You undoubtedly have noticed a recent increase of articles on toxic employees. These are based on a newly released study by Society of Human Resource Management citing 20% of US employees have left their workplace due to a toxic environment, costing employers more than $220 billion. Furthermore, the study firmly places blame on management. Specifically, respondents said that managers didn’t have the critical skills to create a positive culture or didn’t effectively communicate to foster a culture of open and transparent communication.

This credible survey regarding toxic employees or the uncertainty of managers to handle the workplace culture isn’t something good leaders simply scroll past without further consideration on how this information may apply in their business. Consider if 20% of your workforce just wasn’t there, or even just 10% or 5%. There is no excuse for inaction or tolerance of a toxic team member.

Did you know that one bad apple can cause the entire team’s performance to drop by 30% to 40%? And based on this recent SHRM survey, a number of other employees are willing to quit to avoid the unnecessary drama. This is one circumstance that managers cannot just place on the back burner with a “wait and see” approach. Employees hold managers accountable for setting the right culture in the work environment, and you risk losing good employees if you are not prepared to act.

Here are some key steps on how to identify a toxic employee and how to properly manage behavior.

  1. Recognizing drama or consistent spreading of negativity. Of course, no employee is likely going to be a ray of sunshine every day but pay attention to the employee who is regularly breeding negativity. Such persistent behaviors cannot be ignored.
  2. Explore all complaints about the individual, remaining impartial and focusing on only facts. Objectivity is key. PEOPLE HR Solutions has significant experience in conducting effective and impartial Complaints & Investigations if necessary.
  3. Privately meet with the employee to bring the unacceptable behaviors to light. Remain clear and stick to facts, not opinion. You are the leader, and it is your responsibility to remain professional and in control. First conversations can be considered as coaching opportunities, however if your employee escalates, you may need to be more firm. Ideally, the goal here is to change behavior and not threaten continued employment.
  4. Document all of your encounters and conversations. Keep a record of the date, time, and what transpired in each specific encounter. Write down just the facts. Don’t let your emotions unconsciously exaggerate an already negative situation. PEOPLE HR suggests all documentation be prepared clearly and factually as if it were to be reviewed by an independent third party, avoiding any bias.
  5. If behaviors have not improved, consider escalating to more serious discipline or possible termination.   PEOPLE HR can assist you with progressive disciplinary process to best document termination “for cause” if necessary.

Many managers forget the key step of addressing the other team members during and after the coaching and discipline process. If they made a complaint, thank them for bringing it to your attention, assure them you are taking any necessary action. If the toxic employee is reprimanded, it is no one else’s business and not appropriate for public consumption, but you can spend a bit more one on one time with the team to lead by example. And, if the negative employee is let go, it is your responsibility to speak with the rest of the team. Of course, it is not suitable to speak ill about the employee, but you can take the opportunity to speak to the positive visions and values of your business, perhaps enforcing themes like collaboration, mutual respect and professionalism. After all, this personal attention ties right back to the assertions by survey respondents indicating that management didn’t have the critical skills to create a positive culture or didn’t effectively communicate to foster a culture of open and transparent communication.

If you have additional concerns about conflict in the workplace, toxic employees, complaints and investigations, progressive discipline or manager training, don’t hesitate to reach out to Julie Bleich, SPHR with PEOPLE HE Solutions, LLC for the support you need.