Culture Fit: Considering the “How” of Employee Accomplishments

There is such a thing as a toxic organizational culture, but there is also the toxic employee. Most discussions about toxic employees focus on the obvious workers who are blatant bullies, troublemakers, and disruptors who create frequent management issues and a hostile environment for coworkers. But toxic employees are not always so toxic. Some get their work done and meet deadlines, so their managers either don't recognize or ignore work and people issues bubbling below the surface. These workers are not a good culture fit any more than the blatantly disruptive employees. Your managers must consider more than the ability of each employee to get work done as required. It is just as important to consider how they meet their work responsibilities to maintain a positive culture, keep turnover low, and stay union-free.

“How” Matters When Determining Culture Fit

Some employees always meet work goals and deadlines. They appear accomplished, responsible, productive, and engaged, according to employee engagement surveys. They seem like a supervisor or manager's dream employee and the perfect culture fit. But are they? The more profound questions leaders should ask are: How did the person get the work done? Did he/she work as an effective team member or create workplace havoc in some manner? Does the employee support or harm the organization’s culture?

Most workers who fit the classic description of a productive and engaged employee are ideal employees who support the company's values and norms. In other words, they are a good culture fit. The employees work well with others, meet deadlines, and are engaged. The challenge is identifying the secretly toxic employees. They are not blatant with their harmful behaviors that cause workplace conflict, and they know exactly how to stay under-the-radar.

  • Participating on teams or projects but taking opportunities to predict team failure or to turn team members against each other
  • Making negative remarks about the company and management when conversing in one-on-one situations
  • Making statements in the workplace that are meant to appear helpful but are really intended to set the stage for others to conflict
  • Getting friendly with a few coworkers and begin discussing in a general way whether a labor union could solve some workplace issues
  • Listening to other people's complaints as an ally who wants to "lend a shoulder to cry on" but is actually egging others on 
  • Undermining the confidence of coworkers
  • Voluntarily taking on too much work and then letting others know how difficult work life has become and blaming management for failing to delegate

For the under-the-radar toxic employee, meeting work responsibilities becomes a coverup for acting poorly in other ways. Those ways can negatively impact team productivity and the ability to stay union-free. The employee has no work performance issues and likely receives good performance reviews.

Culture Fit and Considering Workplace Accomplishments

Recognizing the Under-the-Radar Employees at All Levels

The real issue concerns the employee's behavior that is negatively impacting the organizational culture. The tendency is for most organizations to have difficulty identifying these employees. Even if identified, there is another tendency to avoid dealing with them. After all, in the organizational leaders' eyes, the work is getting done. The person appears popular with coworkers, and it's expensive and time-consuming to terminate any employee and hire a replacement. 

In the meantime, the badly behaving employee is causing rifts among employees, introducing negativity into the workplace culture, potentially reducing workforce productivity, and harming your leaders' ability to develop positive employee relations. It all adds up to lower employee engagement, and that can lead to unionization. 

It only takes one or a few employees to cause real trouble in the workplace. When people are outright bullies or biased or troublemakers, it's much easier to address the behavioral problems and justify termination. When people are crafty and make themselves appear productive and popular, it's not so easy. 

A new leadership challenge was added in this arena last year: the toxic remote worker. These are the workers who send texts or messages that can be easily misinterpreted or frequently have an explanation that sounds reasonable on the surface for not meeting job responsibilities. They may send a text to a coworker with the intent of causing trouble, but no one knows what is going on unless the coworker says something. 

In one case, a department supervisor was the problem employee. Her department always produced high-quality work, but none of the other department heads liked her. She would purposely create conflict by implementing policies or procedures that sounded very reasonable when explained to higher-level managers, when in fact, they were intended to purposefully upset others supervisors who had to interact with her department. She was also an expert at making snide remarks when meeting alone with a fellow supervisor for the sole purpose of causing conflict and then putting a positive spin on it when a fellow supervisor had enough and took the issue to the division head. Poor leaders like this create a toxic culture for others.

Prioritizing Culture Fit Means Avoiding the Big “Blow Up”

Sometimes unions get a foothold in a business because these kinds of employees are quietly creating issues that eventually blow up, taking management by surprise. It is not always easy to identify the workers that have an adverse impact on other people and your organization's culture. They are intelligent people in many cases who know just how to remain in favor with management even while causing trouble. 

They may even claim on employee engagement surveys that they are highly engaged when they are not. On the other hand, engagement survey data and analytics might indicate employees in a particular department or unit have low engagement issues, among other concerns. Still, organizational leaders don't pursue the root cause of the unhappiness – toxic employees. 

The importance of positive employee relations becomes apparent when some employees quietly sabotage your organization's culture and workforce satisfaction and engagement. If your employees are unwilling to be honest with their managers and supervisors, how will you figure out who is accomplishing their work the wrong way? The one thing you don't want to happen is discovering the negative employees are encouraging coworkers to consider joining a union.

The elements of positive employee relations make it much more likely you will discover a festering problem earlier than later, which one or more employees are causing. One of the frequent impacts of negative employees is they are good at pushing work onto others through manipulation. This increases the chance of their coworkers developing burnout.

Accenture research found that 67 percent of US workers feel burned out "sometimes," "often," or even "always" due to anxiety about their work. They may not feel comfortable talking about it unless there are positive relations between employees and management. If you have enough employees feeling burned out, they are much more likely to contact a union to find a solution to workload and anxiety about work.

Are work accomplishments a sign of good culture fit

Close the Gaps

What you can do is focus on certain elements of positive employee relations and close gaps that impede coworkers from being honest with management. 

  • Trust - Develop a high level of trust among employees. In a Harvard Business Review article, three elements of trust were named. They are positive relationships, good judgment/expertise, and consistency. Positive relations include conflict resolution, giving honest feedback, and balancing results with concern for others.
  • Good and honest communication – Research has found that 69 percent of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. When people are uncomfortable with certain behaviors, they are likely to avoid them. Leaders who don't communicate with their employees will get the same employee behaviors in return. Lack of communication between employees and leaders harms your organization's culture and allows the under-the-radar toxic employees to continue their charade. 
  • Gathering and respond to employee feedback – OfficeVibe conducted a pulse survey and found that 23 percent of employees are unsatisfied with feedback frequency; 28 percent of employees indicated feedback is too infrequent to help them improve; 17 percent felt the feedback they get is not specific. So a whopping 68 percent of employees found management feedback was unsatisfactory. People who feel this way aren't likely to share concerns about a coworker because they don't believe they will get a useful response. Train your leaders in giving effective, consistent employee feedback, which opens the communication door wide open.
  • Address any indications of conflict, however small – Some conflict in the workplace is bound to occur. In fact, Psychology Today says that 85 percent of employees deal with conflict, and 29 percent deal with it almost constantly. The coworkers coping with a toxic worker in their midst are dealing with conflict constantly.

Conflict is not always apparent. It's not always a loud verbal clash or an employee stomping into the supervisor's office or even a formal grievance. Conflict can occur quietly too. 

For example, it could be the stress employees feel due to the toxic employee "tricking" management into believing they are doing the work when in reality, their coworkers did the bulk of it. UnionProof frequently discusses the importance of not ignoring small or subtle signs that employees are interacting with unions. The same applies to conflict. Your leaders should never ignore signs of conflict.

Leadership Communication Skills Determine Success

Developing positive employee relations requires well-trained leaders who understand the importance of effective, ongoing, and consistent communication with employees. When your employees feel safe discussing the workplace problems with management, real solutions are found, and your positive culture is preserved. When they feel unsafe and remain silent, there's a much greater chance you will see a labor union get involved, and that equates to more toxicity, not less. 

Employees will only endure so much stress before looking for an outlet. Projections, Inc. can help any size company train its leaders to communicate more effectively, close communication gaps, and create messaging consistency.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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