What happens when we’ve got someone in the organization who’s just simply a bad apple? What’s the cost of waiting to address that problem?
It’s a tried and true case of the “toxic employee” — and nearly every startup deals with it sooner or later.
What’s a toxic employee?
A toxic employee is someone in the organization who absolutely loves to trash the organization, or in some cases just cause nonstop drama.
They can’t wait to get into any situation where they can tell anyone willing to listen what a bunch of idiots run the company while insisting that their solution (if they have one) is clearly the answer.
They get their validation from stirring up problems, not solving them.
What’s the cost of doing nothing?
The cost of doing nothing is brutal.
Every day that goes by that we let this toxic employee infect the rest of our staff creates a compounding effect of shitty morale.
For the folks in the organization who were getting along just fine, now they’re distracted by this venomous talk. By not doing anything, it also sends a message that this type of behavior is OK.
That enables others to do the same, and the problem gets worse and worse.
But shouldn’t we allow people to speak their mind?
If it’s done constructively and productively — absolutely!
We should make every effort to make sure people’s voices are heard and action is taken whenever possible.
But for some bad seeds, that’s not what they’re looking for. Instead, they welcome the unrest and use it as ammunition to spin up yet another cycle of gossip and distraction.
What’s the right way to approach this situation?
The first step is to always confront the employee head-on. Make sure that their concerns are heard and again, where possible, action is taken.
If we don’t listen with an open mind and take effective action, then we can’t disarm the behavior from occurring again. The worst thing we can do is ignore it altogether.
But if we do listen, and we do take action, and yet again the same person just moves on to yet another issue, at some point, we have to determine whether it’s the issues or the person we’re really dealing with.
If it’s the person, we can’t address the issue fast enough. We need to either fix the behavior with that person or part company altogether. Every minute we wait, we create an even bigger organizational challenge that will be way too hard to tackle down the road.