[IMGCAP(1)]There are two types of viral infections that can plague the people within an organization.
Many of us attempt to safeguard our organizations against the first type of viral infections by sending people home if they are not feeling well, offering sick days, recommending a healthy lifestyle and offering vaccinations for common infections. When one of these viruses gets into an organization, the result can be a few sick days used and the purchase of a get well card. The second type of virus has a much larger impact on the people and the bottom line of an organization. This type of virus I am referring to is a virus employee.
What is a virus employee? A virus employee is a person that causes contamination, disruption and unrest in the organization by: bullying, bad mouthing, sabotaging, provoking, undermining and insulting fellow employees in the organization. For example, a virus employee may go into other employees’ offices and gripe about leadership or other employees.
The virus employee may also publicly address private issues or discriminate against a subset of employees. Although virus employees cause difficulties within an organization in many ways, the results for the behaviors the virus employee engages in are the same. Virus employees produce decreased employee morale, decreased trust in leadership, decreased productivity by employees, psychological unrest and good employees leaving the organization.
You might be asking yourself “why?” Why are there employees who deliberately become viruses within an organization? The answer is I don’t necessarily think they do. Having interacted with several employees (and owners) that I consider to be viruses, they have not set out to deliberately destroy the company.
They instead perceive their behavior as warranted and believe they are somehow helping the organization or doing no wrong. Psychology calls this making a Type 1 error or a false positive, where the employee believes the targeted employees are actually bad for the organization, when actually the targeted employees are not.
This process of making Type 1 errors has most likely evolved within our species as a safety mechanism to keep us vigilant against possible dangers; however, in the workplace these errors can cause an employee to become a virus. The behaviors evoked by making this type of error become intermittently rewarded within the work environment and therefore persist.
So what do you do with a virus employee? Many times a virus employee has some good qualities about them, such as delivering great external client service. However, their strengths in one area do not make up for the difficulties they cause internally. Leadership must deal with the situation; the rest of the employees are counting on it! Make a determination on whether an attempt should be made to save the employee or if the employee should be immediately terminated. If the decision has been made to save the employee, follow these recommendations:
1. Isolate the virus from others. Make sure the employee has little to no interactions with others while you attempt to resolve the situation. This may mean asking his or her fellow employees to limit interactions with the person and ask the viral person to only come talk to you or other leaders.
2. Discuss the situation. Meet with the virus employee to discuss the specific behaviors they are engaging in that have caused the situation and let them know that what they are doing is unacceptable within your culture. Let them know the effect they are having on the company and their fellow employees.
3. Develop a plan for recovery. This person has a lot of recovery to do within the organization, if they will be able to recover at all. In severe instances, employees in the organization will never trust the person again. If recovery cannot happen, it is better to fire the employee now and save the culture of the organization.
4. Monitor progress. Have regular meetings with the virus employee and others to monitor progress and the rebuilding of relationships. A viral employee has negatively affected the culture of the organization, and it is important to get feedback from people within that culture to determine if the plan is working.
5. If it’s not working, terminate the employee. If the virus employee is not making progress in repairing their relationships with fellow employees, or the employees don’t feel like the person is making progress, then it is time to get rid of the problem. The bottom line is: letting a virus employee remain in your culture will kill it. Don’t let one person ruin what has taken you years to build.
Virus employees cause much more harm than they do good within an organization. Although firing an employee is hard, sometimes you have to make the hard, right choice. Protecting a culture from a virus is a critical part of a leader’s role, and when a leader (or leaders) fails to address a virus employee, the rest of the organization knows about it. Getting rid of a virus employee will show your employees that they are worth protecting and strengthen the organization’s culture. Don’t let a virus employee affect your firm; protect your culture and your employees will thank you for it.
Bryan Shelton, M.S., is a senior consultant at the Rainmaker Consulting Group.
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