Have you ever noted that your best employee can also be your worst? Acting like “adult children” happens more often than you’d think. For example, the top sales performer who promises unrealistic delivery dates that put production in a bind or the star trainer who makes the department look great but complains incessantly to coworkers about an unfair salary can sap your business’ productivity.
Toxic Employees – How Much Are They Worth?
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A salesman I know constantly overpromised and underdelivered. Bobby guaranteed software updates that weren’t programmed into the system and didn’t return calls when the automatic updates didn’t happen. When customers called the service technician, he’d explain that the software wasn’t capable of doing the updates Bobby had promised and suffered the customer’s wrath. When Bobby eventually returned customer calls, he told them that the service techs were incompetent. Needless to say, Bobby didn’t have a close relationship with his peers in Technical Support.
I once worked with a woman who was perfect all the time. Darla was the total package, Brooks Brother suit on a size 4 body, beautiful face enveloped by curls, poised and smooth at all times. She was the consummate trainer. We worked together in a small department, revolutionizing the way the business looked at quality.
But Darla took all the credit for the work we created as a group, smiled and said all the right things to senior managers, and then complained constantly to her coworkers about her slow advancement and subpar salary. She made her peers feel inadequate, sowing discord and insecurity in a department that was revolutionizing the medical view of how to deliver medicine. Our lofty goal was dimmed by her attitude.
A common theme – toxic employees affect the attitude and performance of everyone they meet. They lower productivity and can spread discontent like a virus.
The dilemma is that these toxic players often have specialized knowledge, and the company needs them. So what do you do?
Here are some ideas of how to deal with toxic employees who are poisoning the well:
- Include “collaboration and teamwork” in your key values – and hold people to it.
- Include the concept of a healthy working environment in your handbook, spelling out clearly your expectation of teamwork and collaboration.
- Place equal weight on performance and behavior in performance reviews. Evaluate how your employees act on par with what they do.
- Talk to the toxic employee and find out if there is upheaval in his or her life. Personal problems shouldn’t, but often do, spill over into the workplace. Sympathize, but be clear that bad behavior is unacceptable.
- Deliver consequences for the behavior. Put the employee on a performance improvement plan; explain how the behavior needs to change, the timeframe expected for progress, and resources that will help eliminate the poisonous conduct. And check in weekly until the behavior improves.
- If the conduct doesn’t improve, start looking for a replacement. You may have a star player – but at what cost?
You need to put on your big kid pants now and manage the problem – or you can wait and handle the additional damage later. How much is that best (worst) employee worth?
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