Why are these toxic folks allowed to remain inside the organization? Not all of them are poor performing, at least in every aspect of their job. However, the overall impact on the organization can be significant.

If left unchecked, the way they show up day after day and sometimes year after year is equivalent to a poison being replaced into the company water cooler. It may be tasteless and odorless, but the damage is being done. Over time, this poison can cripple a portion of an organization, or kill off the whole thing.

Too many organizations tolerate toxic people. First, what is a toxic person? It’s someone who knowingly or unknowingly subverts the progress of a team. Sometimes their behavior is very clearly mean spirited, or it’s the troubles in their personal lives that spill over into the workplace.

How is this allowed to occur?

Sometimes this person is “protected” by their manager or a higher level executive, in other cases, the immediate manager does not like confrontation, so they don’t take on the issue, and in others they don’t want to “rock the boat” as the person performs a vital function.

In each scenario the result is the same, Everyone goes home at the end of the day feeling as if a piece of their soul was ripped out. Over time it’s the reason employees don’t like work, give less than 100% and oftentimes quit their jobs. They wonder why no one is doing anything about this person(s)?

Entire organizations can respond like individuals by being “stuck” doing the same things over and over again, expecting a different result. Beyond “stuck” this defines “insanity.” This happens because organizations are made up of humans and most humans hate change.

Scientists coined the term, “encultured” or becoming habituated in habits and routines.

This makes change difficult and explains how we tolerate these toxic folks.

What can we do about it?

We need to treat this problem with a much greater sense of both urgency and importance if we are to avoid the detrimental impact to the organization. Consider the following solutions:

  1. Develop a protocol with the Human Resources Department for how to handle these folks. Be consistent. This will help avoid lawsuits down the line.
  2. Tackle the issue directly in the performance review by citing specific examples of behaviors that are having a negative impact on the organization. Be clear about the behaviours that need to change and set an improvement plan for the individual.
  3. Follow up in thirty days to review progress. If there is no progress, threaten termination as an option. It’s important to the health of the rest of the organization that the toxic environment not be allowed to continue.
  4. Recommend the person seek professional help through the company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) if available or seek a professional therapist.
  5. Notify employees that toxic behaviours will not be tolerated in the company.
  6. Consider setting up a “Whistle Blower” type policy that allows people to report these behaviours. Sometimes, management is not aware of the extent of the problem.
  7. If you need a fresh perspective on the “How,” “Why” and “Next Steps” consider invoking the wisdom of the right side of your brain. It’s the place where creativity, intuition, spirituality and also problem solving exist. I’m biased as this approach has worked incredibly well for me for a range of problems over the past 21 years.
  8. Don’t give up on the toxic person, but don’t allow the toxicity to fester. The overall health of the organization is too important.

William A. Donius leads a personal development workshop at the Omega Institute.