Dealing with Toxic Employees for a Positive Workplace Culture

toxic employees

A positive workplace culture provides many benefits, such as improved well-being, higher employee engagement, and an overall rise in productivity. However, sometimes, some employees may cause disruptions at work that affect the dynamics necessary for teams to work cohesively. 

When left unchecked, these toxic employees may compromise the entire flow and progress of your organisation. However, jumping the gun and “overreacting” to the earliest signs of toxic behavior might upset the workplace and create a psychologically unsafe environment where employees will be less likely to express themselves. 

Therefore, organisational leaders must take the middle ground – acknowledging toxic behavior and responding strategically. As such, the most influential leaders should be effective communicators, capable of choosing the most appropriate words and connecting with their audience regardless of the situation. 

Recognise the Common Signs of Toxic Behavior

There are various types of toxic behaviours at work, and some are not immediately obvious. According to one workplace survey, 40% of employees listed uncooperative and overly competitive colleagues as barriers to work-life balance. 

Toxic colleagues may eventually lead to hostile work environments linked to employee disengagement and high turnover. Hence, organisational leaders should identify the different telltale signs of toxic behaviour among workers to offer quick intervention and ideal outcomes for each party involved.  

 Passive-Aggressive Temperaments

One common sign of toxic employees involves the silent treatment and a constant undermining of their colleague’s achievements. These individuals are likely to apply sarcasm and disparaging speech, especially in collaborative projects. 

Additionally, passive-aggressive individuals may exhibit an air of superiority or disconnect from their colleagues while being cynical of their every word and action. 

Perhaps the most worrying concern is that these individuals may be unwilling to accept constructive feedback or alternate perspectives, which could prove detrimental to the growth of an organisation. 

Gossips Abound

Toxic employees usually have the habit of spreading unverified news that could prove detrimental to a colleague’s reputation. These gossips usually arise from vague sources, saturated with assumptions and spoken behind a person’s back. 

Gossips cause the opposite effect of team-building, eroding trust and confidence among individuals, eventually leading to conflict and poor performance. Instead, employers should promote a positive workplace culture where employees may communicate openly and share useful knowledge to further the organisation. 

There should be a spirit of inquiry and general inclusivity where each opinion and concern receives the same level of respect and acceptance. Leaders need to be the catalyst that drives a transparent work environment conducive to empathetic and objective-driven teamwork. 

The Blame Game

Your organisations will fail to maintain a positive workplace culture as long as there is the prevalent practice of blame-shifting. Blame culture lacks accountability and all the crucial social ingredients necessary in keeping employees engaged in their tasks and responsibilities. 

Toxic employees are unlikely to accept blame when they are at fault and will not hesitate to expose the mistakes and shortcomings of colleagues to gain an advantage over them in the leader’s eyes. 

Rather than brainstorming and focusing on practical solutions to a workplace challenge, toxic employees focus on improving their immediate situation at the expense of their colleagues. 

A toxic employee generally displays selfish behaviour that prioritises personal preferences over the needs of the organisation. As such, they are likely to work in silos or within cliques, which limits their growth and progression. 

Assess the Situation 

Toxic employees tend to have underlying reasons for behaving uncooperatively. Rather than accepting toxic behaviour for what it is, leaders should get to the root cause of the situation. Leaders may achieve this by having open conversations with employees and gaining a better understanding of their perspectives. 

These intimate conversations should be conducted outside formal meetings to provide employees with the protected privacy and comfort to voice their deepest feelings and intentions. 

Toxic employees may be acting in a specific way due to perceived threats to their career, overwhelming workplace stress, or external distractions that affect their mood and behaviour. Before reacting/responding to toxic behaviour, leaders should first provide an outlet for employees to share their grievances and clear the air. 

Voice Concerns and Set Boundaries

If toxic employees persist in uncooperative behaviour after addressing their issues, it’s time for leaders to enforce a stricter approach. 

In such cases, organisational leaders need to set boundaries and inform toxic employees of the consequences of their behaviour (i.e., performance reviews). Leaders should explain the far-reaching negative impact on organisational growth and the people affected (i.e., partners, customers, and shareholders).  

Ideally, leaders should set a realistic timeline for expected changes and routine reviews to track improvements in work relationships. 

As business consultant and public speaker, Jeff Butler shared, “here is where the tire meets the road, having actual consequences if their behavior does not improve. Without this step, the toxic employee will have no reason to improve their past behavior.” 

Make Tough Decisions 

In the worst-case scenario, toxic employees may stick to old habits despite multiple warnings. That’s when leaders have no choice but to lay off the toxic employee. Essentially, it is the last resort to contain the situation and limit the damage to the rest of their organisation.

Leaders should carry out the process in a discreet manner, staying professional throughout the decision. Ultimately, employees should understand their roles within an organisation and their contributions to fostering company culture.

While toxic employees may have the experience and capabilities of fulfilling their individual tasks, a successful organisation requires every worker to contribute to its progress through collective effort. 

Creative workshops like Lego Serious Play can help improve conversations and dynamics between co-workers and avoid miscommunications that may compromise a positive work culture. 

Leaders serve the crucial role of setting the benchmark for their workforce – and by being active listeners and showing recognition where it’s due, they can keep out toxic behaviour before they take hold. 

StrengthsAsia has helped many individuals and corporate clients empower leaders throughout the region by enabling breakthrough experiences for both leaders and followers. If you wish to learn more about the Strengths Leadership Program, please reach out to us here.

A devotee at the altar of language and a celebrant of expression. Laurenzo has written for various SMEs, MNCs, startups and international brands over the last three years. He specializes in topics of psychology, lifestyle, employee management, and digital trends.

Maalikka is the latest addition to StrengthsAsia’s team of marketing and content extraordinaries. As an avid reader, writer and learner, she’s always on the lookout for new information online or interesting conversations to inspire her. Her other passions include gaming, Netflix and cats.

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