Throughout my experience as manager, I have stumbled across toxic colleagues. Such people can jeopardize a career or a team. As normally we spend a lot of time in the office, it is important to maintain a positive work environment and a pleasant atmosphere.
I am fairly certain that some people are currently dealing with this so it crossed my mind to write something helpful on this topic: How to handle a toxic co-worker.
How to identify a toxic colleague?
You must know them, these people with whom nothing is going well and who are never happy. They always have a good reason to complain, their missions exasperate them, their time and stress management is weak, they were never given the right mission, the right responsibilities, and the right tools. According to them, they always meet all the problems in the world. Everything prevents them from moving forward, they never have a chance to do anything.
They often let everyone know about this discomfort and share it at the coffee machine or via chat tools. It is the place where these people are the most dangerous, because they are eminently attractive to listen to. After all, aren’t we all stressed to some extent? Do we not carry in our DNA an overdeveloped critical spirit? And then it’s sometimes nice to complain, right?
You will also identify them during team meetings. They will often adopt a negative attitude in their posture and words, always expressing negative criticism or demotivation.
These behaviors can kill the team’s motivation and pull everyone down.
How to Deal with a Toxic Colleague?
Before drawing any hasty conclusions and dismissing a toxic employee, it is necessary to take the time to analyze the situation in more depth and to identify if something is problematic to him or her. They may simply not understand the company’s vision or may have strayed from your team and company’s goals.
However, they may also have personal problems or may not feel appreciated at work. If you want your team to be healthier, you need to find the root of the problem.
In order for this to happen, communication is key. It is very important to ask him/her what he/she thinks about the situation, then give him/her direct feedback and explain the consequences of his/her behavior. You should let the employee know that you will analyze his behavior and give him written feedback followed by a coaching plan for improvement.
Also, it is very important to put yourself under the question mark: did you encourage this behavior? Did you do something to create frustrations? If the answer is positive, an honest discussion about it could solve the issue faster than you thought.
If you have tried everything and the toxic employee continues to affect the productivity of his co-workers and well-being at work, the only thing left to do is to help him find opportunities outside of your team before he causes more harm. With this said, you must also be aware that there are several types of toxic people. In this context, you should deal with each of them individually.
The Gossip Whisperer
This type of toxic colleague is not easy to manage, because many people in the office can appreciate him/her. However, giving him/her something to focus on can help him/her ground his/her communication skills and channel his/her energy into something productive.
The sociopathic employee leaves traces of destruction wherever he/she goes. It causes a hostile environment, ruins the morale of the team and can seriously damage the reputation of the business. He/she often repeats harassing behavior and shows little regard for rules and protocols. He has a problem with authority and is particularly good at manipulating and sabotaging.
By putting in place strict anti-harassment policies within your company and creating a safe and caring environment, you can help prevent this from happening. Carefully document negative behaviors and trust your gut. If you receive many complaints about the same employee, it may be time to get rid of them.
The one who takes everything personally
This one thinks that every decision ever made in the team or in the company was made only to harm him. Every change was made only to piss him off. Every “instructions” mail was sent only to make his life harder (even if the e-mail was received by all the team members).
This is usually a cry for attention and people like this just want to be heard. Book a one on one with this person, let her talk. Ask questions and take time to listen the answers. You will be surprised how many good ideas these persons could have.
Make this person responsible of something he/she complained about. If he/she complained about the planning of the team, invite him/her to propose his/her version. This toxic colleague will see that the task was not as easy as imagined and will stop complaining about it or he/she will come with a better version of it. This is what I call a win/win situation.
The one who blames anyone else for his own mistakes
He can never be the guilty one. If something bad happened, it was the manager, the fellow colleagues or anyone other than him. Even when it is obviously his fault, he points the finger towards another person, thing or event. And he genuinely believes it.
Sometimes, this kind of attitudes comes from persons who are insecure at the workplace. Maybe a discussion about the tasks he/she cannot manage would be helpful, as well as a training offer on those topics.
The first reaction of your collaborator will be interesting to analyze. The right people will take the initiative positively and move forward. The other type of collaborators will probably have an air of doe caught in the headlights, because if criticizing is pleasant, working to solve a problem is much less.
After all these steps are done, follow closely the work of your colleague. Several scenarios are possible:
Scenario 1: The attitude issue is solved. This is the most rewarding scenario for all the parties involved in this story: manager, employee, team. And everyone will live happily ever after.
Scenario 2: Your toxic colleague also breaks his teeth on the problem. He will then understand that criticism is easy, but art is difficult. Failure will usually have two impacts:
He/she will learn humility and will now moderate his remarks internally. You will thus have succeeded in limiting his toxicity and saved your team.
He/she will not accept this failure and will do everything to leave the team or the company. The toxic cloud will pollute other skies.
Sometimes, letting people go can be perceived as a personal failure. Try to avoid this thought.
Some jobs are not made for everyone and some people cannot be fixed or do not want to get better. Do your best, communicate, plan and do actions, but in the end, do what’s best for your team!