The dreaded toxic veterinary workspace. A nightmare for practice owners, employees, and clients alike.
These drama-filled hell-holes can cause a headache for even the most seasoned of veterinary practice owners or managers. Their characteristically chaotic nature (filled with infighting and drama) can detract from the quality of a business, exacerbating commonplace issues related to recruitment and retention1.
Though these toxic workspaces can manifest for many reasons, individual staff members (or groups) may be responsible.
The problem is that such toxic teammates can be very challenging to identify (at least, from a management perspective). Luckily, we have some tips and tricks which may help you do so- preferably before they set foot in your business.
Signs Of A Toxic Employee
The main issue with identifying toxic staff members is their innate ability to fly under the radar. This situation happens for several reasons.
First, if a teammate is misbehaving at work, they are probably not going to do that in front of the boss. That is unless they are super confident in the workplace or very keen on getting fired.
This can create a particular predicament. Like Jekyll and Hyde, these employees can appear completely different depending on who is around. This situation can be especially problematic when toxic employees are close to management- as this may deter others from confronting the teammate or even talking to leadership about the issue.
These staff members also tend to be quite productive (at least, according to research they are). Whether this is due to their ability to play workplace politics (like a veterinary House-of-Cards) or something else, it can result in poor behavior not being addressed by higher-ups.
Knowing this, here are some sneaky signs that you have a toxic veterinary employee within your ranks.
They Have A Victim Mindset
Being able to take responsibility in the workplace is incredibly important. It is not only fundamental for our learning but also our growth.
Employees who scapegoat others not only stunt themselves professionally but also emotionally. Doing so inhibits productivity and creates a sense of hostility and resentment- particularly for those being criticized.
Victims revel in misery (whether that be their own or others). The more they can share their discontent, the happier they are. This can become problematic when others are dragged in or engage with the behavior, creating a toxic veterinary workspace.
If your employee cannot take constructive feedback, this may be a sign they have a victim mindset. Victims tend to internalize feedback, projecting it on others. Alternatively, they may become defensive, pointing the finger at everyone but themselves. Either way, this is not a good sign.
They Spend More Time Gossiping Than Helping
There is venting, and then there is gossiping.
Although most of us know that workplace gossiping is not appropriate, some people never got the memo.
Workplace gossiping is one of the most corrosive features of a toxic workplace. It utterly erodes trust between team members and can be detrimental to someone’s mental health. Staff members who gossip more than they help can also inhibit the growth of new staff members by setting a bad example.
Though toxic employees will probably save all the juicy gossip for when leaders are not around, observe how they interact with others. Is an Us vs. Them culture forming in practice? Are there cliques forming? Is anyone being excluded?
These all could be signs you have a toxic employee in your business.
They Engage In Passive Aggressive Behaviours
Nobody likes conflict. But how you deal with it is very important -and quite telling.
Conflict-avoidant employees who express their frustrations through passive-aggressive behaviors can become toxic very quickly. A lack of communication can escalate relatively minor issues between colleagues, leading to feuds in the workplace.
Passive-aggressive employees may further inhibit the growth of other staff members by belittling, insulting, or undermining them. Many veterinary graduates already struggle with confidence, so having a passive-aggressive teammate watching over them will do nothing to help2.
In severe cases, work politics can be weaponized by passive-aggressive workers to punish other teammates. This sort of behavior is unacceptable and should be handled swiftly.
Spotting a passive-aggressive staff member can be difficult, given that they are unlikely to direct it towards you. The trick to identifying those guilty or prone to such behavior is to keep close tabs on team interactions when conflict arises- noting what sort of language is being utilized by all involved3.
Spotting Toxic Workers During The Interview Process
The best way, of course, to avoid a toxic veterinary practice is by not hiring toxic teammates in the first place.
But how can this be done?
One way of doing this is by screening applicants for qualities associated with toxicity.
Research has found that overconfident workers who are highly self-regarding are more far likely to be problematic in the workplace compared to their humble counterparts. Looking out for these traits, alongside requesting references, therefore, can give employers a good indication of who they are dealing with.
What To Do If You Have A Toxic Employee
Toxic employees are like ticking timebombs. They remain covert until bam- a full-on crisis arises.
Whether that crisis is an argument, a resignation, or something else, it can be catastrophic for the whole team. Intervening at an early stage, ideally during the interview process, therefore, can save a lot of hassle in the long run.
If you think someone is creating a toxic veterinary workspace in your practice, read: Do You Have a Toxic Veterinary Workplace? Here’s What You Need To Do
1- ‘Toxic Workers – Harvard Business School.’ https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-057_d45c0b4f-fa19-49de-8f1b-4b12fe054fea.pdf. Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.
2- ‘Coronavirus creating crisis of confidence for new grads | Vet Times.’ 22 May. 2020, https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/coronavirus-creating-crisis-of-confidence-for-new-grads/. Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.
3- ‘3 Ways To Identify A Toxic Coworker And Set Healthy Boundaries.’ 26 Jan. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/heidilynnekurter/2021/01/26/3-ways-to-identify-a-toxic-coworker-and-set-healthy-boundaries/. Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.
4- ‘Toxic Workers – Harvard Business School.’ https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-057_d45c0b4f-fa19-49de-8f1b-4b12fe054fea.pdf. Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.