Toxic employees can be as bad if not worse than a bad manager or even inept leadership. Toxic employees are typically overconfident and selfish and generally understand how to walk the fine line between right and wrong to ensure they do not fall foul of company policy. They generally do not cooperate with others or respect their peers because they’re always looking out for themselves, which in a workplace that requires teamwork makes things even more difficult.
Although they do not respect their peers and will “throw them under the bus” at any given opportunity when faced with a manager in the room, they will be the epitome of teamwork and engagement.
What is considered toxic behaviour in the workplace?
If we first look at a toxic work environment, we can consider the difference between the two.
A “Toxic work environment” is one where the people and culture are so disruptive that the business can not function in any meaningful manner. Have you ever had a job where the need to go back to work the following day keeps you awake at night? Have you ever had a position where you only remain because you need the money and feel you have no other option?
If you feel or have felt like this, you will have been in a “Toxic Work Environment.”
A “Toxic Employee” is, in effect, a bull in a China shop with ballerina shoes on. Or the “Smiling Assassin”
What do I mean by this?
Generally, when in the presence of senior management or maybe even HR, the Toxic Employee will be the shining light of employee engagement. They know how to dance the fine line to keep themselves out of the HR in-tray and cause huge issues for their direct supervisors.
The main reason for the supervisor issue is the other employees who see and are subjected to the bad behaviour of the Toxic employee and are constantly demanding action.
Out of sight of the senior management, the Toxic Employee is causing havoc and seriously affecting the business.
What are the signs of a toxic employee?
The yes-person: “Yes, that sounds great, if you say so.”
Difficult to identify, as they may appear to be just one of those annoying personalities. You may have noticed, however, that this team member always agrees at the end of meetings without ever putting something new on the table. If they don’t ask questions, this is likely an indicator that they are unwilling to learn. They’ll put the minimum effort to perform precisely what’s expected and nothing more. They’ll wait for detailed instructions without taking any initiative.
The procrastinator: “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
In a world where employees use the web for their work or even have to stay connected on various social media to communicate with customers, we’re all guilty of minor distractions from time to time. However, when those distractions stop being quick and innocent, problems arise. If your employee starts missing their deadlines or submitting low-quality work, you must address their behaviour.
The excuse-maker: “That’s not my job.”
This type of Toxic employee is similar to the procrastinator in the way they both try to avoid work. But, the excuse-maker is more creative. They’ll make excuses for their bad work ethic, try to have a peer take up the slack, and try to slip under the radar for as long as possible. Other common ‘symptoms’ include high absenteeism, low energy and lack of motivation.
The narcissist: “Nobody can do what I do.”
Who says a toxic employee can’t be a high achiever? A narcissistic employee is usually an excellent performer but doesn’t seem to recognise the value of a strong team. They prefer to work independently and may even underestimate or see their co-workers as inferior. Your company, though, needs team cooperation to meet challenging targets.
The Back deck Lawyer: “I can do what I want.”
This is the Toxic employee who believes he knows employment law at the same level as a barrister. You will hear them holding court in the tea bars, the smoking areas or even on the shop floor. Giving speeches on what the company needs to do and change or “the union will get involved.”
These employees will never do what is asked by their supervisors without debate. Given any opportunity under whatever corporate or government legislation they have found out, they will publicly and loudly refuse to do that job making the supervisor look stupid and eroding any credibility that the supervisor had.
How do you deal with a toxic co-worker?
If you are a manager or supervisor and find a “Toxic Employee”, you have your work cut out for you.
Employment law makes it increasingly challenging to sack an employee, and your Toxic one knows this. Removing them will take time and patience, maybe even “turning the other cheek” occasionally.
It would help if you documented everything. You need to comment on the behaviour, not the individual and ensure you can demonstrate that the conduct contravenes company or legal policy.
Make sure that when you see the “bad behaviour”, you offer constructive advice in public to address this to stop it. Anything you say in private meetings can and generally will be denied officially. Any meetings you decide you need to have with the employee should be done in consultation with your HR department. This is so it is official and documented.
Be very careful in writing emails or messages to the employee, as you can guarantee they are keeping copies and will use them against you should you end up in a tribunal.
Getting this wrong and ending up in an unfair dismissal case can cause the company financial liabilities and reputational damage. This, in turn, will more than likely have repercussions on your employment at the company. You may not lose your job, but your career prospects will be hampered.
A final word of warning. Should the employee try for a payday in the courts, they have the right to ask for copies of their HR file and any emails (including yours) with their names on or in it.