Toxic Staff - Encourage Leaders to Ferret Out Undesired Behavior


I can not imagine how many articles there are in the universe discussing what most of us call "toxic employees". Opinions abound about how to fire them, how not to hire them, how to write them up, how they can bring any business to it's knees and spill into the degredation of your bottom line.

A method that can be truly effective and long lasting is to identify those individuals in your practice that have their values and ethics in line with yours as a manager or owner and coach those individuals how to mentor their colleagues. With new hires, your primary focus should be centered on your values and ethics being at the core of every decision a staff member makes.

A great example most of us can relate to is the gossip or Debbie Downer personality. They spread their bad attitudes and caustic commentary like melted butter and most of your staff really don't like it - BUT - they listen to it. It is the rare brave soul that will look Debbie Downer in the eye and let her know her attitude can be contagious and she's making the practice an unenjoyable environment to work in. Debbie Downer really affects staff that are nurturing personalities because they will truly try to help by listening and offering suggestions. Sadly most Debbies' don't want solutions; they need attention. They like to gripe about clients and life in general, they feel better when they spread misery.

Many business put the onus on a manager to talk to Debbie and work through what I call the Baseball Mentality (3 strikes and you're out; verbal warning, written warning, final warning, YOU"RE OUT!!). In the Baseball model, the Golden Rule of HR, "documenting", has happened and now the practice has put it's best foot forward to be off of the hook for unemployment benefits after firing the Downer. The practice will work hard not to hire another "toxic" soul and life goes on. If/when another Downer arrives, the practice will wash, rinse, repeat.

Most practices have employees that get it. They are kind, helpful, cheerful, do not spread gossip, do not backstab, have alot of common sense and are generally well liked because in awkward or uncomfortable situations they are no-nonsense and neutral. These personalities should be the backbone of your practice culture.

I now make a habit of sitting down with employees that set great examples of work place behavior and let them know how much I admire their effort. I also let them know I would appreciate their support in leading the staff towards a univerasally upbeat, fun,"git r done" workplace culture. This request is a great ice-breaker; often times this person will tell you which staff might present a challenge in attaining this positive culture. If information isn't volunteered, I ask - "Do you see any hurdles that might slow us down in getting everyone on our upbeat, no-negativity page?"

I coach this person to continue setting a great example, and to gently intervene when they see or hear something negative. For instance, when Debbie Downer starts complaining about a difficult client we might remind Debbie that even the difficult clients care about their pets - focus on the good we're doing for the animals we see. When a colleague is the object of a complaint, let Debbie know that the owner or practice manager could probably help solve the problem. Better yet, maybe this is a situation where Debbie could speak directly to the person she is complaining about.

My advice is to not engage in the unprofessional behavior and find a nice way to deflect - most of the time the fact that another staff member makes it clear in a very nice way that they don't want to join in the gossip will stop it in it's tracks. Debbie Downer is looking for validation - do not provide it unless it's something positive.

Does this method affect instant change? No. It will take time for other staff members to hear or see your leaders deflecting and refusing politely to engage in negative workplace behaviors. Also, make it clear in your policy manual that violating values and ethics can be grounds for dismissal. A core value should be respecting our clients and colleagues humanity. Gossip violates that value. All of your staff signs off on this understanding making a decision in your favor by the Department of Labor in your state very easy.

Fight the good fight with upbeat attitudes, respect for each other's humanity and a desire to put out fires with solutions. Google Rick Griggs for some inspiration. I promise, it will pay off.

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