Disruptive behaviour - high maintenance employees – toxic employees
In the course of my working life, I come across a surprising amount of unpleasant behaviour. Toxic employees are bad news. They can cost you money, time, and the loss of good staff.
In the 25 years I’ve run my business I have had three such employees. The odd thing is that they can be hard to spot. They often start by being absolutely charming, helpful and you think you’ve found a real A team member. They gain your trust, and it can really knock you sideways when they change their approach. Because they’ve been so good, you can’t quite believe that they are doing or saying what they are - and it can take time to realise what’s happened and respond appropriately.
People like this will pick a fight or take offence over very small issues. It’s puzzling and annoying and can use up a lot of your energy. They might start making mountains out of molehills, misrepresenting the facts, or making demands that wear you down.
You will become exhausted by this behaviour. Eventually, there will be a crisis. You’ll feel compromised whichever way you turn. If you give in, they’ll go back to being charming for a while and then start the cycle all over again in preparation for the next crisis.
At some stage you will have to deal with someone who seems to take pleasure in creating pain and discord, so it’s sensible to develop some coping strategies. As you recognise how they operate, you can learn to manage issues at an early stage. Here are some tips to help you manage them.
Start by investigating the issues and assessing the facts. Get the detail and don’t just accept accusations or complaints at face value. Get the details. Toxic people tend to hurl vague allegations and blame other people for the situation. Get the specifics and tie them down to the facts. Always do what is fair and reasonable but be firm. Decide how to take control. Choose a course of action that helps you to reduce the toxic behaviour, then take the steps to make it happen.
Once you have this information, have a more detailed conversation with the employee. Describe the impact of the undesirable behaviour on the team. Explain the importance of appropriate behaviour and the consequences of this type. Offer support but set clear boundaries.
If people are used to successfully manipulating their manager or colleagues and suddenly it stops working, they may engage in challenging or even hostile behaviour thinking if they just push a bit harder, they’ll get what they want again. This can be quite shocking, but the pushback is often an indication you’re having an effect. Stand firm.
When a toxic employee has been given boundaries and some ways in which he or she can change a bad behaviour, monitor and support to help the employee and ensure he or she is amending that behaviour.
Don’t allow the toxic employee to drag the entire team down. That might mean minimising the amount of time he or she spends working with other people who might be affected. The less time this person spends working with the team, the better off you are.
Sometimes they refuse to accept that their behaviour is inappropriate. Provided you are confident that what you are doing is right, stick calmly to your course of action and don’t let them rattle you. Be pleasant patient and persistent. If necessary, you can consider dismissing for SOSR – the employee’s behaviour is so unacceptable that other people will no longer work for him or her. There is a precedent for this: see Perkin v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust .
Toxic employees are hard work, but if you’re willing to listen, lay out boundaries, monitor and make sure those boundaries stay in place, you may well be able to turn a corner.
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.