High impact (otherwise known as toxic) employees

Toxic employee can be high impact

You have all heard of high potential employees but have you heard of “high impact” employees?  Now, I bet your mind has gone straight to the high performers, the ones that are closing the deals, making the savings, making the noise. And you’d be right — they are most definitely high impact employees, and rightly so.

But, there’s another group of employees that have impact — but unfortunately, impact of the negative kind.

These are the toxic employees that take up a disproportionate amount of their manager’s time and have a disproportionately negative effect on their workmates and the work environment.

One of the points I make in my book is the concept of emotional contagion.  Tony Schwartz writes in his article Emotional Contagion Can Take Down Your Whole Team:

How much do emotions matter in the workplace?

Walk into any Department of Motor Vehicles and you’ll feel the impact of the prevailing mood instantly — a dense fog of sourness, irritability, and listlessness.

Walk into almost any Apple store and you’ll experience the opposite — a sense of aliveness and excitement that raises your energy (and makes you want to buy something).

Tony goes on to talk about how leaders affect the mood of the team and the workplace. And it’s true that leaders do exercise a disproportionate impact; but pretty much any “high impact” employee brings emotional contagion to the team and the workplace.

The thing is that often these people think that they are doing people a favour; that they’re being honest, telling it how it is. But in reality — they are like a toxic poisonous gas, slowly releasing into the air, settling on desks and phones and the people sitting at those desks and speaking into those phones.

So, what can you do, as a leader if you have a  “high impact” (toxic) employee?

  • Firstly, be clear on the sorts of behaviours that contribute to a healthy workplace culture.
  • What is this employee doing that doesn’t fit with that?
  • Before you speak to them, think about whether there is any validity to their complaining.  If so, is there an action on your behalf that is required to address the situation?
  • Now, talk to the employee. Be specific and talk about a healthy culture and how what they are doing (whatever their reason) is impacting negatively on this culture.
  • Seek to understand their perspective and address any genuine issues.
  • But, if the situation doesn’t improve — and the contagion is continuing, then you’ll need to act.
  • It’s a funny thing about taking action in this sort of circumstance, because almost always the sense of relief is followed by the question “why didn’t I do this sooner?”

So, is there someone in your team who is “high impact” and bringing the team down? What will you do about it?

Until next week. Happy leading,

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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