How do you recognize problematic behaviours in the workplace?

Deux employés discutent ensemble

If you've ever worked with difficult or even toxic colleagues... How can you forget? Fast-forward a few years, would you be able to spot them among your employees? Our goal is to help you recognize these problematic behaviours exhibited by employees on your team, then suggest ways to help you prevent and manage them.

But hold on now. What exactly do we mean by problematic behaviour?

We’re referring to a set of harmful behaviours exhibited by a person who acts in the same way over time. Obviously, we’ve all had our fair share of bad days and we’re far from perfect. You may recognize a negative attitude exhibited by some employees (and sometimes, it might even be you!), but it’s not constant.

In more serious cases, we refer to it as toxic behaviour.

Problematic behaviours and the consequences

Problematic behaviours in the workplace occur in different situations with different people. Employees who engage in such behaviour often don’t see the harm they’re causing and never feel like they’ve done anything wrong. They generally underestimate how their behaviour can impact those around them.

Here’s an overview of the personality types – excluding the toxic type – whose behaviours may disrupt or exhaust their coworkers.

  • Hotheads: They get carried away as quickly as they calm down, but their temper tantrums quickly dampen the mood and hurt their coworkers.
  • Smooth talkers: In a group, they’re “yes” people, always appear capable and positive, except that they over-promise and under-achieve.
  • Pessimist: They usually complain quite a bit, and express their dissatisfaction and pessimistic view of things.
  • Loners: They don’t understand the value of team work or sharing information with their coworkers.
  • Egocentrics: They see things mainly from their own point of view.

Obviously, there are many personality types, but the results are similar: they create stress, discomfort and frustration around them. Their coworkers try to avoid them, but rarely confront them. This type of behaviour is not conducive to a harmonious and productive workplace environment.

In more serious cases, these energy vampires may cause a colleague to change teams or resign. This would be a loss for the company, especially as we grapple with a labour shortage and try to retain rather than lose talent.

And what about toxic behaviours?

Toxic behaviours, on the other hand, are more serious. They have a profound effect on the employee’s daily reality. Not only do they undermine morale, motivation and productivity, but they chip away at a person’s psychological health. Harmful interactions also lead to burnout.

Here are some of the most harmful behaviours we’ve observed:

  • Psychological harassment: When repeated conduct undermines the victim's working conditions.
  • Discrimination: If individual rights are violated on the grounds of culture, sexual orientation, age, etc.
  • Exclusion: Rejecting or ignoring members of a group.
  • Gaslighting: A form of covert abuse where one is manipulated and who’s reality is repeatedly distorted.

An increase in sick leave within the same group may point to the presence of a toxic personality on the team. So it’s important to analyze what’s happening and then take the bull by the horns, because these problems won’t just “go away” on their own. Quite the opposite.

Ideally, you should prevent them from happening because they can cause such harm to your team.

What can you do to counter such negative behaviour?

  • You should meet your employees one-on-one regularly to identify situations that may undermine their mental health and motivation.
  • You should also schedule frequent team meetings to understand what makes your team tick and try to find solutions to conflicts.
  • Clarify or update job descriptions. Roles that are clearly defined prevent misunderstandings and frustrations among employees.
  • When dealing with difficult employees, address any issues by scheduling a meeting with the two people involved. If an incident just occurred, take a step back so that you don’t jump to conclusions. Stick to the facts and maintain a positive attitude by listening to both parties and trying to find a solution.
  • Have clear policies in place to prevent toxic behaviour from happening and make them available to all your team members.
  • Provide training for employees and managers so that everyone recognizes and helps prevent toxic behaviours.
  • You should also think about your approach to addressing and handling complaints if one employee feels wronged by a coworker.
  • Encourage your employees to report problematic situations and to use the resources available to them (services under your group insurance and the organizational health, if your company offers them, or the relevant community organizations, etc.).

  • If a toxic situation worsens, turn to the resources who can support you. Don’t attempt to deal with the issues yourself without specialized support.

An antidote to problematic behaviours

Preventing and managing difficult behaviour is a good exercise for managers. Managers can tap into two very underrated factors to rein in certain individuals: motivation and recognition.

On a motivated team, team members exhibiting problematic behaviours may look to highlight more positive aspects about themselves. It’s a ripple effect...

Expressions of gratitude between coworkers, as well as between you and your employees, will also help to defuse many tensions at the root.  This approach is certainly worth exploring.