Maybe it’s good ol’ Uncle Bob, who never fails to have one too many glasses of Scotch and upset the whole family by trash-talking his ex-wife. Or perhaps it’s your mother-in-law, who, like clockwork, passive-aggressively reminds you and your spouse that she would like to be a grandmother before she “kicks the bucket.” Or it could be Cousin Rose, who smugly prattles on about being a gluten-free vegan and insists on bringing a separate Thanksgiving meal to satisfy her own nutritional dogma.
It’s amazing how one toxic personality can spoil the holiday.
Now, imagine how much damage one toxic personality can cause in a work environment.
The toxic employee is never happy, always complaining, and quick to stir up trouble. He barters in rumors, malice, conflict, and negativity. If left to his own devices, a pernicious personality can poison an otherwise healthy culture faster than you can say “water cooler gossip.”
Unfortunately, this is a situation we encounter far too often.
We recently heard separately from three employees in the same department at the same organization — all of whom wanted to jump ship. Further investigation revealed the reason for the mass exodus: a toxic personality had been promoted to a management role.
In another instance, we heard from an employee who told us this:
“It only took one person to poison the well. Smiles to your face and arrows in the back. I left because it was miserable to work with that person, and frankly, I lost all respect for the leaders because they allowed it to continue. It wasn’t worth staying, even though the work itself and the mission were meaningful.”
Yikes! So, what do you if you’ve encountered a toxic personality at the workplace?
- Have a frank conversation with your supervisor about the toxic personality. (Unless, of course, it’s the supervisor who is toxic, in which case go to the next person up in the food chain.) It’s daunting to consider offering such serious feedback; but if you truly care about the organization, say something. Is it risky? Maybe. But it’s probably riskier to say nothing at all. Remember that management may not know there is a problem unless it’s brought to their attention.
- Limit interaction with the toxic employee. If possible, mitigate contact with the person and give management time to correct the situation.
- Brush off your resume. If the toxic person is affecting your happiness and you have reason to believe the situation will notimprove, consider looking for a new place to work. Life is too short to remain in a negative environment.
- Have a frank conversation with the toxic employee TODAY. Unless you don’t mind hemorrhaging talent, you need to address the situation immediately. Make it clear to the employee that his behavior will no longer be tolerated and set clear expectations moving forward. Track progress and solicit feedback from staff as necessary. Give a second chance, but not a third.
- Move the toxic employee into a silo.There may be instances in which a difficult employee can be siloed to mitigate trouble. But this approach is not without danger. Even if you move someone away from a team environment, there will still be unavoidable interactions with staff.
- Set him free. If you can’t find a workable solution, let the employee go. Having even one toxic employee means you do not have a healthy culture.
As for toxic personalities at Thanksgiving, I can’t help you there. But I do recommend you pour yourself some of Uncle Bob’s Scotch.