Recognizing a truly negative employee influence is one of the first steps to detoxifying your staff.
Can one bad apple spoil the bunch? A recent study by researchers from the University of Washington's School of Business indicates that it can. After analyzing two dozen published studies about how groups of employees interact, William Felps and Terence Mitchell found that "toxic" employees - those who don't pull their own weight, are chronically dissatisfied or bully those around them - destroy team dynamics and wreak havoc within the organization.
Other employees respond to these disruptive members in various ways, none of them ideal. They may try to intervene and change the bad apple's behavior; they might ostracize her from the group; or they may simply give up and tolerate the behavior. This last scenario is the most destructive, as it contributes to an environment of denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear among employees. Trust deteriorates, individuals disengage and productivity declines.
Visible symptoms of the bad-apple syndrome include this decline in productivity as well as morale; frequent arguments among employees; a pervasively negative or antagonistic attitude; and an unwillingness to put in more than the bare minimum of effort.
Managers throughout an organization have a responsibility to mitigate or eliminate the effects of toxic employees. To start, develop a complete, unbiased picture of the situation based on the empirical data:
If you conclude that you do, indeed, have a toxic employee on your hands, take action. Begin by speaking directly with the employee to listen to her or his point of view and determine where what you hear deviates from the empirical data and other individuals' perceptions. Your goal should be to motivate and encourage a change in behavior or attitude. If you've invested time and money in developing an employee, jumping right into the termination process is not only unfair, it may also not offer the best return on your investment.
After a few major interventions, you may need to instruct the employee to change her or his behavior or face termination. But you must be willing to back this threat with action. Employees who don't shape up should be shipped out for the good of the team.
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