Management of organizations has now become a full-scale scientific endeavour involving research at each and every aspect, ranging from the behaviour of the employees to the physical appearance of the workplace.
In recent years, a stronger focus has been put towards understanding the psychological attributes of the workers in all types of organizations, whether they are efficient or otherwise. There are “people” who build and run an organization in an effective manner.
The success of an organization is strongly dependent on organizational culture, environment, and the attitude and behaviour of the people who are employed in it, i.e., the workforce. Anything wrong among these three pillars leads to an ineffective or inefficient organization. Among these, the most important is the workforce, which is the most difficult to deal with.
The employees are persons and every person has different psychological traits, so their response to the situations is varied, manifold and diversified in nature. Therefore, dealing with employees requires a high level of emotional intelligence. The employees are hired to perform for the betterment and to perform the tasks for which the organization is established.
However, there are certain employees who are harmful in the workplace, and their presence has a negative impact on organisational effectiveness. These employees not only affect the overall environment of the workplace, but they also affect the co-workers as well as the assets of the organization. These workers are termed toxic.
Organizational toxicity had been a focus of management experts and researchers due to the realization of the importance of the subject in organizational management. The concept can be described as a ‘‘pain that strips people of their self-esteem and that disconnects them from their work’’, in the workplace.
Toxicity is a fact of life in all organizations; however, not all organizations are toxic. Toxic organizations are usually defined as largely ineffective as well as destructive to its employees They thrive on control and exist in a constant state of crisis – they depend on disasters to make needed changes. Their solutions as well as their objectives are usually managed in the short-term, i.e., quick-fix solutions and effects on the bottom line. Toxic organizations also appear different in terms of function and results.
They have the following characteristics:
- Inability to achieve operation goals and commitments;
- Problem-solving processes that are driven by fear and rarely yield good decisions;
- Poor internal communication;
- Huge amounts of waste result from poor decisions, lots of rework; and
- Interpersonal relationships are driven by manipulative and self-centred agendas
Simply having toxins present in an organization does not necessarily make it a toxic organization. The tone of an organization tends to be set from the top and so toxicity is often a top-down phenomenon. The higher up the toxic person is, the more widely spread the pain, and the more people there are who behave in the same way.
Toxicity can be observed by the toxins within the organization which lead to a toxic organization. It is an intense energy-sapping negative emotion of employees which disconnects them from their job, colleagues and organization, and as a result, affects the overall performance of the organization.
Generally, toxicity in employees is linked with the behavioural issues that are generated due to external factors of the psychological attributes of the employees. These issues can be linked with painful emotions that are inevitably part of organizational life or to a certain extent personal or family-related issues. When these problems are not addressed, they (toxic employees) become toxic to the organization resulting in an overall reduction in performance.
Toxic employees adversely affect the productivity of the organization by demoting and infuriating the rest of the good employees and increasing the frustration in their co-workers. Toxicity in organizations is spread at various levels, such as there could be toxic leaders, toxic managers, toxic workers, and toxic culture.
These terms are now appearing with higher frequency in business management, leadership, and related literature, to delimitate the toxins which make an organization toxic. Having a toxic employee in an organization is costlier than having a bad employee.
Their behaviour affects the entire workforce and prevents hiring a better fit for the organization. Generally, toxic employees tend to share common characteristics such as negative attitudes, unaccountability and disorganisation, lacking credibility, resistance to changes in assignments, and aggressive and highly-defensive behaviour.
Some ‘typical’ signs of toxicity in employees include
- Not speaking up at meetings or being very ‘closed in’ and unresponsive,
- Showing a general negative attitude and lack of enthusiasm, especially in a team environment,
- Suddenly calling in sick at critical times, like during a company event or before an important meeting,
- Blatantly refusing to carry out assigned tasks or obey reasonable orders,
- Gossiping and spreading malicious rumours or bad-mouthing colleagues or management,
- Misbehaving or being disrespectful with colleagues, not taking responsibility and blaming others for their misdeeds,
- Being resistant to change and pushing back on new initiatives or ideas that will involve additional work or more involvement,
- Exhibiting behaviour contrary to the company’s values or what’s expected of them.
Toxicity in organizations exists at various levels but the major source of toxicity is the toxic employees who have negative behaviour and careless attitude towards their job. Toxicity in people is their psychological response to certain situations due to environmental and personal issues.
The toxic people who are to a certain extent psychologically affected cause serious harm to the efficiency of the organizations and as a result seriously affect the success. They not only affect the organization but also affect the co-workers. It is, therefore, of vital importance to identify the toxins within the organization, isolate them and remedy them. In order to identify them, their usual behaviour, way of talking and attitude towards the job is observed, which gives an indication towards their toxic behaviour.
There are several types of toxic people with variants but the most common are, the excuse-makers who find a way out to avoid the assignments. There are certain people who have other commitments than the job and they leave the office as soon as they know that their boss has left. Sometimes, there are people who are not liked by others due to their personal character and people try to avoid them. Such people are also harmful because they cannot perform in a team.
Some people in an organization are unhappy about many things such as their personal issues, their job assignment, their life etc., they are also toxic. People with lost temper are never liked anywhere and the same is the case at the workplace. Such people push other co-workers away and create a negative environment. People gossiping all the time usually waste a lot of time on themselves as well as co-workers.
Untrustworthy and dishonest people in an organization are a big threat too. People with narcissistic attitudes are also not useful for an organization, they think of themselves as the best among others and cannot accept the contribution of other co-workers. Some people who cannot stick to one thing they say and wobble around their decisions are also unhealthy for the organization. The employees who are always in search of help in performing their duties are inefficient in themselves and are classified as toxic to the organization. People bullying all the time are toxic as well.
Organisations should be careful before branding an employee as toxic. Many times, employees are called toxic on the basis of the experience of a few people but this could be dangerous. There could be several other opinions on that person being non-toxic. There is always a probability that such employees showcase toxic behaviour only in a particular situation.
It’s also interesting to note that many people, who tend to be toxic at the workplace, are quite normal and pleasant in their personal and social life. This is why it is important to understand how or why one person turns out to be a toxic employee.
The first step to managing toxic employees in an organization is to identify and segregate them from others. Later, the manager should dig deeper into the underlying cause of their ill behaviour, which could only be revealed through one-to-one meetings. This will result in finding the proper remedy to deal with such people.
Generally, toxic people can be improved by giving them feedback, resolving their issues, explaining to them the consequences of such behaviour, and separating them from other employees. It is also important for the manager to document everything and tell the toxins about it so that they are aware of the situation and get ready for the worst if it happens due to their toxic behaviour at the workplace.