Monday, November 21, 2016

Are You Ignoring a Toxic Worker?

As we approach the holiday season, it's time to think about the Scrooge in your office.

Not just the person who is stingy, but the one who is grumpy. Unkind. Unwilling to help others. Flouts rules and regulations.


Why do these people keep their jobs? One reason may be because bosses don't like to deal with them, so they ignore them. Instead, they focus on superstar workers, telling themselves that the toxic worker is balanced out by all the great employees. Another reason is that toxic employees can often appear very productive, and no boss wants to mess with someone who appears to be churning out work and meeting deadlines. A study finds, however, that these workers aren't doing quality work and their bad behavior and its impact on the organization negates any gains.

The research shows that that it can actually pay off more for a company to get rid of a toxic worker -- it's even better for the bottom line than hiring a superstar.

That's because toxic employees impact not just the job they're supposed to be doing, but everyone around them. They demoralize coworkers, hurt customer relationships and impact stakeholder attitudes.

The study finds that toxic workers are like a bad case of office flu -- their bad attitudes and habits can infect others in the workplace, even those who previously have been good workers.

"Since we found some evidence that a toxic worker can have more impact on performance than a 'superstar' it may be that spending more time limiting negative impacts on an organization might improve everyone's outcome to a greater extent than only focusing on increasing positive impacts," researchers say.

In other words, bosses who ignore the problem with the belief that just hiring more superstars will make up for the toxic workers are in for a very unpleasant surprise. With that  mind, here are some things to consider when dealing with a toxic worker:

  • Take action. Once you get an inkling that a worker is behaving badly, immediately set up a session with the worker to analyze what's happening. Provide coaching or mentoring for the worker, and schedule regular check-ins to see how the worker is progressing. 
  • Document. It's best to have a written plan in place that both the worker and the boss agree to follow. This helps give the worker a clear plan of improvement.
  • Make ethics known. Many organizations think that employees should just know that they're not supposed to steal office supplies, gossip or write nasty tweets about customers. But unless an organization makes itself clear on where it stands, it can be difficult to enforce standards of behavior. Putting organizational ethics in writing -- and periodically reviewing them with all employees -- is a good chance to make clear the kind of behavior that is expected.

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