Strategies for Dealing with ‘Toxic’ Employees in the Workplace

25th August 2016

Angry employees in office Shutterstock picture

The need to engage and motivate staff is high on the agenda for organisations and companies in the UK. But sometimes this involves dealing with “difficult” or “toxic” employees – so nicknamed because their behaviour can poison the atmosphere at a workplace and affect the performance of colleagues.

As a leading provider of HR & payroll solutions, IRIS FMP is aware of the problems which can be caused by disruptive staff members. Here we look at what HR staff can do to help manage these employees effectively and stop them damaging company productivity, or even driving colleagues to leave.

What Is Toxic Behaviour?

In the most serious cases, the term “toxic” can include staff who bully others, sexually or racially harass colleagues or steal from their employers. Clearly, in such instances a disciplinary, and sometimes criminal, offence is warranted. In these circumstances, HR staff will have to follow correct procedures, which could well end in dismissal.

However, “toxicity” can also cover numerous other types of problem employee, and in many cases it is possible to step in before the situation reaches crisis point. For instance, there might be someone in your team who is rude to colleagues in an insidious way. This could include “forgetting” to copy others in on important business emails or invitations to meetings, or needlessly querying and second-guessing any instructions received.

Morale and productivity within a department can of course be damaged by people who are relentlessly negative and always moaning about the company and their boss.  But others who under-perform less obviously – for instance, by chatting about issues unrelated to work for long periods of the day – can also distract and annoy their colleagues.

The Effects of Toxic Employees

Several studies have shown that rude and inconsiderate behaviour can be contagious, and spread through a workplace. When someone is insulted or overloaded with work by a colleague, that person may in turn be more likely to treat others badly, so that a “toxic” office culture is created.

Research also shows that good employees are far more likely to leave if they have to work with a “toxic” staff member. Sadly, this can mean you end up keeping the problem staff member on your books while there is a turnover of the valued colleagues who work with them, depriving your business of much-needed skills.

What Can Be Done to Tackle the Situation?

There are no easy answers to dealing with disruptive employees, but as a starting point HR staff can try to understand what is causing the problem behaviour. There are many possible reasons for a negative outlook or lack of motivation, such as when someone is at a difficult stage in their career or feels as if they are in a rut. They could also be involved in a dispute with others in the company. However, it is often problems and stresses outside the workplace which affect individuals’ performance.

It can help if managers and HR teams engage with employees and communicate clearly with them about what is expected. Tackling the problem at an early stage will often have the best results, before positions become entrenched. Acas advises establishing the facts of the situation and then arranging a private meeting with the staff member, where you state the problem clearly.

This kind of meeting obviously needs to be handled sensitively and involves listening to what they have to say, while remaining in control of the situation. Sometimes having a quiet word with a member of staff can be all you need to do, and they will be able to turn their behaviour around.

It is also a good idea to look out for warning signs when recruiting people. For instance, as well as asking about key skills at interviews, it can be helpful to take note of how polite and genuinely helpful an applicant is. Asking about how they dealt with difficult situations in the past could be another pointer, as well as looking at their attitudes to previous employers and fellow workers.

IRIS FMP’s Amity web based hr software has functionality for recording appraisals, training and managing employees, as well as including disciplinary and grievance modules. This provides it a complete software solution for HR staff who are dealing with difficult employees, enabling them to retain a full record of what has been said and decided at each stage. If you are looking for HR & payroll solutions, follow the link to learn more about Amity, our fully device-independent software which is ideal for companies of all sizes.