Toxic employees – don’t give up!

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There are people who are toxic.  They have no people skills, they are stubborn, unhappy and determined that everyone around them be unhappy too.  If you can’t commiserate you are the enemy.  These folks do not take personal responsibility for much of anything. They are bulldogs, steamrollers.  They don’t care who they have to bite or run over to get to the end job. They are loners – they collaborate when they have to, which usually means they are bossing others around and telling them how and what to do.    Sometimes they are also super efficient and they  seem like the only one who is get things done. (Beware of that one, they just may be taking credit for colleagues’ work…) They have a ton of insider information that you just may believe is irreplaceable.

I have worked with and had work for me this kind of acidic profile. I have spent hours sitting in on calls, as the manager of a harassed employee and as the manager of the harasser. If you don’t know and haven’t experienced the person, you could believe them when they claim they are the ones being persecuted and harassed. They always have a complaint as an answer to any enquiry or dispute.

It’s easy to give advice on not falling into their trap and oh so hard to follow it. Don’t let them get you angry because you will end up being at fault if you lose your temper. Don’t get drawn into he said/she said because it’s impossible to prove one way or the other unless there are witnesses. Stick to the absolute, indisputable facts and don’t let emotion into it.

I’m laughing at myself, remembering the times I gave into each one of these and shuddering at the memory of flailing around in the quicksand of these Tasmanian devils. Trying to referee between two employees versions of the truth is precarious business.  I have only found as a solution to actually sit in on calls or meetings and take note. It’s hard to sustain and it takes time and the best players will put on a good show while the boss is in the room anyways.

Many managers will not go up against these scary personalities. It is much easier to focus on the work getting done and apologize behind the scenes for the attitude, all the while refusing to see just how far the attitude goes towards harming others.  I get it.  It’s draining and it’s hard to pin down one of these slippery characters.

I would argue that it has to be done. Being on the receiving end of working with someone toxic is a serious emotional strain. Good employees with positive attitudes get sucked again and again into conflict.  Or just decide to submit. My plea is for managers to step up to their responsibility.  Don’t waste time weighing the productivity of a high maintenance, negative minded bully. Take action. Try to talk to them a about their behavior but if you see the refusal to take personal responsibility, start working towards the next step.  Document incidents. Save emails.  Ask employees who are on the receiving end to save emails. Record calls if you have to. Build a file and a case. It’s not so impossible, it just takes time and effort.

And don’t forget, at least never for very long, to check your emotions at the door.  These people are specialists in getting under others’ skin. If you let them under your skin, they win. Period.