Alex Staff Agency

Avoid Toxic Specialists And Save Your Company From Falling Apart

November 2022: Recruiting has already shifted more to the virtual realm. It’s more convenient, but it also hides some drawbacks. E.g., it’s harder to spot toxic traits, which leads to more cases of businesses hiring destructive crew members.
Controlling a company is a delicate matter, and the balance can be destroyed by various factors. Economic disasters, poor management, etc. We’d like to cover one of the most unexpected threats that can shatter your project's success.
About 10 years ago, I had an emergency with one of my first projects: I needed a manager as soon as possible. So, I invited a colleague from my previous job, who seemed like a good specialist. But as that person joined in, the team and the project started to fall apart: everyone was stressed. It turned out that this manager behaved inappropriately with the crew, charging everyone with negativity. When he left, the work got back to normal
Maria Sukhorukova
Co-founder of Alex Staff Agency
A toxic specialist costs a lot for the company. Research by HBS proves that a business can lose about $12,000 because of bad hires. There is more to it. Negative behavior is like a virus that pollutes the working atmosphere and affects everyone onboard (check out a study on this matter).

How to avoid toxicity in your crew and keep your processes as efficient as possible? Scroll down to find it out.

3 Ways to Sense Risky Candidates

Maria Sukhorukova has been in the hiring market for over 10 years. This experience allowed her to polish her recruiting skills, see people through and unmistakably assess interpersonal competencies. We’ve asked her to give us some basic approaches to use when hiring new crew members. These are the insights she gladly shared with us.

Signs before the meeting
First red flags can be spotted in the letters/messages between you and the candidate. If they feel inadequately aggressive and scream disrespect, turn on your toxicity sensors in full swing. But never make final judgments before the actual conversation.
Not all people have the skill to write down their thoughts and intentions as they mean them. Rude letters are just a sign, but you’ll be able to say for sure only when you speak with the person
Behavior during the interview
You don’t even have to do anything to identify especially bright unwanted traits in the candidate: just let them speak. If they get distracted and switch to negative things that are on their mind right now (something irritating them, political-based, aggressive, etc.), they can’t control themselves. It’s a tell-tale sign.
If you or your HR feel uncomfortable during and after the conversation, trust your guts. It may be what they say or how they say things that create that stifling atmosphere: questions showing disdain and groundless distrust, superior intonation, etc.
Targeted questions
Ask about their previous experience and watch for judgemental attitudes towards ex-bosses and colleagues (e.g., what did you do in that project? Why did you leave? How did you feel?) Unwanted traits will emerge in the form of blaming everyone around and praising themselves.
If you feel that something is wrong, dig deeper by asking toxicity-triggering questions. There are special types of people who just can't resist the temptation to criticize others. If they do complain and express hatred towards previous employers, the same will most likely happen to you as well
Mix socially-expected questions with unexpected ones, as well as try to avoid head-on approaches (find workaround phrasing). Your efforts will be rewarded with details: they’ll provide you with more information because you may manage to discover unrehearsed answers. They’ll better show you what kind of a person you’re dealing with.

If you want to learn more about such revealing interrogation techniques, check out this article. It features specific questions that will help you suss out the potential for toxic behavior and show what answers to expect from a good candidate and a bad one.

Already in the Team: Dealing with the Problem

What if the destructive element is already inside? Firing is the last resort. But if you want to keep the talent and avoid recruitment costs, you can try to figure out what’s wrong. See into the problem and find out if:

  • The person was toxic from the beginning and started affecting colleagues, clients, and management right away

  • The person seemed alright at first and started radiating negativity only after a while

There is not much hope if it’s the first scenario. The second one is more promising. Whatever it is, it’s worth trying to root out the cause and try to eliminate it. And the only way you do it is by communicating and encouraging reciprocal feedback.

I strongly believe you should always give specialists a chance to show their best. Talk to them if you want the situation to improve. Maybe they feel uncomfortable in the new atmosphere or specific triggers are wearing on their nerves. There is not much you can do if the reason for unwanted behavior is connected with personal matters. But if it’s purely job-related, you must try to fix it and find a solution
If you did your part and to no effect (you communicated, changed their conditions, tried to reach a compromise, etc.), it’s time to ask that person to leave. But this is also a delicate matter. A toxic employee can be quite aggressive to make the firing loud and confrontational. Besides, they might try to harm your reputation even after everything is over. So, do it carefully.

Summing Up

Google conducted an interesting study a few years ago. Researchers analyzed all data they had for many years of hiring specialists for their company. They rated the most precious skills and how they affect a person’s efficiency and career growth. It turned out that tech expertise is not the most important factor at all. It’s communication, empathy, support, critical thinking, and other soft-related competencies that make people successful.
As a rule, if employers get 2 candidates with similar experience and knowledge, they’ll opt for the one who has well-developed interpersonal competencies. They allow a person to adapt better and feel comfortable in a new team
A strong soft-skilled specialist will power up the team, while its opposite will slowly destroy it. But different environments have a unique impact on the person and how they behave. Toxicity is often generated because your company’s and candidate’s values simply do not match. This should be revealed during the interview: an experienced HR will see if something is wrong. So, the final advice: never hire without thorough examination, even if it’s someone you know. Look both at the skills and at the fit.
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