish a lot, but in the process they downplay the contributions of others. They may bad-mouth colleagues directly. They may run with ideas and not consider both the business ramifications and the impact on fellow employees. Left alone, they can alienate others to such an extent that colleagues can become so disillusioned that they leave, weakening your team.
Toxic employees may draw others into arguments, blaming others while not holding themselves accountable. And they can infect the bigger team, drawing weaker co-workers into “negative bonding” alliances, according to Workplace Insiders.
So what can you do to spot a potentially toxic employee and move into a preventive mode before real trouble strikes?
When hiring staff, be alert to prospects who seem over-confident, self-centered, productive and rule following, according to the HBR study. Sound like a psycho or a Jeckyl and Hyde? And how many people are that obvious that you pick up these traits in the interview process?
More realistically, be ready to:
- Ask behavior-based interview questions, as in “tell me about a team project…”
- Consider administering personality tests
- Check references before hiring
- Set clear expectations up front
- Have a comprehensive job description to which you both agree up front
If or when a confrontation is necessary… take action. Too often we try to avoid these situations wanting instead to wait them out, or give them more time. Intervene early to avoid problematic results that could be insurmountable.
Be sure to get input from others on the affected team. And then meet with the employee in question. Communicate the challenging issues and ask for his/her input. Listen carefully to what the person actually says and doesn’t say. Many times the personality traits of a toxic employee come through quite clearly when they are given the opportunity to speak.