How To Manage A Toxic Member Of Staff

Even in a successful organisation or team there will always be someone who has a toxic effect on what you are trying to achieve. They upset others, are negative, rarely positive and has the impact on others to such an extreme that their working life becomes very unpleasant.

There is a clear difference between someone who is difficult to work with and someone who is toxic. The toxic employee will quickly spread their negativity and issue amongst the other staff with a focus upon taking away the energy from their colleagues, frustrating them and pouring scorn on their work efforts and outputs.

This goes far beyond rudeness and a poor way of interacting with others around them – the situation becomes intolerable and productivity/creativity/job satisfaction for all takes a nose-dive.

Faced with a toxic member of the team you must be prepared to deal with the situation – the following pointers should help:

  1. Do your research: look beyond the behaviour to find out what is causing it. This needs careful handling but exploring issues here will save time and give you a better understanding of the cause of the toxic attitude. Finding out about this as early as possible will give you an “in” which will help find a way out of the situation.
  2. Give the member of staff some quality feedback. In many cases the toxic individual will even not know the impact they are having on their colleagues and are unaware of the damage and destruction they are creating. Explaining this, and using examples of their impact, is a critically important process in addressing the situation, followed up by explaining, in clear and evaluative language, the type of behaviour and interactions that are now required moving forward. It is essential here to jointly agree and sign up to an appropriate Action Plan moving forward, with the chance for the toxic team member to have a better relationship, and an improved impact upon their colleagues.
  3. Be very clear on the consequences of not modifying their behaviour. This needs clear and direct messages on what will happen if there is no improvement seen. Lock into what they perceive as important in their job and benefits package and stress what they will lose from not being with your organisation in the future. Link this directly to being a professional and courteous member of staff and not a toxic one.
  4. Not everyone can and will change! Not everyone will respond to the positive tactics above and it may be the case that your toxic person takes pleasure from their pre-planned and personally satisfying approach to creating disharmony and division. If this is the case then you need to think seriously about how to remove that person from the organisation.
  5. Document everything. Keep accurate and detailed records including your attempt at resolving the issue. This is all about identifying and providing evidence of sustained behaviour traits and attitudes and their failure to seriously change their approach.
  6. Can you change working systems so that the toxic staff member works away from their colleagues? Putting some physical distance between that person and the wider team reduces the risk of the toxicity of the situation spreading, making your position even worse than currently. This is all about protecting your wider team. Supporting and coaching other team members about how to deal with this physical distance issue and how to manage interactions is important and needs to be considered carefully.
  7. Remember you have wider responsibilities for the other team members. Do not get totally distracted with this important issue, taking time, effort and care to keep your wider focus and counter the negativity you are having to deal with.
  8. Look after yourself. Dealing with toxic people can be draining so make sure that you are taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs.

Toxic people can be found in every workplace and in every social group – dealing with them is a careful balance and demanding but it should not be your total focus. The bigger picture needs to be firmly in the centre of your mind.

Good Luck!

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