How to Address Employee Toxicity: 3 Fierce Tips

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September 8, 2017 | Fierce | HCI

You know the one. The one who frequently complains. Gossips. Blames others. Leaves people hanging.

Last month, we released our recent survey results from a thousand full-time employees across the U.S. who weighed in on toxic employees. Cited by the majority of respondents, a negative attitude is the most toxic and most detrimental trait an employee can have. And more than three-quarters (76%) say a special talent or skill never or infrequently outweighs the impact of a co-worker’s negativity. We completely agree with our respondents and know that a toxic employee can bring a whole team down.

Toxic employees wreak havoc on an organization. First and foremost, they increase stress, according to those surveyed, followed by decreasing overall job satisfaction. For the organization as a whole, respondents believe a toxic employee decreases morale, followed by decreasing productivity, and decreasing the quality of work product. For women, toxic employees have a more detrimental effect, as 10 percent more women reported toxic employees increase their likelihood to leave a job than their male counterparts.

Most of us don’t deny that this problem exists. The challenge is that the toxicity isn’t being addressed directly. Over half (53%) say they handle toxic employees by ignoring them, with less than a quarter (24%) confronting these individuals directly. So how do they want it solved? Over two-thirds (69%) of those surveyed wish their organizations were less tolerant of these individuals.

However, organizations are made up of individuals. This means individuals need to be willing to confront—at every level and in every position. Here at Fierce, we see huge conversation skill gaps in workplaces around the world. People do not know how and when to have the conversations that matter. And we are bound and determined to help.

It isn’t only skill, though. Individuals’ beliefs matter. Less than 1 in 5 surveyed believe a co-worker will change once confronted. Skills alone will not cut it. The beliefs around conversations must be addressed as well to really solve the problem of not confronting.

Ultimately, confronting issues such as toxic attitudes is key to any healthy relationship, and there are effective and ineffective ways to go about it. One way will create positive results and the other may have no impact or even make things worse. A successful confrontation will leave both parties feeling like the relationship has been enriched and issues have been resolved. Without the skills to confront, it’s not surprising that employees don’t feel like the tactic is successful, and in turn are less likely to try to improve the situation. This cycle can be the downfall of a good team, or even an entire organization if it’s not addressed.

In addition to directly confronting the toxic employee, apply the following tips:

  1. Take employee concerns seriously. Don’t dismiss or disregard issues that are brought to your attention. Instead of sweeping concerns under the rug, address them head on. We find in organizations that when people report issues, they are often occurring weeks or sometimes months before they are openly discussed.
  2. Have a plan in place. Once toxic employees are confronted, have a growth plan in place to hold both sides accountable for their improvement. Ultimately, some negative attitudes can have root causes that can be solved and worked through. Others, not so much. A plan needs to be in place whether it is a growth plan for the employee who wants to improve, or an exit plan for those employees who insist on continuing their toxic behavior.
  3. Assure all employees are equipped to handle confrontation conversations. Confrontation conversations can be challenging, and it’s important to develop the skills necessary. There are many training options available, and our immediately applicable training suggests a simple 60-second statement to open this conversation.

The data doesn’t lie: toxic employees are costing individuals and organizations peace of mind and productivity. Confrontation—as well as the skills and willingness to do so—are essential for the growth and well-being of everyone involved, including toxic employees.

Read the full survey results here