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The Toxic Employee

My Soapbox: We’ve all been around the co-worker who just sucks the life out of you. You know, the one that complains about everything, relates everything back to his/her negative experiences, or shares his/her dissatisfaction with every aspect of life? Heck, maybe this someone is you.

Have you ever wondered why this person comes to work everyday if he or she is so unhappy with their job duties, the organization, or with management? Why doesn’t the toxic employee simply find another job where he or she will be happier?

I think there are two answers to these questions:

First, misery loves company. If the toxic employee is dissatisfied life, they want you to be dissatisfied too. The toxic employee isn’t going to sit at home alone. Oh no, they want to share the toxicity with you!

Second, they get rewarded for being toxic. Hang on a minute, and hear me out!! The toxic employee is rewarded inadvertently by the organization (pay increases, seniority, and good benefits, etc), so wouldn’t you come to work if you get paid to complain? AND, when a manager has a toxic employee on the team, they tend to avoid giving them the important projects and tasks. They tend to hand those out to the “shining star” employees (therefore overloading the shining star, and making them dislike the toxic employee and their boss), while the toxic employee gets to kick back with less work to do and more time to spread the toxicity.

How Do You Deal With The Toxic Employee? A couple tips:

  1. Before you approach the toxic employee, you need both observational data (examples of negative behavior) and an accurate quantifiable account of the number of negative behaviors observed. For example, “I have observed you telling four coworkers last week that they should resist using the new process.”
  2. Run your observations past the HR department to get validation that the behaviors do indeed undermine the organization’s goals and/or create a toxic environment for other employees.
  3. It is also a good idea to work with another manager, who can act as a witness to your behavior, during any closed-door meeting you have with the negative employee. CYA.
  4. Inform the toxic employee that future work performance reviews will include both objective and subjective measures — like an assessment of how the employee is either increasing or decreasing his/her negative behaviors, by asking colleagues and other managers for feedback (think 360 Review).

Rules for Dealing with Toxic Employees

Rule 1: You cannot change a toxic employee with negativity. Hence, you must keep your cool and be positive when talking with the toxic employee.

Rule 2: Keep your overall expectations low. Do not expect an apology and do not expect the toxic employee to admit to their toxic behavior.

Bottom Line: While everyone has moments of self-centeredness, it’s the regularity and intensity of those moments that will shape how you affect others and how shape your environment. When you are dissatisfied at work, it’s very easy to become hazardous to your co-workers. Don’t let toxicity run your team.

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