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How to Manage Toxic Employees in a Remote Work Setting

toxic employees

If you have ever worked with someone who left you feeling worried, confused, angry, or even disrespected, chances are you have encountered a toxic employee. While toxic employees don’t all act the same, some of the most common traits they share include killing useful initiatives, putting colleagues down, making snarky remarks, and generally make the workplace a hostile environment.

Dealing with toxic employees is difficult enough in a regular workplace, but it takes even more effort to manage them in a remote work setting. Here are some of the best tips to help you deal with toxic employees in a remote or distributed team and stop them in their tracks.

manage toxic employees

What are the main characteristics of toxic employees and how do you identify them?

research study conducted at the Harvard Business School in 2015 defined a toxic employee as “… a worker that engages in behaviour that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people.”

This is a very broad definition, but there are multiple ways to identify a toxic worker even in a remote workplace, where performance tracking and behaviour patterns are more difficult to track.

Some of the characteristics of toxic employees often display include:

  • A lack of self-awareness. Toxic workers are not aware of their own irrational thinking and negative impact of their behaviour. Some of them may even lack the capacity to be aware of the consequences of their behaviour altogether. They may also have a very low or very high self-esteem and may not be able to acknowledge other people’s emotions.
  • A lack of impulse control. They often act impulsively or erratically and disregard policies, regulations and procedures because they prefer to do things according to their own methods or preferred codes.
  • A lack of interpersonal/social skills. Many toxic employees lack the ability to build effective relationships and they are often hypersensitive to criticism or even feedback. They aren’t willing to engage with colleagues in a sociable or friendly manner without provoking disputes, arguments or conflicts.

It’s important to note that managers shouldn’t be quick to label an employee as toxic, particularly if they are new to the organization. A worker may simply be struggling in a new environment, so they should be given the benefit of the doubt. However, if a worker is actively disengaged and constantly negative while also having an adverse effect on other workers or the company as a whole, it’s time to take action.

toxic remote employees

Don’t ignore the issue

While it is easy to simply ignore a disengaged employee who ignores their co-workers and responsibilities in a remote work setting, it’s never a good idea to do so. Toxic employees have an adverse effect on co-workers and ultimately on the entire organisation, so if you notice that someone is avoiding personal responsibility and trying to deflect blame, it’s time to nip that attitude in the bud.

To do so, it essential to outline expectations from the very beginning so everyone needs to know what is expected on them when working in a remote setting. By doing so, it will be difficult for toxic employees to evade their responsibilities and deflect blame by claiming that they didn’t know what was expected of them.

For example, if you are dealing with an employee who constantly misses online meetings, make sure you underline the importance of being present to virtual meetings because that’s the only way for everyone to meet performance expectations.

dont ignore employees

Don’t try to solve it all as a manager

If an employee displays toxic attitudes, it’s highly likely that they are doing it not only with the people in charge, but also with their colleagues. Dealing with complaints from other employees who were affected by the toxic worker’s behaviour is time-consuming and often counterproductive.

As a remote team manager, you don’t have time to run a kindergarten, so make sure that you encourage everyone to deal with their conflicts directly instead of filing complaints. This should solve the problem right at its source.

If this approach doesn’t work, you can arrange and mediate a discussion between the two parties in a video meeting. It’s important not to do this over instant messages or phone, because you want everybody to pick up on the tone and body language of the parties involved.

remote manager

Offer support when possible

Many toxic employees are not behaving like that on purpose, but if they are chronic complainers or they always bring a layer of negativity in the workplace, it’s important offered them as much support as possible before thinking about more drastic measures.

Take some time to explain the employee that their behaviour has a negative impact on the team’s productivity, while also letting them know that you can provide them with the support they need. This is especially important during a very stressful periods, such as when deadlines are approaching or event such as a pandemic take a toll on everyone’s mental health. Try to provide employees with tools to cope with stress and encourage them to work on achieving a better work-life balance.

remote teams

What to do when nothing works?

There are times when nothing seems to work when dealing with toxic employees, so is essential to know when to let things go and act decisively. If you are dealing with an employee that is resistant to change and drags the entire team’s efforts down, it’s time to let them go. This might be a particularly difficult thing to do if the employee in question performs well, but keep in mind that the effect they have on the performance and well-being of the rest of the team matters just as much.

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