Are You Prepared to Deal With Toxic Employees? Brooke Faulkner

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With over 100 million full-time employees in the U.S., about a third of them are engaged in their work, according to Gallup. These are the people who enjoy their jobs, are nice to others, have good ideas, contribute to the organization’s mission, and are team players. Engaged employees are the type of people who businesses want to hire and keep around.

Meanwhile, a whopping 51 percent of employees are disengaged — they are simply going through the motions … or are just there. They put in the time on the clock, but they aren’t going the extra mile. At one point they may have been engaged but fell off the back along the way because of a lack of a raise or career growth, distrust in management, or job dislike.

That leaves about 16 percent of the workforce who are considered “actively” disengaged. These workers are probably pretty miserable and “seem to exist only to destroy what the most engaged employees are building,” according to the Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. They are also known as toxic employees because they tend to be uncooperative, disrespectful, and disruptive.

Now that you know a little bit about the different types of employees there are, what can be done to start transforming workplace culture and improve the percentage of engaged employees? There’s no quick or easy path, but here are a few considerations:

Recognize Your Employees

Creating a culture of appreciation can increase employee engagement and productivity. Highly engaged employees (83 percent) say they are satisfied with the recognition they receive for doing a good job, while only 3 percent of disengaged employees say they are satisfied.

Think about ways to show employees you value their work. Don’t wait until their annual review to tell them what they are doing well. Start by simply telling someone you value their work and give an example or write them a note. Give out a monthly individual award with a prize. Allow employees to give each other props in a public setting. Employees who go the extra mile tend to be the ones who feel the most sense of camaraderie. How do you recognize your employees?

Play to Employee Strengths

Instead of focusing on someone’s weaknesses, develop a leadership culture that focuses on their strengths. Focusing on the good and allowing people to use their strengths makes them feel happier, as well as more respected and engaged in what they are doing.

“Sometimes a few isolated departments will implement strengths interventions independently, creating a limited impact,” according to an article in Harvard Business Review. “But when leaders make these interventions a fundamental strategic priority, that’s when change really happens. Take profitability, for example: We found that the potential for increased profits multiplies when top-level leaders push strengths throughout the entire company.”

Coach Employees

Successful bosses provide guidance or coaching to their employees. They aren’t just sitting in a chair, telling someone what they are doing wrong or right. Regular feedback to individuals and teams on a consistent basis throughout the year, and not just at annual reviews, is an important part of creating an open, growing company culture.

“CEOs and employees must look at their goals alongside external and internal drives to make the most of feedback,” writes Forbes contributor William Craig. “Providing regular feedback allows employees to grow the additional 364 days of the year.”

Act on Employee Feedback

Communication is a two-way street. Part of the coaching process is allowing employees to give their feedback on ideas they may have that would push the company forward. A poll of workers in the U.S. and Canada found that 64 percent of people think leaders are making decisions without seeking input, which they deemed one of the largest problems a company faces.

If you want actively engaged and committed employees, listen to what they have to say and don’t be afraid to make changes that come from feedback made public to the company.

“Listening to employees’ concerns can help you develop retention strategies that focus on boosting employee morale,” according to The SHRM Blog. “With a solid program in place, that encourages active listening of employee concerns, you can have a positive impact on your retention percentage.”

Time to Say Goodbye

Let’s say you’ve done everything you can to address a person’s toxic behavior by listening and offering solutions but still see no change. It may be time to terminate. There always seems to be at least one or two people in an organization who refuse to change their negative behavior and would rather play the victim or sulk. Those aren’t the kinds of employees you want around. They drag down the company as a whole.

When you know it’s time to let an employee go, be direct. If you’ve been upfront and honest about their performance up until this point, termination should never come as a surprise — they should know that the termination is because of their performance and behavior, not the whims of you as their boss. Not only is this good business, but it will also give the employee time to start considering how they’ll move forward in their career change and the next steps in their professional lives.

That said, even toxic environments can be turned around as long as companies focus on boosting engagement, rewarding employees, listening to their ideas, playing to their strengths, and more. The 50 percent of disengaged employees aren’t a lost cause. They can become engaged again in the right environment that nurtures their growth and development. What are your thoughts on engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged (toxic) employees in the workplace?


Brooke Faulkner is a full-time writer and full-time mom of two.

She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader, and dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons creativity enough that she’ll get more than groans and eye rolls in response. To read more of her work, follow her on Twitter @faulknercreek