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Managing toxic employees and atmospheres

Team reaction
Underperformance
Firing
Toxic atmospheres
Toxic employee
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

16 April, 2018

David identified and quickly remedied a few situations in which a new employee unintentionally facilitated the creation of a toxic environment.

Problem

No matter how much time you spend hiring, you'll get both false positives and false negatives. Sometimes a new hire can be very toxic to employees around them, and you may want to give them time, but the more toxic they are, the more damage they can do.

Actions taken

We had a couple toxic employees hired in the past. One was a smart, well-intentioned person who would demonstrate outwardly very vocally when encountering emotional challenges in a way that caused people nearby to be uncomfortable. When these situations occurred, I focused on giving swift, constructive feedback in as tactful way as possible, and to ensure the employee felt heard and saw a clear alternative path. As these issues repeated, we eventually let the employee go, and it was clear the following day that it was the right decision -- people are often much more willing to vocalize how toxic an environment felt after said environment has been remedied than before. Another employee was toxic in a different nature -- while talented, this person was incredibly slow on the job. Unfortunately, this not only slowed down the people he worked with, it slowed down the entire organization as product launches were delayed. It's particularly difficult to let these people go when the quality of their work is solid. But unfortunately, it can oftentimes be necessary to ensure that other employees are unblocked and the organization gets everything done that it needs. When these situations happened, while it was important to not discuss widely what happened to avoid the possibility of lawsuits, it is important to tactfully communicate to those that are affected that their jobs are secure, and to always have regular, honest conversations of what's going well and not well for all employees so they aren't sitting wondering, "Am I next?"

Lessons learned

If you feel in your gut when an environment feels toxic, listen to that feeling and act swiftly. The longer you wait, the more risk that the rest of the organization takes on. In some situations, it may be of greater risk to put them on a success plan and wait an additional month or two than to let them go without one and take on legal risk accordingly. Do not consider "Official HR policies" in a vacuum when the happiness and productivity of your team are at stake.


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