In any organization, having a high-performing employee is a blessing. They can drive results, boost morale, and be an asset to the team. However, when that high-performing employee also exhibits toxic behavior, it can become a problem.
This article will explore the concept of the high-performing toxic employee, the impact they can have on the business, and what can be done to address this issue.
What is a high-performing toxic employee?
A high-performing toxic employee is an individual who demonstrates exceptional job performance but also exhibits detrimental behaviors that can harm the work environment, team morale, and overall company culture.
Despite their excellent results and capabilities, these employees pose a challenge for organizations as their toxic behaviors can undermine the positive outcomes they achieve.
What are the signs of a high-performing toxic employee?
Consistent disregard for company values and culture
Toxic employees often have little respect for the organization’s core values and culture. They may ignore policies, violate norms, or behave unethically, prioritizing their own interests above those of the company and their colleagues.
Manipulative and self-serving behavior
High-performing toxic employees may engage in manipulative tactics to advance their personal agendas or maintain their status within the organization. They may deceive, mislead, or take credit for others’ work, and use their charm or charisma to gain favor from those in positions of power.
Bullying, undermining, or sabotaging colleagues
Toxic employees frequently engage in destructive behaviors towards their coworkers, including bullying, undermining their efforts, or even sabotaging their work. They may intentionally spread rumors or gossip, criticize or belittle others, or create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence
High-performing toxic employees often lack empathy and emotional intelligence, making it difficult for them to recognize or understand the emotions of others. They may be insensitive to their coworkers’ feelings, dismissive of their concerns, or unresponsive to their needs.
Creating divisions and cliques within the team
A toxic employee may attempt to create divisions within the team by forming cliques, pitting colleagues against each other, or instigating conflicts. This behavior can disrupt team cohesion, diminish trust, and hamper collaboration.
Resistance to feedback and unwillingness to improve
High-performing toxic employees may be unwilling to accept feedback or criticism, often taking it personally and reacting defensively. They may resist efforts to help them grow or change, and may blame others for their shortcomings instead of taking responsibility for their actions.
While healthy competition can be beneficial, toxic employees often exhibit an extreme competitive streak that goes beyond professional boundaries. They may view colleagues as rivals to be outperformed, rather than collaborators working towards a common goal. This excessive competitiveness can create a hostile work environment and negatively impact team dynamics.
Frequent mood swings and unpredictability
A high-performing toxic employee may have unpredictable mood swings, creating an unstable work environment. They may be friendly and approachable one moment and hostile or aggressive the next, leaving coworkers feeling uneasy and unsure of how to interact with them.
Narcissism and entitlement
Toxic employees may have an inflated sense of self-worth and may believe they are entitled to special treatment or privileges. They may expect constant praise and recognition for their accomplishments, disregarding the contributions of others, and may become resentful or envious when they don’t receive the attention they feel they deserve.
High-performing toxic employees may actively exclude certain colleagues from important discussions, meetings, or social events, intentionally or unintentionally isolating them from the rest of the team. This exclusionary behavior can lead to feelings of alienation and resentment among coworkers, ultimately harming team cohesion and collaboration.
Why do companies keep toxic employees?
Fear of Losing Expertise and Productivity
One of the main reasons companies tolerate high-performing toxic employees is the fear of losing their exceptional expertise and productivity.
These individuals often have specialized skills or knowledge that contribute significantly to the organization’s success, and replacing them can be challenging.
The potential loss of revenue or setbacks in projects due to their absence may cause companies to overlook their toxic behaviors.
Short-Term Benefits and Financial Success
High-performing toxic employees often bring in substantial financial benefits for the company. Their impressive performance and ability to achieve or surpass targets may create the perception that they are indispensable.
As a result, companies may prioritize these short-term financial gains over the long-term consequences of the toxic behavior in the work environment.
Difficulty in Finding Suitable Replacements
Replacing a high-performing toxic employee can be challenging, as finding someone with a similar skill set and performance level may not be easy. The time and resources needed to recruit, hire, and train a new employee may deter companies from addressing the issue.
Additionally, the potential disruption to ongoing projects and uncertainty surrounding the new employee’s performance could cause companies to hesitate in taking action.
Lack of Awareness or Understanding
In some cases, companies may be unaware of the toxic behavior exhibited by high-performing employees or may underestimate its impact on the work environment. Managers and leaders may not recognize the signs of toxicity, or they may be ill-equipped to handle such situations.
This lack of awareness or understanding can result in companies tolerating toxic employees, as they may not fully comprehend the extent of the damage being caused.
Inadequate or Ineffective Management
When a company’s management is ineffective or lacks the necessary skills to handle toxic employees, the situation can escalate and persist. Managers may avoid confrontation, hoping that the employee’s behavior will improve on its own or that other team members will adapt.
Alternatively, management may not have a clear process in place for addressing such situations, leading to inaction and the continued presence of the high-performing toxic employee.
Overemphasis on Individual Performance
Companies that place an excessive emphasis on individual performance may inadvertently create an environment where high-performing toxic employees are tolerated.
In such cultures, the value of teamwork and collaboration can be overshadowed by personal achievements, making it difficult to address toxic behaviors without compromising the organization’s focus on performance.
The Impact of a High-Performing Toxic Employee
Decreased Team Cohesion
The negative behaviors of a high-performing toxic employee can create rifts and divisions within the team. As they often engage in manipulative tactics to serve their interests, they may foster an unhealthy competitive atmosphere, which can lead to distrust and lack of collaboration among team members.
Reduced Employee Morale
High-performing toxic employees can significantly impact the overall morale of their colleagues. Their bullying, undermining, and sabotaging tactics can cause stress, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness among their coworkers. In turn, this can result in lower job satisfaction, decreased motivation, and diminished productivity.
Increased Turnover Rates
When employees feel undervalued or mistreated due to the presence of a toxic coworker, they may seek opportunities elsewhere, leading to higher turnover rates. This not only increases recruitment and training costs but can also disrupt workflow and team dynamics.
Additionally, high turnover rates can tarnish the company’s reputation, making it more challenging to attract top talent in the future.
Diminished Organizational Culture
A high-performing toxic employee can significantly undermine the company’s values and culture. Their negative behaviors can create an environment where employees feel unsupported, leading to disengagement and a reduced sense of loyalty towards the organization.
Furthermore, the company may be perceived as tolerating toxic behaviors, which can negatively impact its reputation and employee morale.
Stifled Innovation and Creativity
Toxic employees often exhibit resistance to change and new ideas, potentially stifling innovation and creativity within the team. By dominating conversations, dismissing suggestions, and focusing solely on their achievements, they can inhibit the free exchange of ideas and hinder the development of innovative solutions.
While high-performing toxic employees may initially contribute to the company’s financial success, their long-term impact can be detrimental. The costs associated with increased turnover, reduced productivity, and the potential loss of clients due to a toxic work environment can outweigh their individual contributions.
How to deal with toxic employees at work
Address the Issue Early
It is essential to address the toxic behavior as soon as it is identified. Ignoring the problem can lead to more significant issues and create a hostile work environment.
Begin by documenting specific instances of toxic behavior, gathering evidence, and identifying patterns. This information will be crucial when confronting the employee and, if necessary, making a case for disciplinary action or termination.
Establish a private, non-confrontational meeting with the high-performing toxic employee to discuss their behavior.
Clearly lay out the incidents and patterns of behavior that are causing problems. Encourage the employee to share their perspective and be prepared to listen actively. This conversation should be focused on behavior, not personal attacks or judgments.
Provide Constructive Feedback
Offer constructive feedback on the employee’s behavior and the impact it has on the team and the organization. Provide specific examples and describe the consequences of their actions. Help the employee understand that while their performance is valued, their toxic behavior is unacceptable and must change.
Develop a Performance Improvement Plan
Collaborate with the employee to develop a performance improvement plan (PIP) that outlines clear expectations for behavior change, including actionable steps, deadlines, and measurable outcomes.
The PIP should also define the consequences of not meeting these expectations, which may include disciplinary action or termination. Regularly review the employee’s progress and offer support and guidance to help them succeed in meeting the goals.
Provide Training and Support
Offer resources and training to help the high-performing toxic employee improve their behavior. This could include communication workshops, emotional intelligence training, or conflict resolution seminars. Encourage the employee to seek additional support if needed, such as through coaching or counseling services.
Closely monitor the employee’s progress and behavior following the implementation of the PIP. Acknowledge improvements and provide ongoing feedback and support. If the toxic behavior persists despite efforts to address it, be prepared to take further action, such as disciplinary measures or termination.
Involve Human Resources
Involve your human resources department in addressing the high-performing toxic employee’s behavior. HR can provide guidance on company policies, best practices, and legal considerations, ensuring that the issue is handled professionally and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
Foster a Supportive Team Environment
Create a supportive team environment that encourages open communication, mutual respect, and collaboration. Encourage team members to address conflicts and challenges in a constructive manner, and promote a culture of accountability. This approach can help prevent the spread of toxic behavior and minimize its impact on the team.
Evaluate Company Culture
Take a broader look at your organization’s culture and values to determine if there are underlying factors contributing to the high-performing toxic employee’s behavior. Identifying and addressing these issues can help prevent similar situations from arising in the future and ensure a healthy work environment for all employees.
Be Prepared to Make Tough Decisions
Despite your best efforts to address the toxic behavior and support the employee’s growth and improvement, it may become necessary to make difficult decisions, such as demotion, reassignment, or termination. Prioritize the well-being of your team and organization over the individual’s high performance when making these decisions.
Managing a high-performing toxic employee can be a daunting challenge for organizations. While their exceptional skills and productivity are undeniable, their negative impact on the team and work environment can undermine overall success.
To effectively handle such individuals, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations, offer constructive feedback, and maintain open communication channels. By promoting a healthy work culture, fostering positive behaviors, and addressing toxicity head-on, businesses can strike a balance between reaping the benefits of a high-performing employee and maintaining a harmonious and thriving workplace.
Ultimately, the key to success lies in nurturing a supportive and inclusive environment that enables all team members to contribute their best to the organization’s growth and progress.