I am a workplace rights attorney turned career strategist and workplace consultant. For years I helped legal clients navigate workplace issues. From bakers and graphic designers to college professors, inventors, and doctors, I helped hundreds of people from a variety of industries and career backgrounds resolve their most challenging workplace problems.
Navigating workplace relationships can be hard. No matter how professional you may be, you can never guarantee that everyone else at work will hold themselves to the same high standard. Sometimes it can be hard to know whether the difficult colleague or direct report you’re dealing with has a chip on their shoulder or whether they are a truly toxic worker.
A major red flag you’ve got a problem employee is that no one wants to work with them. Of course, there may be other reasons someone is cast as the office pariah, so you’ll want to do your due diligence to find out why.
What makes this person so difficult to work with?
Are they not a team player? Do they create conflict in group situations? Establishing the foundation of the problem will be key and will require some careful, neutral investigation.
That said, be sure not to ignore workplace complaints that center on a single employee. While it may seem like petty office politics at first blush, there could be a real problem lurking within.
Confidence is a desired trait in a business setting but overconfidence can be a real problem. An employee who can’t take responsibility for his or her actions may cause larger issues later.
These workers are often self-centered, focusing only on how the workplace impacts them. As a result, they are highly unlikely to think about what’s best for the greater work environment, nor will they exercise care in their dealings with colleagues or clients.
In fact, they may be the original source of much of it. Gossip has many negative effects including reduced morale, higher rates of turnover, reduced productivity and potential liability for the employer.
While certain conversations may seem harmless, it’s important to head-off all questionable discussions that could be deemed as gossip. Moreover, you’ll want to be on high alert for an employee known to spread rumors and backbite.
We all have off days sometimes, but a toxic direct report will frequently be a source of negativity in the office. These employees drain the energy from every room they enter.
During meetings, they interrupt, criticize and condescend. Their emails and verbal communications are often sarcastic, aggressive and hostile. Over time, these employees make the workplace much less enjoyable and businesses often lose good workers as a result.
If you can’t trust someone to tell the truth, you can’t trust them with anything. Of course, it’s not always easy to know when someone is being dishonest, but if you have reason to believe there’s deceit afoot, you should take a deeper look to uncover the truth.
Workplace discrimination is illegal, so anyone who exhibits signs of animus or bias against a certain protected class will spell very bad news. Managers should be aware of biased language and beliefs that signal a discriminatory mindset. Take complaints of workplace discrimination and harassment seriously, and work to eliminate sources of unlawful conduct.
In addition to negatively impacting other employees, the reputational damage and accompanying financial loss that can result from allegations of workplace misconduct cannot be understated. We live in a time where people vote with their wallets and stop supporting businesses whose misconduct they refuse to abide.
Even if a company has good policies on paper, it’s important that those policies are thoroughly enforced in the workplace.
If you encounter a toxic direct report in the workplace, ensure you follow through on appropriate protocol including a neutral investigation process and implementation of disciplinary policies.
Know the signs and know how to protect your workplace.
A version of this post originally appeared on Fairygodboss.
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