Nine traits of a toxic employee

Employees blame toxic teammates for their workplace woes. What can HR do about it?

Nine traits of a toxic employee

Uncooperative, unnecessarily competitive, or just downright difficult. Toxic colleagues can come in all forms and has been cited as a top reason why Singaporeans are so unhappy at work.

In a recent study, Monster.com found that one in three employees are unsatisfied with their work-life balance – and they blamed their toxic teammates for it.

Having difficult co-workers meant they were ping-ed at all hours for work and unable to spend enough time with loved ones.

With remote working arrangements making it hard to ‘switch off’, one can only imagine just how much worse things can get for professionals.

Read more: How the 'always on' culture is impacting you

For Singaporeans, this is what work would ideally look like:

  • Not working on weekends (73%)
  • Being able to leave work on time every day (69%)
  • Flexi-work arrangement (56%)
  • Having a flexi-time option (54%)

Unfortunately, a third of professionals said they’re overworked and worked late on a regular basis. Many said toxic colleagues (40%) and supervisors’ negative attitudes (42%) were their biggest barriers to achieving genuine work-life balance.

Read more: Singapore most overworked city globally

9 clear signs of toxic behaviour
While you can wait for co-workers to file a complaint against their problematic peers, leaders can also proactively look out for red flags in employees, said an organisational culture consultant.

Ashok Miranda, business transformation architect, and founder at Transform & Transcend spoke to HRD as part of a two-part series on managing toxic workplace culture.

He highlighted some ‘typical’ signs of toxicity:

  1. Not speaking up at meetings or being very ‘closed in’ and unresponsive
  2. Showing a general negative attitude and lack of enthusiasm, especially in a team environment
  3. Suddenly calling in sick at critical times, like during a company event or before an important meeting
  4. Blatantly refusing to carry out assigned tasks or obey reasonable orders
  5. Gossiping and spreading malicious rumours or bad-mouthing colleagues or management
  6. Misbehaving or being disrespectful with colleagues
  7. Not taking responsibility and blaming others for their misdeeds
  8. Being resistant to change and pushing back on new initiatives or ideas that will involve additional work or more involvement
  9. Exhibiting behaviour contrary to company’s values or what’s expected of them

Read more: Toxic employee? Here’s how to manage them

Can toxic behaviour persist in a remote work setting?
While it’s easier to spot the signs when you’re working with someone face-to-face daily, Miranda explained that remote work shouldn’t lead to a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – that’s right, toxic behaviour can persist if left unchecked.

“Culture toxicity can manifest in a work-from-home or off-site working environment,” he told HRD. “However, I find that in these times, toxic behaviour can be confused with stress-related behaviour, given the emotional uncharted territory we are in.”

This is why leaders should consider other factors that may causing them to ‘act out’ before crucifying employees. Some of which could include struggling to balance home and work, dealing with social isolation, not being able to meet their work friends, or dealing with home-related distractions.

Those factors can impact employee behaviour in many ways, so HR would need to get to the ‘core underlying issues’. He suggested that HR take on the role of ‘chief counsellor’ and show empathy, listen, and ask open-ended questions to get to the bottom of it all.

Read more: 10 signs you’re about to hire a toxic candidate

How to avoid toxicity from the outset
HR should thus only start tackling toxic behaviour after ruling out emotional or psychological distress, said Miranda.

However, this is where the actual hard part comes in. From experience, he’s found addressing toxicity ‘a real challenge’ in many companies here.

“This is because clear guidelines on expected behaviour and the need to demonstrate the stated company values aren’t clearly communicated at the outset and onboarding stage,” he said.

So how can leaders avoid the problem from the outset?

“You need to be able to say, ‘this isn’t how we behave here’,” he said. “But first, you need to let people know what good behaviour looks like and what is expected. This should be an integral part of your company culture playbook.

“In the current environment, it is essential that companies communicate the new ‘house rules’ that apply when working from home or remotely. This way, there is no ambiguity.”

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