3 Ways to Avoid Toxic Employees

May 3, 2016 Brian Beattie

A position at your company has opened up that you need to fill. You post the job, read through the resumes, conduct interviews, and find a well-qualified candidate to join your team.

Everything seems to be going well until a couple of months in, the new hire starts to show their true colours. They’re rude, demean subordinates, and don’t work well with the team. Unfortunately, you’ve hired a toxic employee.

Toxic employees are a huge detriment to the organization. Not only do they disrupt the company culture and team dynamics, they cost the company profits.

It’s hard to put a direct number on how a toxic employee affects a company’s bottom line because toxic behaviour causes a domino effect. Bad behaviour is never localised – it grows and spreads. Toxic employees cost you potential deals and bring down the productivity of those around them, which also affects your profits.

So how can you avoid making toxic hired? Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University, suggests to look for signs of civility when hiring. Here are three ways to do so.

1. The Interview

The first step in determining the civility of a potential hire is to ask them questions about how they handled a particular situation in the past. It’s good practice to ask 2-3 questions of this nature to get a better sense of how their behaviour aligns with the company values.

Here are some questions to incorporate into the interview:

  • What would your colleagues say, both positive and negative, about you?
  • What would your subordinates say, both positive and negative, about you?
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict
  • Describe a time you failed. How did you handle it and what did you learn?
  • Give me a few examples of your ability to manage others
  • Tell me about a time you found it difficult to work with someone. How did you handle it?

What you are really looking for is pattern recognition. Does the candidate’s answers point to consistent behaviours or are they all over the place? You even want to look for any patterns in their job history. Is the candidate jumping from job to job every two years? Have they been steadily taking on better opportunities? Were they asked to leave their previous jobs or were they looking for something better?

What was the motivating factor that caused the candidate to make changes throughout their life and career – that is what you are trying to determine. Because establishing the pattern will help you to determine how long this employee may stay in the role and organization and if they will be a benefit.  

Another key thing to do post interview is follow up with all the staff the candidate interacted with pre and post interview. Was the candidate on time? Were they rude to the receptionist? Were they gracious or disrespectful? Finding out those details can help you avoid hiring a toxic individual.

2. Get Your Team Involved

Sometimes employees act one way with their managers but are the complete opposite with their peers and subordinates. To prevent hiring a candidate who is that way, have your team take out the candidate for lunch. By having your team interact and spend time with the job hopeful, you’ll see how they fit in with the current dynamics and get a better sense of who they really are.

3. Do Thorough Reference Checks

Following up with a candidate’s references is key in determining civility. You need to understand how the candidate behaved in the past to help predict if they will be a good fit for the company.

Make a point to call each of the references personally that the candidate gives you. You can gleam a lot from a person’s tone and intonation when they answer the question. It’s difficult to determine the nuances if you simply send an email. Also talk to people outside of the candidate’s work i.e. volunteer organizations, boards, coaches or mentors.

Don’t leave the reference checking to HR – make the calls yourself. As the one making the hiring decision, having that contact with the references will give you a clearer picture of the candidate.

Putting it Together

No matter how skilled or experienced an employee maybe, it doesn’t make up for a toxic personality. It’s better to spend the extra time during the hiring process to determine the candidate’s potential effect on the organization than to hire them and regret it later.

About the Author

Brian Beattie

Brian Beattie is the Chief Financial Officer at Volaris Group. Besides overseeing the financial health of the company, he works closely with Volaris’ legal and M&A team on all new acquisitions. Brian is an expert on every stage of the M&A process – from sending out the non-disclosure agreement to executing the sales purchase agreement.

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