Toxic Employees

So much has been said about toxic employers that I don’t think there is a single person out there who has not experienced toxicity.

A toxic workplace is very hard to work in. There is low morale, endless unresolved conflicts, employees are anxious all the time and generally, the entire working atmosphere is full of negativity. However, what if the toxicity is not from the employer but the employee? Have we ever stopped and considered that sometimes, employees are the ones that create a toxic workplace? We may argue that it is the organization’s culture that enables such employees to exist in workplaces. True. We must also take into consideration that employees are different, with very different personalities and in the spirit of diversity and inclusion, sometimes employers end up with such toxic people. This is why the aspect of cultural fit cannot be over emphasized when it comes to matters recruitment.

Toxic employees come in many forms; from the outright narcissists, the workplace bullies, the chronic complainers and ofcourse the passive-aggressive colleagues. Have you ever worked with an employee or colleague that complains about anything and everything? When the sun shines, they complain, if it rains, they do too. They will look at you and complain about the color of your eyes, show up to a scheduled meeting 30minutes late and instead of apologizing first, they’ll be complaining about the security guard who took one minute to open the gate and that’s why they are late. These are the kinds of people you stay clear of because each time they open their mouth there is always something they don’t like that comes out. They ooze negativity throughout and are always the prophets/prophetesses of doom.

Then we have the narcissists. These ones suffer from what I call superiority complex; they feel that they are better than everyone else, will manipulate everyone to get what they want and yes, they expect to be praised for everything they do. As far as a narcissist is concerned, your opinion on anything doesn’t count and they will shut you down in a heartbeat. They will kill any useful initiative you come up with not because it can’t work, but simply because it didn’t originate from them. They always have to be the center of attention in the company. They will try to pit you and your colleague against each other and you won’t even see it coming until he ‘hits you below the belly’.

Workplace bullies are very common though and very easy to spot. They are normally dominant, loud and will not shy away from embarrassing or shouting at their colleague in the presence of others with the aim of embarrassing them. They operate from a point of jealousy and insecurity and for this reason they feel the need to tear down others so that they can stand out. A bully will also use reverse psychology on you, where they give you the silent treatment, exclude you from meetings and act in ways that make you feel that they are ignoring you especially in instances where you need their input the most.

A passive-aggressive person is that employee will test your level of intelligence by making you look crazy. Whenever you confront them with an issue, they’ll act like you are overreacting or they have no idea what you are talking about, when you ask them about their opinion about a project, they’ll say they are okay with whatever you decide and once the meeting is over, that’s when they’ll go round the office talking to everyone and anyone about how they felt that your idea was rubbish and you should have done this or that. They say one thing and mean the other and when things get thick they will suddenly develop selective amnesia and leave you to ‘fry’.

All these personalities and many others make up our workplaces. I know you after reading each one of the above, you are already seeing some of your colleagues (please don’t say it out loudly, lol!) The reality is that dealing with a toxic employee is as hard as dealing with a toxic employer. They will drain all the energy and patience in you and in the end, impact the organization and team productivity negatively. As a Manager, you have to be very tactful when dealing with them otherwise; you will end up falling into the trap they have set for you.

Managing toxic employees, among other things, requires dealing with the specific issue and not attacking the individual because some of them are so smart that they will turn around the entire conversation and end up making you look bad. Also, give direct feedback to such employees, without trying to beat about the bushes. Your decisions about them must be based on facts and not assumptions. Ensure everything is documented, especially conversations around their behavior, lest they develop amnesia. Finally, do not be afraid of cutting ties with a toxic employee. The cost of keeping such an employee in your workplace is much higher than releasing them. Their impact on the mental health of their colleagues cannot even be quantified. There are some employers who believe that employees who exhibit such behaviors as I’ve mentioned are the ones who are actually the hardest working in the organization. The reality is that they are doing more harm than good to the company. So don’t just sit there, do something!

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