We all know one. That person who is negative no matter what happens. She gets a 20% raise and still thinks she was robbed. He gets a promotion and finds something wrong with the announcement about it. She never gives the boss a break. He subtly puts down team members with humor so they won’t retort. Toxic people that seem to find a way to bring gloom with them wherever they go, including the office. What happens when we keep them around? Well, it’s a lot worse than you may think.
I work with CEOs and their teams to create cultures and strategies that foster accelerated growth and a dynamic, first-class firm. Every project on which I have embarked has ultimately exposed the impact of negative leaders or other employees on the firm, its culture, and ultimately its results. It does not matter how far down the totem pole the person is or how talented they are. Toxic people cause lower productivity, increase employee turnover, and ruin otherwise good corporate cultures. They end up setting the tone for your business and your teams. I know because I’m often hired to clean up the mess.
Toxic people infect other people’s ideas, words, feelings, actions, and perspective. How many articles have you seen in your life about how to avoid or get rid of toxic people in your personal life? I have seen dozens and dozens. Why then, do we put up with toxic people in the workplace? The leaders I work with KNOW they have toxic leaders or employees, but they always hesitate to fire them. Why? Well, in my experience there are four main reasons:
The person is going through a tough time. This can be forgiven, and not prove fatal, if it is short term and addressed early on. We’ve all gone through times where we struggle to bring our best selves to work. That said, while you can have a ton of empathy for people that work for or with you, you cannot allow them to bring negativity to the office because of it. You can refer them to sources of help and even try to coach them through it, but don’t allow it to hurt your team and your business. Your company should be a haven for your team. You must protect it. MUST. Because in the end, your culture is what drives your results.
The person provides some semblance of a useful role. They get something done every day. They know stuff nobody else knows. They handle things YOU don’t want to take care of. They are in charge of a vital function. They teach other employees the ropes. Understandable, but you still need to act and address the situation before they pull the team down a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down. Sure they get things done, but ask yourself, is the value that they bring worth the cost of your whole team?
You hate conflict and therefore, tolerate the negativity. Many people would much rather avoid difficult conversations. I get it. They are uncomfortable and often feel awkward, especially for those new to being in leadership roles. When I work with leaders who struggle in this area I like to use the old analogy of ripping off a bandaid. Delaying things makes them worse. Just do it and get it over with and you will feel much better in the long run.
You fear the impact of removing them on the rest of your team. If you believe other team members are going to revolt if you get rid of the Negative Nellie or Ned, you are wrong. I have NEVER seen it happen. Most teams REJOICE when you remove the negative ones. They breathe a sigh of relief. You are solidifying the culture you intend when you make moves like this one.
So, what do you do about the toxic person? The answer is simple really. You address them privately about their negativity and its impact on their job, the culture and the business in general. You can start by having an honest conversation about what might be driving their negativity. But don’t excuse negative behaviors because of their reasons. Reasons explain, but they don’t diminish personal accountability. They can either correct the behavior within a reasonable timeframe, or they need to be let go. YES. You must let toxic people go. You cannot keep them under any circumstances. It doesn’t matter how good they are or how much potential they have. They are like a cancer on your business. Cancer has to be annihilated or it grows. Going through this process is made easier if you have a formal performance review process in place with goals for each team member because it provides you with a framework for these conversations.
I have never seen a bad result when people follow this course of action. Yes, in the short term, it may be harder to get the work done. It may take a while to recruit a good replacement. But you will notice immediately the positive impact on your business and the peace that seems to come over your team. People will come to you and thank you for taking care of it, even if they have never mentioned it to you before. Your team will breath a collective sigh of relief. They will understand that the culture is strong enough to defend it and will respect you all the more for standing up for it. Ultimately the person you let go will be better off too. This will be their wakeup call. They will either find a company that has the right fit for them, or they will take a long look in the mirror and make some needed changes. These are all really good things. So, do not fear doing the right thing by your business. When you make good decisions, like this one, you, and your whole team, win! You demonstrate that you are a real leader, not just a boss, living by your vision for success. You show your team that you really care about them and have their backs. It’s also okay to be transparent about it. In fact, it’s preferred. People get tense when people are let go. When you reassure them that you are fostering the best possible work environment, you eliminate the unease people feel relatively quickly. Just do it. If you have negativity going on in your business, consider it time to make a change.