Top Three Toxic Employees – And What To Do With Them

We have all known them, the people  in the workplace who can suck the life right out of you, your most productive staff or colleagues, and  longer term can put your business in a constant state of fighting to survive.

This is a list of only three because so much can be written on the subject; but these three head their own categories: personality, skills, and effort.

Personality Disorders

Now, this is dangerous territory as a little knowledge applied inadequately can cause you more problems.  So don’t read this and then accuse the office bully of being a psychopath.

It can be difficult to remember in the workplace that we are, indeed, people too.  Many of you will know from Pink Floyd’s The Wall that the screaming teacher was in fact emasculated regularly by ‘her indoors’ whenever he got home. 

When you remember that the bane of your work existence is a living breathing person too, rather than serve as an excuse for them, this can enable you to discern more roundly what the heck is going on with them.  Remember – all actions are most probably serving some inner need in the person acting.  Rightly or wrongly – they are getting something out of it.

Easy enough, you say – when the person is treating someone badly.  But the fact that they enjoy what they do doesn’t provide a good enough explanation across the range of behaviours that can be seen because, the same does apply to the person exhibiting behaviours that are negative to themselves too.

Personality Disorder #1 – The Narcissist

Primarily exhibiting as an awful lot of self-love, arrogance, and envy – they are usually incapable of recognising the worth of others, or the work of others unless there is something in it for them.  They can tend to say things like ‘I understand what you mean’ as a way of verbally bridging gaps so that they can then continue speaking in a discussion, but then patently ignore advice, recommendations, or (if they are a subordinate) directions from managers or experts.  An interesting type, as they tend to thrive on believing themselves to be special, and talented – yet are rarely witnessed asking for more information on something they know little about, and behind the scenes can be quite likely to be doing much CPD (continued professional development) or getting themselves involved in groups or committees.

The reason this is number one and not the bully?  Because this type of personality can get away with their behaviours a lot more, they tend (at least in the workplace) to exhibit control in passive-aggressive ways i.e. not an overtly intimidating behaviour.  

The issue with The Narcissist is that they are always seeking to gain influence and control, and when they have it – whatever they are responsible for is no longer the number one priority.  They are.  This means that business decisions, who they may or may not be talking to, or generally the way the job is being done – is to serve their purposes and not the good of the business, the staff, or simply the right way to do things.

The Incompetent

These are the people that either take up serious management time in response to failures or generated issues, or use up HUGE amounts of employee time and energy in complaining about and coping with them.

Some say that if you take the incompetent out of a team, then there is space left over for some latent issue to get into and become the team’s new bête noir (pet hate).  To an extent this is true; you only need to read up on Hertzberg’s Hygiene Factors for an examination on the myriad of reasons and factors for employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

But whatever the next big thing is that your staff can take you to task over, the biggest threat with The Incompetent is that they breed incompetence in many other ways including:

  • Other staff don’t want to work so hard because The Incompetent gets away with it
  • Managers lose respect because they don’t deal with it
  • Internal or external customers either go elsewhere, or accept less of a product or service which drags the value of your business down

The Lazy

These are patently different to The Incompetent, as they generally are aware of their status and impact but don’t care.  These can be found across all industries, but predominate in low-level, low-paid work because of poor management skills, systemic high staff turnover, and little job satisfaction from the task in hand.

Reading the above can make some sense to all of us, so when you encounter The Lazy outside of this rationale – they can be infuriating and impossible to understand.   By 2-3 years into a career path, or purely just time served in a fair job – most people are able to extract value from their work, their remuneration, or their colleagues. The Lazy, in contrast seems less mature in their approach to work.  This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem except that it has a hugely detrimental effect on those around them.

What To Do?

There is no trick, tip, or short cut.  But the answer is quite simple:  you have to manage it.

Employment Law, contracts, supervision are all in place for a reason – so use them.  As a manager in the Public Sector, HR and I had a running joke that I was always on their floor of the building.  As some of the more enlightened of the HR professionals I have worked with, here my presence was seen as a good thing – evidence that I was dealing with the issues.

I admit, that many, many organisations are scared to deal with staff issues – especially seemingly intangible ones as outlined above.  Remember that behaviours are actions that the person is getting something out of.  This means that there is always something to manage.  But overall the resounding message is that it can be done and should be done.

Be systematic, thorough, and above all – you must strip personal feelings out of the process and deal with the facts.  There is no reason to treat someone badly or without respect if they are passive-aggressive, can’t do the job, or aren’t doing the job in your organisation.

So, do it with compassion, serenity, and the knowledge that you are doing the right thing – and you will get the right outcome.

TCM – HR Coach and Consultant

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2 responses to “Top Three Toxic Employees – And What To Do With Them

  1. As much as I can understand right now, I think you’re right!

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