Toxic Employees. Why We Need Them

iStock_000001372583XSmallMost offices have at least one. That disgruntled, difficult-to-work with co-worker that no one speaks to directly unless they have to, but have a lot to say behind their backs. Managers have a hard time dealing with them as well, because they are usually the ones with the real power in the department, and have the ability to sway public opinion, usually in a negative way.

Such employees develop in part because of poor HR management- those who are unhappy at work for one reason or another are allowed to fester, to the point where it clouds their interaction with the company and its clients. Some are also hired from toxic environments in previous jobs. But no matter their history, the consensus is that if they are unhappy, they should leave.

Or should they?

Toxic employees can give great insight into what is broken in organizations, and any attempt to manage them can lead to the development of key management skills.

After you dig through the negative comments and tales of woe, chances are that toxic employees can give you real insight into what’s wrong with your company culture. A lot of what goes wrong for these employees is a disorganized workspace, lack of leadership, recognition and the feeling that the company ‘owes’ them something as a result. Pay usually comes up as a sore point. But if you dig deeper, it is usually more a symptom than a cause. It really becomes counter productive when the company starts to ostracise these employees when the environment is a factor in their behaviour.

And what better way to develop your leadership skills than to be given a department full of whiners? If any manager can go in there and come out with their sanity intact, I would call it a win. At the very least, dealing with difficult employees helps managers work on their emotional intelligence, situational leadership skills and anger management. Even better if they can get these employees to be productive.

At times, with all the talk about productivity, efficiency and innovation, we forget that it is human beings are at the core of the activity. And as important as it is to keep pushing forward, the leaders of organizations need to ensure that everyone is on board- even the naysayers.

Unless your company is absolutely perfect, there will be toxic employees. As much as we may be tempted to ship them off to our competitors, it is a useful exercise to try and integrate them, or at the very least understand what got them there and address the internal issues that created the mistrust and negativity.

And if they are unwilling to change, then buy all means, ask them to exercise other options.

Jeremy Francis is a management consultant based in Trinidad. He is hoping to find the keys to being happy at work, so that he could share it with his clients. 

Dan Denison Interview

Dan Denison

Dan Denison is an international consultant and university professor at the IMD in Swizerland. He specializes in the area of culture change and our discussion focuses on the barriers Hr professionals face when they attempt to lead a corporate transformation.

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CaribHR.Radio: Dan Denison Interview