What goes wrong is that one of your team starts to be difficult. Let’s call this person Alex – a great gender neutral name - ?. Alex has become argumentative in meetings, aggressive with responses to team members, tardy with deadlines and an all-round jerk to work with and to be around. You can see other team members – the same staff that just keep on keeping on – becoming upset with Alex’s behaviour. Surely this is just a blip and Alex will come back to the light soon and cut out the nonsense. You ignore the growing unease amongst your team hoping it will resolve itself. Right?
Wrong. It doesn’t resolve itself. It is getting worse and now you’ve are seeing a spike in absenteeism from Alex’s direct reports and sales have flat-lined. If you were honest with yourself, you would admit that Alex’s tantrums in your office are draining you. You dread it when you see Alex coming your way so you quickly detour and yell over your shoulder that you can’t talk now, you are just on your way to a meeting…. Avoidance, not the best solution but it’s easier than the confrontation.
But is it? Your evasion is now costing you plenty. You’ve gone from having a team that is a well-oiled machine to a disjointed, unhappy mob who seem to be spending a lot of time looking at Facebook and employment websites rather than doing their jobs, and your bottom line is starting to illustrate the damage. How is it possible that one person can do so much harm?
Truth? It’s not one person tearing things apart. It’s two people. Alex may be causing the trouble but as the business owner or direct manager, you are the other half of the problem. Your team have been on the receiving end of Alex’s toxic behaviour, but they have looked to you to put a stop to it. Instead, they have watched as the behaviour has spiralled as Alex continued to ‘get away with it’ and you’ve done nothing. So why should they care either. Apathy and resentment creep in.
We’ve all seen this happen – either we’ve lived through this scenario or we’ve listened to others as they download about the damage one or two people are inflicting upon them and their motivation in the workplace. And the harm is always magnified by the inaction of management. So how do you fix it when it happens in your business?
Listening and Performance Management
The best course of action is to deal with toxic conduct immediately. Has this person previously delivered on their work and is this poor behaviour out of character? If so, allocate some time to sitting down with them and getting to the crux of the problem. You may be surprised by what you hear. There could be a major upheaval at home that is the cause. Illness, financial or relationship worries – all of these have the ability to change someone’s ability to remain focused and act reasonably in the workplace.
Consider the support your business may be able to provide. Perhaps allow flexible working hours, access to counselling or a financial planner, maybe there is the opportunity for rostering for additional overtime. The solution will be dependent on the problem they are facing and the burden your business is able and willing to carry.
Under the Spotlight
In some cases, simply calling out the bad behaviour is sufficient. Human nature is a complex beast and even the best employees may try it on every now and again. Many moons ago, a client asked for help with a fantastic team member who had started coming in to work late. No excuses, no apologies. She would then head to the kitchen and make her breakfast and when she finally turned on her computer, she was losing 45 minutes of productivity per day – that’s a hefty 4.25 hours a week which adds up to a total of 5 weeks missed work in a year. And that’s allowing for 4 weeks holidays already! It was disruptive for the team and the downtime was clearly having an impact on output.
HR Staff n'Stuff reviewed the situation and advised our client that it might be best to sit down and have an informal but honest chat, and to remind her of her obligations as well as the impact it was having on her manager and her surrounding colleagues. During the conversation, she advised us of a challenging personal matter and she was actually glad we had approached her so she could confide in us as to her situation. She’d also been wondering how long it would be until anyone noticed something was going on. Our client told us they wished they had dealt with it faster as they were more than happy to assist in supporting her and they got their productive employee back with a greater depth of loyalty to boot!
Unfortunately, simple solutions don’t always work and you may need to consider more formal process such as an official warning. Termination of employment in extreme cases may also have to be considered if you cannot get the behaviour to stop.
Allowing toxic behaviour to continue will have a significant impact on your business if you don’t deal with it head on. It may seem like benign behaviour - tardiness, distraction of others or a little idle gossip in the tea room - but left unchecked, you may find issues with other team members as they become frustrated with the behaviour and the inaction of management. This in turn can lead to lost productivity across the board as your team becomes disengaged from your business. You may be waiting for the perpetrator of the poor behaviour to resign but why would they when they know they are getting away with whatever they want. It’s your good employees that will move on if you don’t enact change!
Key Points to Remember
- Avoidance won’t work. Deal with toxic behaviour as soon as you become aware of its existence.
- Be creative with a solution if your business can manage it. Good staff can be hard to find and it is an expensive process to secure and embed new talent.
- Consider the team – procrastination will cause more damage to your broader team.
- Termination of employment may have to be considered.
If you have a situation in your business involving toxic behaviour or lost productivity, we can assist. Contact HR Staff n’Stuff on 9590 0844 or EMAIL to discuss.