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How to Deal with Toxic Employees

Because negativity and toxicity spread like germs in the workplace, you need to recognize the characteristics of the toxic worker. Whether it’s gossip, unconstructive criticism, drama, bitterness, constant complaining, or blaming others, toxicity can be as harmful to your workplace as germs can be to your body. If your organization is suffering from lower productivity, lower emotional intelligence, lack of enthusiasm, personal agendas, or loss of key employees, it may be time for detox.

Discovering what makes people toxic is the key to creating a better work environment. Anytime a person feels so uncomfortable that he needs to be toxic in order to function, the fight or flight response is in effect — he is in a survival mode.

A toxic person’s behavior interferes with her own work and the work of others. The following are some possible causes of toxicity:

  • Not understanding the company’s vision

  • Having become disconnected from the purpose of the organization

  • An unfulfilled need to connect with others

  • Nonexistent emotional intelligence skills

  • Problems at home

  • Feeling underappreciated

To begin detoxing your business, work to uncover the root problems of the negativity by opening the lines of communication. Speak individually with each person who is bringing negativity to the workplace, and speak to those who are caught in that negativity and may be spreading it as a result. Take the time to find out what they feel is expected of them and reiterate your expectations. Clarify and emphasize your vision. Show them where they fit into your vision and your mission. Find out how things are for them at home. Offer counseling or other resources if the problem does stem from somewhere outside the office.

After you have face-to-face conversations with the toxic people in your company, meet with each team or department. Review your vision and your mission at the beginning of every meeting. If you find that other employees don't know where they fit in, begin individual meetings with everyone, both toxic and nontoxic. Make your presence known throughout your organization. Be present. Observe. Listen.

As you look for solutions, note that you may be part of the problem. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see? Are your words or actions negative? Meet with the executive team and discuss the problem. Make sure that they have an opportunity to speak up if they’re having difficulty with expectations, purpose, or next steps.

Just as toxic people spread their negativity in the workplace, they may also spread it to their mentors. Choose strong mentors who understand the problem. Be certain that the mentors have strong positive attitudes and can explain to the toxic mentee that he’s valued and how he fits into the vision and mission of the organization.

But, on the bright side, the ripple effect works both ways. Just as negativity spreads throughout the company, so too can a positive attitude. If your employees know that you are going to look into this problem and do something about it, they will be willing to work with you.

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