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Losing Staff? How to Deal With Toxic Employees in Your Practice

As eye care professionals, we need to understand how to handle challenging, toxic employees that make our workplaces and interactions as a team uncomfortable or intolerable through their verbal, passive-aggressive, or even physical attacks on others.

When you are working through handling a difficult employee, the biggest thing you need to discuss is the employee's attitude or behavior, or you should be looking into replacing them in your team of professionals.

Identify the Problem

If you have identified toxic employees, engaging them in a one-on-one discussion is always best, letting them know the problem and trying to understand what is causing their behaviors. Anything you do to help a toxic employee, whether one-on-one discussion, coaching or feedback, resources you give them, or any discipline you implement, should be documented.

Believe it or not, toxic employees are often not sufficiently self-aware or have the emotional intelligence to understand how their words, actions, and behaviors affect others. Sometimes, people display unhealthy behaviors because of something happening in their family lives and do not realize they are reacting to this external stress destructively or disrespectfully on the job. However, there are other cases when these actions are due to discriminatory or racist attacks. This intolerable excuse must be dealt with immediately.

When the employees' negative attitudes are not addressed appropriately, the other team members get hurt, lose respect for you as the leader, and may develop negative attitudes of their own. This is where the toxicity will spread, and you can quickly lose the morale of your staff due to one person. Ever heard the expression that one bad apple 🍎 can ruin the bunch?

Address or Replace the Employee

If an employee has a negative attitude towards everything and everyone or even just one person, you need to confront that attitude with them. Toxicity should never be allowed. If an employee cannot provide a reason, does not want to improve, or has a negative mindset during the discussion, it is time to start looking for a replacement.

During your one-on-one, you must discuss what behaviors you want replaced and work on a documented performance improvement plan with the employee. When explaining consequences to an employee, take time to detail what will happen if the individual does not improve.

Follow-Thru with Consequences

Suppose you have followed the steps above pushing back, challenging employees' persistent poor attitudes, leading by example, and documenting behaviors representative of your company's culture. In that case, you are well-positioned to address an employee's perspective and must ensure follow-thru with all improvement plans, including up to termination.

You must help your employees feel more in control, more important, and heard. You must be adept at promptly addressing, coaching, and counseling employees who have challenging attitudes so they can improve their behaviors. This is not something you put under the rug, as once the damage is done, it is hard to build back morale, which will hurt your staff.

Understanding why certain employees are becoming more difficult or hostile and when they are most likely to behave this way can prevent this buildup of stress. To summarize, by understanding what a toxic employee expects from using an undesirable behavior, you are much better equipped to redirect and defeat challenging behaviors and shift a person away from identifying and solving problems.

Consider having gentle conversations with employees with these personalities to help them see the point in their actions. Another option is to speak with a group of employees about the importance of positivity in the workplace so that they do not feel you are singling them out. This kind of employee will devise excuses, get their work picked up by a colleague, and try to fly below the radar as much as possible.

What Causes Employees to Become Toxic

This type of employee is like a procrastinator, as both try to avoid work. Because this employee has a Ph.D. level skill for work avoidance, the rest of your team members might feel overloaded and hurt by taking up the Slackers, er, slack. Remember that this employee could detriment the entire team's productivity, destroying your team's balance and retention, so do not waste any time dealing with their toxic excuses.

A harmful employee can create mistrust, erode your team's productivity, drive away your colleagues, and lower your employees' morale, all while impacting the bottom line of the business and the workplace environment. If one situation after another involves the same employee, it is time to begin looking more closely into whether they are toxic. The problem with the Toxic Worker, the poisonous worker might have highly emotive issues, but you cannot hide this issue from your team members--they are probably already aware.

There is a difference between a challenging employee and a toxic one, says Dylan Minor, an associate professor at Kellogg School of Management who studies this subject. Brilliant or not, you cannot discount employees' concerns and complaints of toxic or destructive behaviors on the part of the other worker.

Feedback is Critical

A forward-looking attitude is the opposite of critical feedback. Rather than focusing on past events, forward-looking attitudes are an introduction to steps an employee can take to address toxic behaviors. Offer positive and critical feedback at appropriate times, and, crucially, work with a toxic, high-risk employee to identify concrete, real-time behaviors for improvement before the damage is done to your team.


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