Is Your Staff Ill, or Ill-Mannered?

ericholtzclaw Issue 10 - March/April 2014 Leave a Comment

Negative behaviors can be just as infectious as the flu—and just as harmful. Here’s the cure:

By Eric Holtzclaw

Cold and flu season is still upon us, and many offices are encouraging their employees to get flu shots to keep sickness from impacting company productivity. Your employees, however, can spread behavioral infections too—ones that are far more damaging to your organization if left unchecked. That said, it is important to identify and address issues like gossip, divisiveness and flattery before they cause permanent damage.

Gossip Be Gone

As a company grows, so does the likelihood for and amount of gossip. For many employees, it’s a favorite past time to compare notes about the company, coworkers and their managers. While one should expect a certain amount of gossip, the key is to know when it is out of hand. If it is impacting the flow of work, damaging the relationships between your employees or dampening the overall motivation and morale of the organization, you must step in.

If the topic of the gossip is not a human resources issue or sensitive in nature, the best advice is to address any such occurrences straight on. By bringing an issue out in the open and discussing it, the topic isn’t as interesting anymore and your employees should move on.

If you find yourself addressing gossip frequently, look at your workplace to understand why. It may be that you are not sharing enough information with your employees. It may be that you have an employee or group of employees who thrive on the controversy gossip can create. If this is the case, in my experience it is best to make a change. The desire to gossip is part of some people’s DNA, and it would pose a significant challenge to alter their behavior.

Unmasking Divisiveness

This employee trait is one of the hardest to identify, but one of the most destructive to your company in the long run. Such a staff member does a good job of “keeping up appearances.” In important meetings or dealing with clients, they appear to be doing a good job, but behind closed doors or when no one is looking they slack off.

Divisive personnel are hard to detect, and it can take several months to realize what is going on. The longer the divisive employee is in place, the more it stresses the team and lowers morale and performance.

Signs of a divisive employee include a need to undermine anyone they feel threatened by. They cast doubts about their team members in conversations and discussions of their work, but they never back it up with numbers or hard facts. Paying attention to the informal feedback you get from others and implementing a 360-degree review process will help to expose this trait.

Banish Brown-Nosing

The employee who makes sucking up a regular practice is a challenge to the small business owner. This employee may be genuinely star-struck by upper management, or they may be angling for special treatment and access. Either way, how you handle their compliments and interactions will be important to your company’s ability grow in a healthy fashion.

If their brown-nosing is a desire to cozy up to upper management, it may mean they feel like they are exempt from following the established chain of command. In order to keep the respect of your team and continue to empower your middle management, you must immediately identify this behavior and redirect their course.

Another technique for dealing with a brown-noser is to use any compliment that you receive as an opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of the entire team. This approach takes the power away from the brown-noser and shines the light on others, making it less satisfying behavior.

It’s important to identify these toxic employee traits early and create ways to address the problems before they impact your company in a negative and disruptive way. By fostering a healthy work environment where all employees are treated with respect and fairness, you can build a productive team that will keep your company moving forward.


Eric Holtzclaw is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Laddering Works and a sought-after consultant on consumer behavior and entrepreneurship. He has spent the last decade running a research firm that specializes in unlocking product and service potential for Fortune 500 and other companies. He has just published “Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior.” For more information, visit

This article originally appeared on the Forefront Blog.

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