Most likely you are aware of the people that are hard to get along with or manage at work. Every company has them.

But when workplace behaviors are escalated to toxic levels, what then? Many of us sweep the issue under the rug because perpetrators may be high performers, hold institutional knowledge, or have some level of influence that is highly regarded by people in high places. 

Over time, unhealthy interactions and watching others get thrown under the bus become the "norm" and a cultural expectation. People get desensitized to the toxic effects of others and the excuse eventually becomes, "It's just how we roll here."

But in the meantime, people--valued and valuable talent--are suffering. And they're also quitting and joining your competitor.

Is it worth it? 

One Harvard study exploring a large data set of over 50,000 workers across 11 different firms concluded that a toxic worker "engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people."

The researchers raised eyebrows of chief HR officers and CEOs by stating, "Such workers can generate enormous regulatory and legal fees and liabilities for the firm." 

Stop ignoring the problem

These damaging workers adversely affect fellow co-workers or other company assets and, state the authors, "can cause major organizational cost, including customer loss, loss of employee morale, increased turnover, and loss of legitimacy among important external stakeholders."

Whether you sit up in the C-suite or down on the production floor, ignoring the problem of toxic workers rather than exposing it will only make it worse. When light shines in the darkness, darkness cannot overcome it.

Here are six of the most glaring signs that confirm you work with toxic people, and it may be time to throw down the hatchet.

1. Uncivil bosses.

As Stanford professor Bob Sutton explains in The Asshole Survival Guide, when bad bosses treat people like crap, it destroys their focus and motivation; people are three times less likely to contribute at a high level. 

2. An unhealthy obsession with results, results, results.

Take special notice of colleagues or bosses who don't enjoy the process of collaborating or working as a team to achieve a goal, learning or trying out new things, or considering other people's ideas. Their only daily, even hourly, concern is what it takes to achieve the end goal. Anyone in the way of that obsession with results and the bottom line will be swiftly dealt with and removed from their path (if you know what I mean).

3. Violation of company policies.

These workers have no regard for the business by repeatedly violating written company policy. Things like stealing from the company, sharing proprietary information, engaging in discriminatory practices, bullying, or sexual harassment are par for the course.

4. Gossip.

Workers actively act out their unhappiness by gossiping after meetings to crucify management and company direction. They're basically corporate teenagers whose time with the company is about to expire, and they're out to put a negative spin on things and spread rumors about others. 

5. Passivity

Employees simply lack initiative and fail to take ownership of their responsibilities. This pulls down productivity for the entire team and hinders overall performance.

6. Sabotage.

You may nod in agreement because you've seen it and it still astonishes you! They will go way out of their way to create roadblocks to disrupt other people's work and actively sabotage anything you're trying to get done. So you're left with covering your basis to protect yourself -- writing more detailed emails than usual, CCing and BCCing more people than normal, and making backup copies of everything in the event a false accusation comes your way.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019
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