How Toxic Employees Pollute Your Company’s Culture


JUNE, 2017


Every office has that one toxic person who just seems to bring everyone down. Sometimes, it’s an entire group of people who seem to drain every positive thing from the room. Being around them is enough to put you in a bad mood, and they seem to thrive off of everyone else’s misery. In the past, we’ve discussed the difference between assertive and aggressive employees, but today we’re talking about toxic employees and how to handle them.

Identifying the Poison:

A toxic person is anyone who is focused solely on themselves and their own emotions, and  spreads negativity to others. These people are overly confident, self-centered know-it-alls, and extremely particular about following rules - so much so that any deviation from them (even accidental ones) are harshly reprimanded. Toxic people also have little to no emotional intelligence, or as Tracy Crossley says they, “…have no idea that their emotional survival depends on chaos.” This kind of negativity is a poison that slowly kills your company’s culture. But you don’t just need to recognize the poison - you need to identify the source so you can administer the correct antidote.

Misery Loves Company:

The first step in solving your poisonous problem is to understand why a person is toxic to begin with. Think about whenever you get upset, how good it feels when you learn that somebody is just as miserable, if not more so than you. There are different types of toxic people, and understanding the causes of each can help to save your company culture.

1. Need for Control/Power

Some people just need to feel powerful, and they satisfy their power-hunger by objectifying others around them. These types of people are typically the bullies targeting their victims and are extremely manipulative. Recent studies show that about 4% of people engage in this behavior because they enjoy it, which is something that should be shut down by managers as quickly as possible.

2. Compensation for Insecurity

A toxic person can be incredibly insecure, so exploiting others’ insecurities will help them deal with their own. This type of toxic person may be one of the easiest to cure, if the manager cultivates a positive and encouraging culture. Acknowledge when workers do a good job, assign projects based on an employee’s skill set, and work alongside them to bring out their strengths. When your employees feel like they are doing important and successful work, it can create an overall optimistic, productive environment.

3. Personal Issues

Sometimes, a person is dealing with something that no one knows about, and they take their resentment out on the people around them. A rough home life, tragedy, or mental illness can all be causes of a noxious personality. If this is the case, then it is important to provide the correct help to the employee.

If we are negative in addressing ourselves, it is likely we will be negative in talking to others
Tracy Crossley, Huffington Post

How Toxicity Spreads:

While toxic people oftentimes have very negative personality traits, they also tend to be extremely influential and charismatic. Either they want to be imitated by others and project themselves as the person-to-be in the office; or there is typically an air about them, as if declaring, “I’m the best, I have the best life, be like me and your life can be good too.” Another way they spread negativity is by intimidating others into doing and saying what they want, or else be ostracized by the company. These toxic people absolutely ooze self-righteousness and they have the ability to spread this attitude from one person to another, until your company’s essence has a bitter twinge in it.

Once this person has placed themselves as the influencer in the office, your company’s culture has become endangered. If a manager hasn’t stepped in at this point, then they absolutely need to. Sometimes, a person may not even know they’re ruining a company’s culture, so it’s up to the manager to nip this behavior in the bud before it becomes too much of a problem.

The Symptoms In Company Culture:

So someone is a little negative and complains a lot - what’s the big deal? How can one person, or even a small group of two or three people, affect an entire company? According to Dylan Minor, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, toxic employees cost $7,000 more annually than “superstar” employees. Rude workers have much more of an impact on their comrades than docile, pleasant ones. What is even more irritating is the fact that toxic employees are not technically doing anything wrong, so it can be hard for a manager to determine when to take action. Toxic employees cause a 54 percent higher chance of making other workers more likely to quit their jobs due to frustration and unhappiness in the workplace. As a manager, can your company afford this kind of turnover due to one bad apple?

Finding the Antidote:

The phrase “you can’t control what others do, but you can control what you do,” is cliché, but it has relevance in situations when a toxic person is involved. Stand up for yourself, don’t let the toxic person view you as an easy target. More importantly, stand up for others; don’t allow anyone to be negatively affected by a poisonous personality. Actions speak louder than words, and setting an example for others to follow can help combat toxicity in your company’s work culture. Keep in mind though - there is a fine line between being rude right back and standing firm.

The only true way to keep toxicity out of your company culture is to make sure that it never has the chance to poison it in the first place. Having an extensive interviewing process and a holistic hiring procedure is a great start, but having tools in place that allow you to proactively manage performance reviews, employee engagement, and more will make it easier to create a harmonious company culture.

How APS Can Help

APS provides a unified suite of solutions to easily manage your employees from hire to retire. Our workforce management platform includes recruiting, applicant tracking, onboarding, employee self service, performance reviews, and more to efficiently manage your employees. With intelligent reports and dashboards, it’s easy to create an effective hiring process, proactively engage employees, and create a great company culture. Schedule a demo today!

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