By Perminus Wainaina
How can a toxic employee affect the working environment?
Philip is a Human Resource Manager at a media company. Lately, he has been receiving complaints about one employee. It began with the employee taking loans from his colleagues and not paying back when the loans were due. Then it moved to drinking and showing up to work late. Still, the employee’s behavior did not stop there. He soon started badmouthing some of his colleagues. It went as far the employee leaking classified information about upcoming projects to a competing firm.
None of the other employees want to work with him. Working with him meant risking your work getting out there before you had a chance to complete it, unprofessionalism and lateness in meeting crucial deadlines, and whenever anyone approached the employee about his behavior, he would verbally abuse them and later start a rumor to the coworkers.
Phillip had tried resolving the issues a few times. Ultimately, he decided it was time to let the employee go. The management, on the other hand, had other ideas. This employee brought in over 20% revenue. During this time; when the colleagues were complaining about his behavior, the employee’s performance was still okay. The top management, therefore, did not see the need to fire the employee.
Phillip wanted to know what he should do, should he ignore the complaints he was getting form the workers and let this employee working, or should he bring up the matter with the top management again, and show them how the employee is negatively affecting the work environment?
How do you deal with a toxic employee?
A toxic employee can affect the whole department as it affects how efficient the other employees are. In Phillip’s case, it has gotten to the point where two employees have resigned, citing they could not handle working in the same office.
Here are 3 tips on how you can handle such an employee.
1. Have a private conversation with them
The workplace is full of professionals with different characteristics, and an employee might be perceived as toxic from their character or actions.
There was this instance where some employees approached the HR, complaining about a colleague who would make fun about their tribes and where they came from. When the HR approached the employee, she said she was trying to befriend the colleagues, and the jokes were her way of trying to break the ice. This employee did not mean any harm to the colleagues. Once she understood the other employees had not taken her words lightly, she apologized and stopped the behavior.
While employees should be mindful of their colleagues’ beliefs, cultures, personalities, and religion, there are cases where an employee will innocently do something that others find offensive.
Approach the employee privately and explain to them how their behavior is affecting the other employees.
2. Establish the root cause of the employee’s behavior
In my experience, I’ve come to recognize toxicity rarely starts from nowhere. In most cases, something has happened to make an employee display toxic behavior. A good example is a story I recently read on one of the local papers.
The story featured a star performing employee, who gradually started to change his behavior. He had once been the type of employee who could help you with your project, and he got along with everyone. Over time, he started abusing and distancing himself from his female colleagues.
The HR noticed this and she talked to him, trying to see if she could see why he had changed so much. Since he was a top performing employee, the HR did not want to just let him go. He shared he was in the middle of a divorce, and that had really affected him.
The HR gave him some time off to go and take care of the issue. After a while, the employee came back to work and was soon back to his old self.
Often, there’s a reason why an employee would suddenly change. If you get to the bottom of it, you can rid your organization from the toxicity.
In the case above, the HR understood what was ailing the employee after spending some time with him. After she understood his pain, she was empathetic and gave him some time to get his affairs in order. Empathy is a great skill when it comes to managing employees.
3. Address the behavior, not the employee’s personality
Whether an employee is toxic or not, you should not undermine them. Instead, let them know about the behavior that is affecting other employees, and how they can change the behavior.
Attacking an employee’s personality will only damage them emotionally and psychologically.
Ultimately, it is important to realize that the employees give their best when they’re in a conducive working environment. Toxicity damages this environment, and can easily spread to other employees. Managing a toxic employee will not only create an environment where employees work together in synergy, it will also grow the organization, as everyone works towards a common goal.
Perminus Wainaina is an experienced HR Practioner with over 15 years experience in executive recruitment and selection, training, performance management, and Kenyan labour laws.
He has consulted for firms such as Safaricom Sacco, Oxfam, Un Women, Pacis Insurance, Windsor Golf, Muthaiga Country Club, etc. Currently, he represents the private sector at KEBS in the HR standardization committee.