Toxic Work Environment-how can you change it?

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Resolve conflict at the lowest level.  If you are upset by someone else's actions, try to resolve it between the two of you first!

I recently posted a question in a public FaceBook group asking about backbiting and gossip in the workplace.  The post stirred a lot of interest and comments and I found myself wanting to go to help people resolve this issue at their workplace.  There are so many human dynamics going on, but there are patterns that emerge time and time again.  So a particular employee's behavior is both common and semi-normal. It doesn't have to be permitted and allowed to continue though.  

I walk into the lunch room, a chill washes over me as it suddenly gets quiet.  I walk to the table, pull out my lunch and ask how everyone's drive into work was this morning.  After a few near misses and some stories of the idiot drivers, Bill gets up and leaves to go back to work.  When he's cleared the doorway, Susan opens up and tells me that Bill looked terrible when he came in today.  She heard that he's been sleeping on the couch for several weeks and he and his wife probably will get divorced.  Later that day, Bill complains to me that Susan hasn't been giving him the paperwork that he needs to keep the orders caught up and he's frustrated by not having enough work.  I feel like the middle man here, because I know he wants me to go talk to Susan to smooth this over.  I hate going between them all the time.  Susan is hard to talk to except when she's got something to talk about and she wants me to know what's going on with the other shifts and their inability to get projects done.  I feel this tension in the pit of my stomach and I feel sick all the time.

Does this sound familiar?  I'm sure you've at least had some experience with employee's inability to resolve conflict or have dealt with someone who goes around talking about everyone's business at work.  Toxic employees are costing companies billion's of dollars in lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost customers and they are making the people around them sick.  It's a problem that can be solved and resolved, but it takes a lot of work and sometimes making hard decisions about terminating employees or managers.  

So what is it costing you?  What can you do?  Are you stuck with a culture where everyone is talking about everyone else behind their backs?  No, you're not stuck unless you take no action.  

A toxic employee's behavior is costly to your company. One toxic employee can affect the following:  

1. Good productive employees will start underperforming. 

2. Employee satisfaction goes down. 

3. Those same good employees will start looking for new jobs. 

5. Highly qualified employees will not be attracted to your company. 

6. Good customers can start leaving and new customers may never come. 

The quick and easy answer is to get rid of the employee causing the trouble, but first impressions are not always right.  The problem may be deeper and more subtle than you think.  You'll need to get to the bottom of it and do it quickly.  

I wrote another blog that analyzed your employees based on values (character) and performance.  In that article, I outlined that there are 4 categories that employees fit into based on those criteria.  Based on where an employee lands on the chart, decisions need to be made about their future with the company.  

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a Human Resources trained professional, so you should consult one before taking any adverse actions on an employee termination.  

Employees are either Low Values/Low Performance, Low Values/High Performance, High Values/Low Performance or High Values High Performance.  If you have a LV/LP employee, you need to terminate their employment as quickly as possible.  If you have a HV/HP employee, you need to figure out how to make them part of your permanent business culture.  Figure out how to get them married to the company.  HV/LP's don't need more training.  They aren't in the right position.  Find out what their passionate about and move them if you can.  I can think of so many examples where an employee was moved to a different position or department and they turned out to be a diamond in the rough.  

The last employee type that I want to talk about are those LV/HP personnel.  You all know who I'm talking about.  They are terrible people, but get crazy amazing results for the company.  These are the hardest group to deal with because the company will notice when they are gone.  EVERYONE will notice when they are gone.  That's my point.  They treat everyone with so much disrespect that they make it hard for everyone else to enjoy coming to work.  I'm sorry to say, but they've got to go as soon as possible too.  You've got to figure out how to pass their work off to other employees as quickly as possible and terminate their employment.  What you think you're making off their production is costing your company 5X's that as I stated above.  That employee could just be the ONE thing that is holding your company back from getting to the next level of growth.  

Backbiting and gossip are low values (character) behavior.  As a employer or manager, you need to take the lead and deal with it.  

Backbiting and Gossip can happen for a variety of reasons, but it should not be tolerated in the workplace.  There are a multitude of solutions to solving this problem.  Please comment below or contact me at if you have any questions or comments.