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Does your Business Harbour ‘Toxic’ Workers?

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

A recent BBC news article highlighted the rise of the ‘toxic’ employee. These are often otherwise high performing workers whose confidence can lead to behaviours that are inappropriate and damaging to the team around them.

One 2015 report by Harvard Business School estimated that keeping a toxic worker on the payroll can cost an average firm more than £9,400 a year. This is more than double the £5,000 of increased annual productivity it says a good employee can provide. A separate study said that the annual financial impact of a toxic employee could be even more onerous. A 2012 survey of 2,700 firms by jobs website Career Builder found that a quarter of respondents put the figure at more than $50,000, while 41% said the number was around $25,000.

We agree with the main points contained in the BBC news article – except for the recommendation to interview in bars (No! Never!).  Here’s a brief summary of our take on how to minimise the risk of toxic workers:

–       Well-advertised values and behaviours will outline what is acceptable and appropriate for your organisation – making it easier to performance-manage and intervene (and potentially exit people) when workers deviate from these.  Consider establishing a well-designed Competency / Behaviour framework incorporating the desired Values of your company.

–       Modelling the right behaviours from the top is key.  A bullying senior manager will affect performance and morale, taint your culture and their behaviour may ultimately be seen as the norm.  For instance, how do your Leaders behave when they are under pressure? See our earlier article on potential “de-railers” and how to spot them. Consider using an in-depth, psychometric-led assessment when recruiting your Leaders to unearth their leadership styles and any potential  “dark side”.

–       Training your managers to manage performance, including issues with toxic workers, will be key in minimising any damage to others around them. Training in providing effective feedback, performance management, conflict resolution and coaching can all provide managers with the tools they need to intervene, turn around any unwanted behaviours in their teams and provide support to those who are affected.