88. Toxic Coworkers: Removal, Remediation and Containment

We all know ‘em when we see ‘em. They’re passive aggressive, short/curt, rude co-workers, lacking self-awareness with narcissistic tendencies who do not take responsibility, may gaslight us, take credit for others’ accomplishments and make our lives miserable!

THE EFFECTS OF TOXICITY

Toxic coworkers suck up all the time, money and energy in the workplace.  In the article “How Toxic Colleagues Corrode Performance,” the authors polled thousands of managers and employees on the receiving end of antisocial behavior from a colleague and found that work quality and quantity of work decreased and folks also lost time – in terms of hours worked, avoiding that coworker or worrying about that coworker.  

The data also support the toxic coworker is often responsible for team dysfunction.  Functional teams are often called loyalist teams.  Dysfunctional teams are often called saboteur teams – and no surprise, are significantly more likely to contain a toxic coworker.

TOXIC TOP PERFORMER

Many people believe we need to put up with toxic behavior if the person is a top performer.  It turns out this is another one of those upside down common beliefs in the workplace.  The paradox for leaders is that the common traits of a toxic worker can mean they are a top performer in the company. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes in his article “Why Bad Guys Win at Work,” “for some toxic employees there is a bright side to their dark side. For example, Machiavellian traits such as superficial charm, charisma, self-confidence and interpersonal manipulation can be valuable when developing new client relationships. Likewise, toxic employees with narcissistic tendencies such as ruthlessness and selfishness can be the most productive – driven to achieve their targets whatever the cost.”

According to Michael Mccoby in the Harvard Business review there is clear evidence that productivity and performance do not justify or make up for the toxic worker.  “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons.” Rather, it turns out these workers’ negative effect in the workplace is not justified by performance or productivity contributions.  Chamarro-Premuzic says, “[t]heir [toxic employees] success comes at a price, and that price is paid by the organization.”.

WHAT TO DO? 

Try an honest conversation with the person engaging in the behavior – this is usually always the place to start as long as you feel safe.  Research shows that most of us lack self-awareness, especially at work –  so a conversation can be very helpful.  Remember – feedback is a sign of functional teams.

Do not stoop to their level, keep your ego in check and practice empathy. Keeping an eye out for your own fight-or-flight response can help you with these tactics.  Some of these toxic behaviors can really tigger us – and our ego. Keep the high ground.  We can even try some empathy – we know that crummy behavior is a terrible burden and gets in the way of not just our ease, meaning and joy – but the toxic worker’s as well – and don’t leave yourself out of a big dose of empathy.

Talking with your boss about the behavior and getting some support can be very helpful.  Sometimes bosses are not aware of the extent of the problem.

Take Care of Yourself.  We need to be vigilant about our own emotional, psychological and physical health.  

Let’s do some hazardous waste removal, remediation and containment!