Toxic employees – look at yourself first

I recently read an article that had been posted in LinkedIn from Inc. This particular article highlights 8 rules for spotting a toxic employee.

I am generally uncomfortable with frameworks like this. They give the lazy manager a way out of managing effectively. They make it easy to fire people when the focus should be on developing people.

Before any manager starts to use such rules they should look at themselves and their management colleagues to assess whether they have created the climate where “toxic employees” thrive. Are you, as a manager, taking responsibility for the working environment or are you finding scape-goats?

The rules in the article are useful for identifying problems with your teams but you should look both ways before you decide what the cause of the problems is.

Rule 1 is about gossip – do you have an open and transparent environment where there is no need to gossip? Do you have a blame culture or are mistakes welcomed and seen as opportunities for the team to learn?

Rule 2 discusses the meeting after the meeting – again do you have an open and transparent environment where your decisions can be challenged? Are you able to admit to your team that you make mistakes? Are you able to take advice from your team members? Do you allow open discussion of key issues? Do you let your team know in good time of the critical issues that are coming up so they can help you? Are you humble?

Rule 3 covers not working as a team member – do you get your hands dirty and help the team out? Do you have an appraisal system that encourages individuals to compete with each other? Do you micro-manage? Do you allow teams to organise their work among themselves?

Rule 4 relates to coasting – are you really appreciative in a tangible way? Does your organisation provide any real benefits to doing a good job over just getting by? Have you set stretch goals? Do you penalise staff for missing stretch goals even when they have over-achieved? Do you recognise the value of your employees? Is it clear and transparent why some staff are rewarded more than others?

Rule 5 talks about experience – are you identifying useful experience in your team? Are you giving experienced staff objectives and tasks to pass on their experience? Are you showing that you value learning? Do you ask your experienced staff for help?

Rule 6 focuses on peer pressure – have you built a set of objectives for your team where their interests are aligned with those of the organisations? Do they win when the organisation wins? Does their hard work result in benefits for the staff?

Rule 7 adds grabbing credit – do you give credit where it’s due? Have you created an environment where staff are competing with each other? Which do you praise more, team work or individual performance? Do you encourage the quieter team members to contribute? Do you know the team well enough to understand who is really doing the work?

Rule 8 finishes the article with blaming others – is there a blame culture? Do you praise and reward taking responsibility?

Management sets the culture of an organisation. Good managers recognise this and work hard to put in place practices that support team work. Good managers are followed by their teams. If the team is following a “toxic” employee then the management need to take a good hard look at the working environment that they have created.

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