While a toxic employee can wreak havoc in any workplace, such a person can be especially damaging to a small business, where interactions are frequent and quarters close. Others on staff have difficulty escaping the negativity, and a small business leader who fails to address the problem may soon find everyone’s energy drained.
The best solution would be for small business owners not to hire toxic workers in the first place. Warning signs during interviews may include talking negatively about former employers, blaming co-workers for problems, and failing to acknowledge the role of others in accomplishments. Speaking with references can be revealing; they may hint at attitude problems or provide lackluster answers that raise red flags.
Unfortunately, preventative measures don’t always work, so it’s important to stay alert to possible toxicity on your staff. Probe when customers request a different contact. Look at the facial expressions of team members when around the individual in question. Ask yourself how you feel when interacting with the suspect. Complaints, looks of frustration, avoidance, and a general bad vibe spell trouble.
If you discover a toxic employee on your team, take action. While speaking up may be awkward, let this finding spur your courage: Research shows that good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee. Do you really want to risk losing valuable talent?
Consider these measures to deal with someone you’ve identified as toxic:
Call the team member in question in for a private chat. The person may not be aware of the behavior and its effect on others. Stick with facts and specifics to drive the point home and lower defensive reactions. Listen when the person responds. A personal problem may be carrying over into the workplace, or perhaps a work-related issue might be brought up that you can help solve. Knowing the behavior has been noticed may be enough to squelch it.
Notification of consequences
Some people, however, need more motivation to change their tune. Outline your expectations, and clearly state what will happen if they aren’t met. Attitude may improve when a promotion, raise or even continued employment is on the line.
An employee who truly wants to improve will likely keep up the good work if rewarded with praise and attention. Such actions also demonstrate that you aren’t holding a grudge based on past actions and instead are interested in moving forward for the sake of the small business.
Outlets for expression
Finally, remember that negativity may simply be a way to get heard, so providing positive means that serve the same purpose may reduce the need to complain and blame. Suggestion boxes, employee surveys, town-hall style meetings, and open-door policies encourage engagement and solutions over aimless expressions of discontent. You may even choose to meet regularly with your “problem” employee. Scheduling a productive conversation every two weeks beats depleting everyone’s time and energy daily.