Thank you for listening to the Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher. In the first episode of this two-part series, Jeff discusses the characteristics of a toxic employee and how you can identify a potentially toxic employee in the interview process. Too often leaders try to ignore toxic employees until they break company policy. But the longer you wait, the more you will allow the employee to affect your team’s morale and kill productivity.
The first thing to understand is that there is a difference between a difficult employee and a toxic employee. Toxic employees not only cause harm but also spread their behavior to others. A difficult employee will want to work hard and help the organization, they just might have a difficult time meeting all of your expectations. Difficult employees can be coached up or moved to a different role. Toxic employees can be coached, but often need to be coached out of your organization.
Identifying toxic employees in the interview process:
During the interview phase, arrange for job candidates to have lunch off-site with an employee who is not a member of the hiring team. Potentially toxic employees will look like they have it all together in an interview but will be looser in casual situations. Help your employee know what they should be looking for during that lunch.
ex. cynical, sarcastic or critical remarks
How do the candidates interact with the wait staff and other people at the restaurant?
Ask good questions during the interview process.
Asking how they would handle a conflict or other high-pressured situations might reveal whether they are patient or anxious in high-pressured situations. This will help you assess whether they’re conflict neutralizers or conflict enablers. They may respond with the right-sounding answers, but by offering up a number of scenarios during the interview, you’ll likely come up with one or more questions that will have them struggling to answer.
Here are a few that I like to ask:
What would your former boss say about you?
What would your former assistant say about you?
How have you handled someone who was difficult to work with?
Describe a time when you failed at something. How did you fix it?
What would you like to improve about yourself?
Q: How do you think a toxic employee might answer those interview questions? How do these interview questions compare with the kinds of questions you use in interviews? Or, if you do not interview people, how do they compare with the questions that you were asked in your interview?
Q: Does your company include a casual lunch for candidates? Why do they think they should or should not have this practice?
Qualities of a toxic employee:
1. They’re over-confident
A toxic worker tends to over-rate their own abilities and skills and believe they are better at their job than those around them. Their arrogance and know-it-all attitude can make it difficult to work with them in a team environment and often results in conflict with their peers.
2. They’re self-centered.
A toxic worker is likely to put themselves first whenever possible. They are unlikely to help others when they need assistance and will only go above and beyond their role if it is going to benefit them directly. It’s all about them, and they are often willing to step on others to get what they want.
3. They’re always complaining:
Toxic workers are often negative in the workplace because they are unhappy in their job.
Instead of quitting, they make it their mission to share their misery and make everyone around them miserable. It’s common for them to complain about their workload, their manager, customers, and just about anything to anyone who will listen.
Toxic workers also will discredit you every chance they get. They are quick to criticize every decision you make and let everyone know your flaws.
4. They use unethical methods to get ahead:
Toxic workers will go behind another employee's back or sabotage someone else’s success to gain acknowledgment from management. They have no problem taking credit for somebody else’s work. They also have no problem at all telling management about other people’s mistakes in order to make themselves look better.
5. They insist on following the rules at any cost.
Employees who say that you should always follow the rules are more likely to be terminated than those who say it is okay to break a rule to get the job done. Toxic employees often say they care about the rules to cover up the guilt they feel for not following the rules.
Q: Have you ever worked with a toxic employee? Which quality of those listed above stood out to you the most? Were there any qualities you saw that were not on this list?
Q: What do you think is the difference between complaining and complaining too much? Where do you draw the line? How do you think that complaining influences your team’s culture and productivity?
If you are involved in the interview process, review the suggestions in this episode as you look over your own interview process. What changes, if any, do you need to make? If you are unsure, look at your recent hires. How well are they working with your other employees? What is your turnover rate? Use all of this information to help guide whether changes in your hiring policy are necessary to help improve the quality of employees that your organization is hiring.
Do you have any toxic employees on your team currently? Think about how you would define the difference between a difficult employee and a toxic employee. If you have an employee who falls into either category, find a way to take action and create a plan to get that employee back on track.
Everyone complains occasionally or overestimates their abilities. While you might see these characteristics in yourself at a level that is not currently harmful, keeping them in check will help you lead with integrity and focus on self-improvement. Evaluate your own behaviors! Look at the traits of toxic employees. On a scale of 1-10, how much of each quality do you see in yourself? What can you do to improve in each of those areas? Set a reminder on your calendar to rate yourself in these categories again in six months and see how you are doing.