Dynamic Happenings

Flushing out the “Toxics”

March 21, 2013 Human Resources

Down the Drain

You dread it. You dread getting up in the morning and going to work. Not because you don’t like your job, you really love it, but you will have to deal with that person again. The joy-sucking troll working in (insert any department here) that makes the world miserable for you and most every other employee at your company, the “toxic” employee.

The “toxic” employee works at many businesses, big or small, and often destroys the company spirit for years on end. You may be sitting near one now. Don’t get them confused with poor performing employees; those are normally managed out quickly by efficient leadership. The “toxic” generally performs their duties well, sometimes very well, and often is responsible for a function that is both not well understood by others and crucial to smooth day-to-day operations. On the flip side, their attitude and treatment of other employees, customers, vendors, et al, acts as a cancer to the life of your company.

Why do they survive? 

Because they often succeed in making themselves integral and hard to replace. Management tends to postpone dealing with the problem because of the upheaval brought on by the loss of a key employee, cancer or not. Well, they need to be fired, and fired as quickly as proper procedures can be conducted, because the dirty little secret is all businesses should be ready to replace any employee at any time.

Every job is temporary. 

People get better job offers, move away with a spouse, they win the lottery, and they can take a “permanent vacation”, suddenly sometimes. Every employee on staff is one runaway bus from being gone and the business needs to anticipate this and make contingency plans for every position in the company. The average employee tenure is only about 4.4 years so expect changes, many of them.

Let’s be reasonable.

Maintaining the status quo with a toxic is one of the worst ways to deal with the problem. This is a dynamic problem, not a static problem. Like weeds choking out a beautiful rose garden, the suffering of others drags on and will eventually cause the loss of your more valuable employees (or customers). The company needs to take direct action, and take it now, in the form of changing the toxic behavior or removing the cause.

When the company does decides to address the toxic employee, they need to follow standard company discipline guidelines as outlined in the Company Handbook (you do have one of those, right?)  Many discipline procedures require the employee to be counseled on the unacceptable behavior and given some period of time to correct their behavior. To avoid unnecessary finger pointing and recriminations, be specific in describing the problem but general enough that it is clear the problem is with the company, and not one, or a group of, other employee(s). Allow a reasonable, but specific, amount of time for correction. Do not let it drag on, though. Follow any other discipline steps required.

These actions will probably not work since it is very hard to “discipline” personalities or emotional states of mind, but they are necessary in addressing any post firing complaints and you never know when there might be a breakthrough and they actual change their attitude.

IF that didn’t work, it’s time to let them cloud up someone else’s silver lining.

Be sure to follow the guidelines for any firing:
• Plan ahead: prepare final check and any required handouts or documentation (Cobra, Unemployment pamphlets, etc.); consider how personal property will be removed.
• Do it early in the week: don’t leave a weekend of free time for rumors to spread.
• Do it quickly: Avoid long explanations (the employee won’t hear them), and try to avoid arguments or discussions. A simple “I’m sorry but we have to let you go” will suffice.  They will know why.
• Don’t allow them to linger: stay with them while they gather their belongings and escort them off the property immediately.  No “finishing one last thing” or discussions with other employees on the way out.

We all know this isn’t easy.

But once the toxic employee is gone, you may find they weren’t as irreplaceable as they led you to believe. That should not stop your company from implementing steps to ensure everyone has a backup and contingencies are defined for dealing with sudden employee departures.  Maybe another “toxic’ employee won’t be able to get a toehold in your well-organized firm.

Photo courtesy of Craig Damlo.

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