Blog Article

Are You Breeding Toxicity in Your Team?

Posted by Stephen Choo

Stephen Choo

We have all encountered toxic people in our professional and personal lives. I call such people Typhoid Mary* – people who go around, spreading dissatisfaction, frustration and resentment, sometimes even without displaying these “symptoms” themselves.

Amazingly, Typhoid Marys tend to be long-stayers, doing just enough to ward off any attempts to have them fired.

So the question that I’m always asked is this: how do I inoculate the rest of my company from this virus?

1.   Right people, right jobs

We pride ourselves in our hiring and screening process in picking the candidate with the right experience level and skill sets. However, and I’ve noticed this particularly in the fast-growing economies of Asia, the nature of jobs tend to evolve quickly. For example, customer service officers may find that they have taken on the additional responsibilities of business development. For some, this feels like natural progression. For others, they may find that their jobs don’t seem to fit them very well anymore.

Take a look around your team today. Are there people whose jobs no longer fit them? Do they need additional training? Or a change in roles?

2.   Breaking down barriers

Due process is critical if any company is to operate efficiently and legally. But unnecessary bureaucracy isn’t. This leads to frustration; and in Asia, high-performing employees will often choose to leave, rather than tell their bosses, the true cause of their departure. In fact, according to our 2012 study of employee opinions , one out of every two employees in the region are working for us with one eye on the door.

For example, I have a friend who works in a global MNC. He had to fill in a capital expenditure form, get it approved by his boss before presenting it to the Purchasing department so that he can get a new stapler. Why? Because, according to corporate rules, a stapler has a spring in it and is thus classified as “equipment” and hence is a “capital expenditure”. (Most employees choose to buy their own staplers. No one lends their staplers. Ever.)

This may be a slightly trivial (but true) example. However, this kind of unhelpful bureaucracy is common in organizations and is counter-productive. After all, unless we have been infected by our resident Typhoid Mary, none of us enjoy telling our customers “I’m sorry but our system does not allow me to help you with your request.”

And that’s just it. Most employees take pride in their work: they want to serve and are willing to put in that extra discretionary effort. However, if they are in unsuitable jobs or have their efforts constantly blocked, then all that energy and time have been wasted. Such unproductivity is unforgivable in such uncertain economic times.

Senior leaders must recognize that this is a serious business issue. Otherwise, your best people will leave and your company will be staffed by a growing tribe of Typhoid Marys. Not a good scenario, is it?

*Typhoid Mary, or Mary Mallon, was a cook in New York in the early part of the twentieth century. She was a carrier of the typhoid pathogen. While she displayed no symptoms of the disease, she was able to infect people she had contact with. In the context of an organization, a Typhoid Mary is the employee who spreads toxic feelings and dissatisfaction to everyone else.


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