There is no shortage of talk about toxic workplace cultures and “bad bosses”, but what happens when the culture is healthy or making a change to healthy, and you identify toxic employees on your team? When does the failure to engage, inspire, or motivate the employee stop being identified as a leadership failure, but a reflection of someone’s character? Are there employees who simply don’t want to be engaged and inspired at work? Will there always be a small percentage of people that cannot be reached? It’s always been my belief that as a leader you work for your employees. With that, comes a responsibility to find out what makes your employees shine. What gets them out of bed in the morning? Empathy and compassion should be the place we operate from one hundred percent of the time, even when an employee demonstrates disrespectful and unprofessional behavior. We should wonder where that behavior is coming from and investigate it.
As a field supervisor you will encounter various personality types in any work environment. If you’re not careful, toxic personality disorders such as depressive, narcissistic, sociopathic, or psychopathic types can steal your time and create a chaotic work environment. You may find yourself dealing with a variety of problems such as, manipulation, confabulations, tall tales creating misinformation, a lack of communication leading to assumptions, apathy, non-compliance, unprofessional behavior towards staff and/or patients, refusal to complete calls, etc. Before you know it, you’ll realize you’re not able to invest quality time in the employees who are engaged and motivated. Instead, you’re spending time dealing with personnel and operational issues created by toxic employees. So, how can you as a field supervisor effectively deal with the toxic employee without negatively effecting personnel or daily operations?
1. Be mindful of assumptions. Never assume anything. Assuming can lead to reacting before knowing the intention behind what’s occurred.
2. Always fact find. Operating from a place of “Bob told me X” is not fair or impartial. Never, go solely with what another employee tells you, that can be dangerous territory. Bob may not have the correct information, or he may have a personal problem with the employee in question.
3. Communicate your concern directly to the employee in person. In large EMS agencies, logistics and availability can hinder face-to-face opportunities, however, nothing replaces a face-face to conversation. Reading non-verbal communication such as body language, tone, and facial expressions allows for a deeper understanding and fosters relationship building. It’s much harder to build trust over the phone and nearly impossible through email.
4. Should you have a witness present during the conversation? Well, that depends. An unwitnessed conversation with an employee that lacks integrity will put you at risk. Further, your relationship with your direct supervisor matters. If your direct supervisor has poor character or plays the favoritism game with employees protect yourself. Involve your direct leader and/or HR. If you’re lucky and working for a great supervisor that supports you function with the autonomy given at your discretion.
5. Be kind, no matter what.
6. Hold yourself and the employee accountable. Listen more than you talk.
7. Know and follow your agency policies and procedures. If need be, go over the policy with the employee.
8. Be consistent, fair, and impartial with discipline.
9. Document the conversation and provide the employee a copy of the documentation. Consult your HR department for details about how to handle this properly.
10. Forgive, but don’t forget. It’s important to show your personnel that mistakes are part of personal and professional growth. Everyone deserves the opportunity to improve their work performance. Be a mentor to your employees and show up each day expecting the best from them.
Getting consistent with accountability and while showing kindness stifles the toxic personality. The employee may continue to seek an audience as a victim, but will be met with a lack of interest when the work environment is healthy. Practicing accountability delivers organizational expectations to the employee allowing them to identify gaps in their work performance. Without organizational accountability the toxic employee thrives. Steps 1-10 above, if followed, will lead the toxic employee fairly to disciplinary action. Accountability brings clarity to your team and increases morale. Your top performers will shine, rowing the engagement boat in the right direction. Those that are rowing the boat in the wrong direction will eventually become fatigued. You will eventually see the toxic employee move to the middle of the boat and sit, enjoying the scenery, or they will jump out of the boat and swim to an environment they can thrive in.
You can’t mentor everyone and there will always be people that just simply don’t like you or your leadership style. And that’s okay. Our job is to manage daily operations, but we also have a responsibility to foster employee growth. Allowing poor work performance destroys organizational culture and sets employees up to fail in the future. Being a mentor and a field supervisor means teaching and exuding accountability. As Steve Jobs once said “ If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.”
Disclaimer: These views are my own and have no connection to either of my fabulous employers. I am not a human resources expert and do not recommend following my advice without first seeking consultation from your agency.