How to overcome Toxic Employee Behaviour?

September 3, 201411:53 am887 views

People are hired for their talents and fired for their behaviour. More often than not- employees and even teams often fail at work by exhibiting patterns of behaviour that are toxic. We’ve all witnessed the devastation these toxic employee behaviours cause – to work relationships, to personal and professional growth, and to the general well-being of both the individual behaving negatively, and to everyone around them.

The following ten varieties of toxic organizational behaviour (TOB) top my list of offenders:

  1. Aggressiveness. It undermines safety and requires people to divert resources from productive work into defensive management methods.
  2. Narcissism. An excessive of self-focus interferes with the development of a positive and flexible culture of balanced negotiation and give-and take compromises.
  3. Lack of credibility. When people don’t do what they say they will do, they lack credibility and breed mistrust.
  4. Passivity. The opposite of the initiative and ownership needed for optimal performance.
  5. Disorganization. Operational requirements for focus, structure, and discipline will not be met when people exhibit a lack of personal organization.
  6. Resistance to change. Since the world is always changing and requires continuous adaptation, rigidity and resistance to change guarantee eventual obsolescence and failure.
  7. Playing the Perpetual victim. – Another toxic employee behaviour is persistent complaining- and playing the perpetual victims- a sign of an employee unwilling to take control and responsibility.
  8. Making superficial judgments. – This is for the employee who reacts too quickly to situations based on very superficial assessments. While quick thinking is a good quality- making decisions without all the facts will only hurt your brand in the long term.
  9. Cheating and cutting corners- Cheating is a choice, not a mistake, and not an excuse!  And employees who decide to cut corners and cheat like to think their employer or client is a fool- a stance that will never work out.
  10. Credit taking- Everyone will meet one of these in their careers- the employees who will try to take credit for work that they have not done.

So why do organizations keep getting infected?

There are three main reasons why organizations aren’t successful in spotting potential toxic behaviour.

1. Interviews. Most interview processes don’t have any detection systems in place for these behaviours- and more importantly most candidates are savvy enough to conceal their toxic behaviours throughout the interview process. There is also the case of many employees and candidates being unaware of their own toxic behaviour- making them very much like liars who pass lie detection tests because they believe in their own lies.

2. References. References- which should be the best source to get important clues on a potentially toxic employee often end up unreliable because references do not want to stir up conflict. In addition, many references genuinely do not wish to harm a person’s employment prospects by providing “negative” feedback. Letters of recommendation are especially poor detectors of toxic employees and unstructured phone follow-up are not much better.

3. Managers can’t detect it. Many managers have difficulty detecting and dealing effectively with the dysfunctional behaviour of their direct reports. They can remain unaware of Toxic Employee Behaviour for extended periods of time because:

  • Employees know how to conceal their toxic behaviours from their bosses.
  • The people around the toxic employees are unwilling to report it to the relevant authorities due to powerful group prohibitions against “snitching” (a social offense punishable in most groups by shunning, expulsion or outright bullying).
  • Employee “behaviour” is often not included in the performance measurement/management system- sending the message that as long as the employee delivers results, he or she can get away with figurative murder.

Even if a manager becomes aware of toxic behaviour in an employee, they may avoid dealing with it directly because:

  • They are too busy dealing with more urgent matters.
  • They are uncomfortable “confronting” the behaviour directly.
  • They lack the talent management skills to deal with the behaviour effectively.

The combination of leader unawareness and avoidance can result in the prolonged presence of toxic behaviour in an organization with harmful effects on employee morale, overall performance, and ultimately, the company bottom line.

So how can managers deal with Toxic Employee Behaviour?

The best strategy for dealing with toxic behaviour is prevention.

Basic Prevention: The most commonsense prevention strategy is employing practices that prevent people with these traits from being hired in the first place. Approaches like self-assessment instruments and “360 degree” observer ratings work better in detecting potential problems than interviews and reference checks.

Another effective prevention practice is to inform potential candidates about the core success competencies for a position and unacceptable behaviours- and alert candidates these unacceptable behaviours will not be tolerated.

2nd level Prevention: While the ideal circumstance is to prevent hiring employees with these traits completely, sometimes toxic behaviours do fall under the hiring radar. It is important to detect these behaviours early in a person’s tenure and minimize its impact. This can involve providing some education and coaching about toxic behaviours during the first weeks of employment as part of job training.

Last resort Prevention: If all attempts at prevention are ineffective, the only thing left to do is let the employee go before even more damage is done. Letting someone go however can be a legal minefield, so it is essential to have documented clear and ongoing communication about these behaviours- and show that efforts were made to improve the situation- as this will lay the groundwork for a relatively smooth dismissal.

Managers- don’t be too hard on yourselves.

Almost everyone has some kind of unhealthy personality trait buried deep within them that has the potential to sneak up on them sometimes.

More often than not- once an errant employee is made aware of their toxic behaviour- they will take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Vigilance- and open communication is the key. And if you did miss these toxic employee behaviours- don’t be too hard on yourself- and instead be thankful you did spot them and are taking the first step towards correcting them.



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