How To Manage Toxic Team Members

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Two colleagues sitting in a restaurant. One with a displeased look on her face.

How To Manage Toxic Team Members

Unfortunately, most businesses will encounter problem employees or toxic employees from time to time. These problem employees can cause havoc and pose a potential risk to your organization’s success. In some cases, what you think of as being a serious difficulty may simply be a misunderstanding or difference of personality, but it can be more severe as well. While you may eventually be forced to let a very difficult employee go, there are some useful techniques that will help you manage your staff if they are going to be around for a while.

Problem employees who cause small annoyances cannot quite be considered toxic. Irritating habits or somewhat different work styles can be blown out of proportion by mismatched personalities. It is true that these incidents can build over time, but until they do, most employees will be able to handle it on their own. If it is a manager or supervisor who causes annoyances, the situation may be a bit more difficult.

You should always be able to evaluate your own thoughts and behavior. Realize the difference between someone truly being disruptive versus and you or other employees simply having negative feelings towards someone you may or may not know well.

Good screening, pre-employment testing, and solid interview questions should filter out obviously flawed personalities. This is why it is essential that you choose validated pre-employment assessments that provide clear analysis. There are many tests available that only scratch the surface or are easily manipulated.

When there are conflicts, it is important not to become emotionally worked up yourself. This is fairly easy when you are distant from the problem. It is more troubling for those who work closely with the problem employees. You likely have enough stress without letting these issues interfere with your, or anyone else’s, work performance. Managing emotions is a major skill for any leader.

One problem, more common than overt trouble or drama, is a constant focus on difficulties. Problem employees who complain constantly not only drag everyone else down, but they fail to focus on what they can do to actually solve important problems. As this Forbes article discusses, putting distance between yourself and these employees can help. However, this won’t solve the problem. If it is a personal issue they bring up too often, let them know you can’t discuss it anymore. For professional issues, make it clear that you expect it to be worked out. Ask what they plan to do to fix it and don’t indulge hand-wringing and do-nothing complaints.

A major step that needs to be taken with the most serious problem-causers is sitting down with them for a conversation about their behavior. Be as clear but as non-confrontational as possible. Start off politely and explain that you want to help. Identify the problem and suggest (and solicit) solutions. For trouble-making employees, these are usually prescriptions for behavior. Rearranging work may be possible in some scenarios.

Follow up with all employees involved in difficult situations, not just the troublemaker. Check in with them, or direct someone else to do so. Make it clear that you expect the problem employees who are the source of trouble to find a solution or control their behavior. Concrete steps can eliminate excuses or serve to help you get at the real source of the problem.

At the end of the day, clear performance and behavioral expectations should be laid out and reviewed regularly with problem generators over a 60 day period, waiting any longer is dangerous. For the ones who continue to prove problematic quickly redeploy them to organizations other than your own.

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