Death by a thousand paper cuts

Apr 24   •  Culture  •  Headspace

In order to have a company or organisation function properly, you need to have a culture in place that the employees will identify with and abide by. Toxic employees harm this organisational culture and bring down user engagement, productivity and in turn, the company turnover. The organisational culture can be damaged by a single toxic employee or maybe a group of employees festering negativity. On your part, you can identify and weed out this toxicity before it can affect any lasting damage to your workplace.

How do you identify if an employee is toxic or not?
People act negatively for many reasons. It could be an expression of their need for control; it could be because they are insecure about their position in the company or it could be because of hardships they’re facing in their personal lives. Usually, a need for control manifests in the form of bullying. No company should permit any bullying in the workplace. If a person is found guilty of workplace bullying, they should be warned. If the person repeats their actions despite this warning, it forms ample ground for them to be terminated from their job role.

Employees often feel insecure themselves in their workplace and try to exploit other people’s insecurities to make themselves feel marginally better. If a manager can build an empowering workplace at the company, the employee will no longer feel insecure and behave in a toxic manner. Rewards and recognition, from time to time, also go a long way in making an employee feel valued and motivated at work.

Sometimes, an employee can be facing difficulties at home and vent this pent up anger at frustration at work. Behaviour like this is disruptive for the workplace and hampers workplace productivity. How can a manager tackle such an employee? Well, the manager can encourage an open-door policy where the employee can come to the manager regarding any issue that he/she may be experiencing. Secondly, the manager can have a professional in place who this employee can seek guidance from if they are not comfortable in confiding to them. Finally, a company that allows its employees to take regular breaks to blow off steam is more competent in handling workplace pressures in the long run. So, the manager could create a company culture which beliefs in having its employees take time off from their desks at intervals.

It is essential to identify and mitigate the potential harm that can be caused by toxic behaviour at the workplace as it is not only detrimental to company culture but also pushes productivity to a nosedive.

How do you deal with toxic people at your workplace?
After you’ve identified who is contributing to the toxicity in your workplace, it is time to take steps to manage this toxicity. The first thing to do would be to understand the reasons why this individual/group of individuals is indulging in this toxic behaviour. If possible, the manager could offer help to help them deal with these or maybe direct them to resources which they could utilise to deal with their circumstances better.

Often, toxic people are found to be utterly oblivious to the negativity inherent in their thoughts and actions. The manager’s job is to make them aware of this behaviour and how it affects the workplace. Make sure you, as a manager, provide concrete examples of this , so the individual/s do not have any room for denial. It’s helpful to inform them of the changes you’d like to see in their behaviour from then on.

If this doesn’t have the desired effect, you can always remind them of all they have to lose. Don’t threaten them. Just give themselves a reason to reconsider their behaviour. Many times when the carrot doesn’t work, the stick does. So, if your employee is slated for a bonus, put this at stake and ask them to reform their behaviour if they still want a shot at this bonus.
Some individuals are incredibly resistant to change. They fail to see the wrong in their actions and persist in their improper behaviour. If you feel like you’ve already tried the above options and they’ve failed you, think over whether it is wise to carry on with this fellow at your workspace.

If you do decide to terminate the services of this employee/group of employees, make sure you have a record of all their inappropriate behaviour and exchanges. You don’t want to give them a chance to sully your company name. Gather evidence to defend your decision to fire them as best as you can.

Lastly, if for some reason, you can’t immediately let this person go – isolate them from the rest of their team. At least, this way they cannot spread their toxicity to other minds at work.
How to not let toxic people at work affect you

Exposure to poisonous behaviour at your workplace can leave you feeling drained and stressed. You don’t always get to pick the people you work with, so it’s important to know how to immunise yourself from negative employees at work. Here are a few tips to help you cope –
• Focus on self-care – You can’t expect to deal with toxic people and not have it take a toll on you. As the old adage goes, “Precaution is better than cure”. Eat right, exercise and be well rested so that you have a positive mind space to deal with all of the negativity that will ensue.
• Don’t involve yourself too much – When you work together at a workplace, you can’t just ignore a person because you know they are toxic. You still have to engage with them to ensure optimal workflow. Interact with them, but also keep an objective emotional distance, so you don’t get personally affected by their negativity.
• Remove yourself whenever possible – Try to keep away from this toxic individual in general, only interacting with them in a professional capacity when you must.

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