There’s a toxic employee in your office. Who knew?
Well, as it turns out, everyone but you. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the head honcho is often the last one to hear about a destructive employee in his or her own workplace. When the awareness does come, it often arrives once a situation has escalated to the breaking point or beyond. Nipped in the bud early, the problem might have been resolved.
The Set Up
Steve has been with your company for three years. He gets a ton of work done and earns raves from customers. You can count on Steve whenever a critical deliverable needs to be met. He will work late or all weekend if needed, without you even needing to ask. He always takes your constructive feedback well and you‘ve never heard about any issues with other team members. In short, he’s a go-to guy.
Cut to the next scene: Joe, one of Steve’s co-workers, has cornered you out of the blue. He lets loose about how horribly Steve treats everyone when tight deadlines approach. Apparently, it’s put one of your most important projects in jeopardy, and Joe (another rock-solid performer) has had enough. He’s considering quitting. Even worse, he says he’s not the only one.
What in the world is going on here?
Art Meets Life
In a mere one-week span, Red Zone HR received calls from three different clients, each describing scenarios eerily similar to the stage play outlined above. All were shocked to learn there was a toxic employee on the loose in their office. And all three of them asked the same exact questions:
– How could I not have noticed this earlier? and
– Regardless…why did no one tell me it was going on?
Lets look at each of one of these questions a little closer.
How could I not have noticed this earlier?
Most often, the answer is simple: “Steve” produces. You can count on him to deliver, no matter how tough the challenge or tight the deadline. You’ve thought to yourself, “He’s a machine,” on more than one occasion. You may have noticed minor behavior issues, but didn’t think they were really a problem. Why should you? He gets the job done.It’s not uncommon for a “problem child” employee to produce top-level work. Unfortunately, it is common that work production might cause a manager to unintentionally turn a blind eye toward an employee’s bad behavior with his or her team members.
Why did no one tell you this was going on?
Other employees may have been giving you hints and clues. You just didn’t have your radar attuned to decipher what they were really getting at (remember that blind eye?). Also, your employees might have assumed you were already aware of the discord (it’s obvious to them, right?)…and then left it at that. After all, nobody likes a teacher’s pet. No one wants to be the office snitch. And no one wants to be responsible for getting anyone else fired. Your staff might, and probably will, let conflicts stretch to the maximum if they feel the only alternative is to become known as the company pariah.
These questions might haunt you as you deal with the employee crisis at hand. But once the smoke clears, the real question is: How do I keep myself from getting surprised in the future?
- Clean Your Glasses
Think of work performance as viewed through a pair of glasses. Out of one lens, you see the physical work production. Out of the other, you view interaction and collaboration. Another way to think of it is the “hard” versus the “soft” performance. Frequently, managers get their glasses fogged by the physical work output and are blind to the critical reality of team dynamics.
- Turn on Your Radar
Most managers state that they have an open-door policy, but what they really need is an open-ear policy. Every organization has a grapevine, but managers are typically left out of the buzz. To tune your radar to how the team is really functioning, get plugged in.
Identify your best conduits for information. Who do your employees see as informal influencers? Who are your best and most positive communicators? Steer clear of the office gossip mill, but identify the people who will be able to objectively keep you up on “the latest.”
Some individuals will more naturally gravitate toward the role of keeping you in the loop. But it takes effort to build that relationship. Don’t just wait for them to come to you. Be sure to solicit their advice regularly and lay the groundwork for a sharing relationship.