3 ways to handle toxic behavior in the workplace

| By: Steve Farnan

So one bad apple made it through your employee filtering process. So what? That one colleague that always seems to be at the center of the conflict, and who all too frequently crosses the line into insubordinate behavior is doing more than being a pain in your side.

Toxic employees bring with their bad attitudes, lack of adherence to company rules, and overall Debbie-Downer mentalities the capability of destroying the innovative company culture you’ve worked hard to establish in your workplace.

Whether this employee has managed to fly under your radar until now, or whether you’ve turned a blind eye to their poor behavior because they’re high-performing, you simply can’t ignore them forever. Not only are they tanking your team’s morale, they’re negatively impacting your business’s reputation. It’s never easy dealing with a toxic individual. There’s not one-size-fits-all solution, but keep these 3 things in mind when you uncover the employee that’s poisoning the well for everyone else.

1. Delay at your own risk

People are allowed to have bad days. No one is perfect. So allowing for an “off day” here and there is understandable. What makes the difference is when the bad days outnumber the good days. Let’s face it, this problem will not likely fix itself, and the longer you wait, the more you risk.

Toxic employees create a sort of quicksand effect where, slowly but surely, others are drawn into their bad influence. This can do several harms to your company culture if they go long enough without counteraction.

Perpetual rule-breakers create other renegades. Negative attitudes will start seeping out of the internal communication and into external interactions with clients. Gossips erode team morale and keep the office rumor mill running at full steam.

The enemy here isn’t actually the person whose behavior is causing this. It’s hesitating to nip these fire-starting actions in the bud.

2. Say something

Being in a leadership position doesn’t magically make confrontational situations any easier to handle. However, it’s part of your job to regulate your employee’s behavior when you start noticing repetitive problems. It’s better to have that hard conversation sooner rather than later.

Tactfully address the behavior that’s causing problems. You can do this by using the tried and true sandwich method: start with a positive comment; address the negative things; end with a positive comment. Or, you can simply have a conversation with that individual.

It’s unlikely, but still possible that they’re not aware of the impact they’re having on their fellow colleagues.

Verbally addressing the problems this individual is causing (or contributing to) should have an immediate impact on their attitude. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to let them go, even if they’re meeting or exceeding the technical expectations within their position.

3. Repair the damage

Fixing your company’s culture after it’s been tarnished by a toxic employee isn’t easy, but it’s entirely possible. Talk with your staff openly and honestly, and address their cynicism head on. Clearly establish what needs to change, why it needs to change, and how you plan to execute and enforce the changes with their help.

If there aren’t written codes of conduct regarding acceptable (and unacceptable) employee behavior in your employee handbook or onboarding documents, then write them and enforce them. And it’s not all about punishment. Show your appreciation to the employees who consistently uphold your business’s ideals.

Offer training opportunities in conflict resolution, creative problem solving, and teambuilding activities. Over time, and with consistent positive reinforcement, things will turn around.

If you’re looking for more ways to strengthen and build your company culture, and best practices for retaining top talent at your business, check out these resources.