Difficult employees can wreak havoc on companies through a variety of avenues. From decreasing the morale of those around them to turning in low-quality work, the consequences of having a troublesome employee can be disastrous. It is incumbent on leaders within organizations to identify and appropriately work with these employees before the problems become too large to contain.
According to Gallo (2016), it is important to differentiate between bad employees and toxic ones. In particular, a bad employee may just affect him or herself, but a toxic employee unfortunately can bring down an entire team. This writer argues that this can be difficult to address because there are often no legal issues involved, so companies often have no grounds for firing toxic employees. As such, Gallo offers some guidelines for identifying and working with these toxic team members. First, Gallo states that it is important to observe this employee’s behaviors in an in-depth manner.
In particular, it is important to understand if the person is unhappy, depressed, or if they are having significant issues at work or at home. Once this information is obtained, a recommendation can be made for the employee to follow-up with counseling services so that the employer does not get involved in the details of what is happening with the employee. Second, Gallo describes the importance of giving toxic employees feedback on their behaviors. Specifically, toxic employees are often oblivious to the fact that their behaviors are affecting the lives of others, and by giving concrete behavioral descriptions, managers and supervisors may be able to exert some effect. Third, Gallo indicates that it is very important to keep appropriate documentation of behaviors, steps taken to address the behaviors, verbal or written warnings, and observations of the employee’s attempts to correct or address these problems.
From a risk perspective, this is very important since employees could state that they were wrongfully terminated, especially if they have little insight into how their behaviors affect others. Based on this article, it appears that the best course of action is to be very specific, directive, and forthcoming with the troublesome employee. It is important to provide the employee with specific steps they can take to address their problematic behaviors, and it is important to keep adequate documentation of the process in case termination is required.
Similarly, Meinert (2017) discusses other very specific and directive guidelines that have helped human resources managers work to address toxic employees in the past. Interestingly, some past human resources managers have addressed problematic employees by moving them to new roles, only to find out that they can be more successful. In particular, one human resources manager reported that she noticed one employee often deflected her work and found ways to get others to do it for her. It was only upon closer inspection that she realized the employee was quite unhappy in her job. The manager worked with the employee to understand her career goals, and eventually helped her move to a position that was more in-line with her goals. By showing interest and moving the employee, the employee became an integral and effective worker in the new department. Furthermore, Meinert provides information that suggests communication is key. She argues that transparency is important, and feedback and self-awareness are also necessary. In fact, understanding the toxic employee’s behaviors requires a certain degree of non-defensiveness since the employee may offer critiques of the manager’s style. Moreover, other authors (i.e., Heathfield, 2017) also indicate that defensiveness is detrimental to finding an effective solution, and managers must be confident, yet willing to listen to criticism.
Overall, managing a toxic employee can be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are some guidelines available, and taking time to understand the employee’s perspectives and behaviors can help in alleviating the stress associated with the process of remedying the problem.