In my world view, most people are half-way decent human beings. They try to do what’s right and get along with others as they go about their work. Most, however, doesn’t mean all. And if you are unlucky enough to have one of the exceptions work in your department, you are well aware of the problems these folks can create.
In dealing with this issue, there are two challenges. First, you’ve got to figure out if the person really is a bad apple or is just temporarily behaving badly due to a wide range of causes that might include home life, health, or bad working conditions. If you decide the person is rotten to the core, you need to figure out what to do about it.
Identifying Toxic People
First things first. How do you know if the person really is a bad apple? You examine the evidence. In their book, The Orange Revolution, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton offer the following behaviors you are likely to witness in a truly toxic employee:
- Constantly complain about other employees.
- Others are at the worst when this person is around.
- Attack people rather than issues.
- Have plenty to say in hallway conversations, but won’t say anything in the room when it counts.
- Extremely disagreeable.
- Words don’t match actions.
- Claims to understand own bad behaviors but never changes any of them.
Options for Dealing with Problem
If several of these behaviors describe your person, then you can be reasonably sure this isn’t a temporary problem. It’s time to act. You have several options.
- Do nothing and hope it goes away. You shouldn’t and it won’t. Far too many leaders choose this option out of a sense of hopelessness or fear. This option is bad for the team, bad for you, and even bad for the person creating all the problems.
- Coach the person. This is always a good place to start. But due to the last behavior in the indicators list, it isn’t likely to succeed. The bad apple isn’t lacking skills or dealing with some temporary difficulty. The person is choosing to behave badly, but won’t admit to the behavior or the negative impact it is having. Chances are he or she has no intentions of changing. Still, everyone deserves a chance to get back on track. The trick is not letting this go on too long.
- Enforce the expected behaviors. Your organization already has plenty of policies and behavioral expectations on the books. Hopefully, you have been clear about the behaviors you expect from members of your team. If this person violates them and hasn’t responded to coaching, enforce the rules. Use your progressive discipline process. Provide other consequences that will get the person’s attention. Sometimes people won’t change because they don’t think they have to. If you can demonstrate that bad behavior has consequences, you just might get the person’s attention.
- Fire the bad apple. If your gut is screaming that this person is wrecking your team and you’ve already done 2 and 3, it’s time to send this person on his way. Organizations typically have a process for terminating an employee. Sometimes that process seems overwhelming. It doesn’t matter. It’s worth the effort. Work the process. You’ll be glad you did and the rest of your team will be too.
Nobody wants to deal with a bad apple on the team. The reality is that they do exist. If you find yourself needing to deal with this issue, my advice is simple. Plan your approach and get on with it. Things are not going to improve unless you act.