This article comes from Entrepreneur.
Toxic employees don’t have to be malicious, but they’re people who make your workplace worse, losing you value and hurting the people around them. If you make the wrong hire and you’ve already got a toxic person on staff, the best thing to do is to immediately take action before things get any worse.
When you get the sense that an employee might be toxic, the first step always is to find specifics. Unless you’re firing the person on the spot (hopefully a very rare, nuclear option), you’re going to have to talk with this individual and explain what about his or her behavior is a problem.
Though it’s easy to think of toxic employees as the one aggressive sales guy who works by himself that no one gets along with, or the woman from marketing who rolls her eyes at every idea she doesn’t bring up herself, that’s not necessarily the case.
Sometimes a toxic employee is someone who has emotional issues and treats the workplace as a personal therapy meeting. Or a friendly, well-liked slacker who constantly comes up with excuses for a lack of productivity. These people may not realize they have a problem.
If you’re going to show toxic employees their issues, you have to have something to give them. You need to talk out specifics and details, not just generalities. The first instinct they’re likely to have is to deflect and blame other people or the situation — you have to have something specific and firm to tie them down to the facts.
Once you have the information, you have to have a one-on-one conversation with the employee. Talk about the undesirable behavior and how it’s affected the team, using the specifics you’ve gathered. This person needs to understand both the consequences for bad behavior moving forward and the importance of good behavior.
As Jeff Butler, a keynote speaker and workforce consultant, noted on his blog, “Without this step, the toxic employee will have no reason to improve their past behavior. Usually a good benchmark is stating, ‘If your behavior on x, y, z does not approve in 30 days, you will be put on performance review.’”
However, Butler also warned of a potential pitfall that can take place, saying, “Sometimes a toxic employee after being approached would approach other team members and confront them … thinking they are negative. Make sure to address this in when setting boundaries.”
One method of dealing with toxic employees championed by business educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith is “feedforward.” Feedforward is the opposite of feedback — instead of focusing on what’s happened in the past, feedforward is a presentation of action steps the employee can take to solve toxic behaviors. It’s particularly useful if your toxic employee is a high performer.
“Feedforward is especially suited to successful people,” Goldsmith said on his blog. “Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment.”
When a toxic employee has been given boundaries and some ways in which he or she can change a bad behavior, it’s important to keep an eye out to make sure this person is amending that behavior.
Prudential Financial has a specific process it follows with toxic employees, which the Society for Human Resource Management recently laid out. It takes an employee with known bad behavior and runs him or her through a course that’s dedicated to making the bad behavior better — whether that might happen with a counselor, a book, one-on-one training or any number of other solutions. Then, regular meetings with that person are scheduled and constant contact is maintained to ensure he or she is learning and growing.
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