Killing Bambi: what happens when you let toxic employees get away with murder?


Allowing bad behaviour from toxic employees to fester at work costs more than time and money. You could lose your best employees, too. 

Bambi is a euphemism I’ve coined for your good employees – those worker bees and ‘gifts’ (highly motivated and productive employees) who keep on keeping on for you and therefore, keep delivering the requirements of your business. They stand in contrast to the small number of toxic employees. 

So ‘Killing Bambi’ refers to what happens to the 98 per cent of your employees – your worker bees and gifts – when you don’t deal with the 2%ers.

Nothing is more distracting or more off-putting in business than people behaving badly. Unfortunately, the 98 per cent are generally too polite to say anything to these people. However, they are sitting there wishing you, their manager, would do something about them. They can’t understand why you don’t.

The poor behaviours or performances of the 2%ers also impacts on the performance of worker bees and gifts. My experience tells me that the distraction caused by one of these 2%ers can affect the productivity of your good employees and you by around 20 per cent. So that’s one-fifth of your wage bill that is going by the wayside. It’s good money down the drain.

In business, the culture is set not just by what leaders say or what is documented, but also by whether there is a match between what is said or written and what is done.

People generally know that they have to do their job and do it well. So if you let a 2%er get away with misbehaving or underperforming to an unacceptable level, it causes confusion for your good people.

Similarly, these good people get frustrated listening to the whingeing from the 2%er or see the 2%er wasting time or not doing as they are told. If the 2%er is in a work team, that team will only be as good as their weakest link; in this case, the 2%er.

The ‘Killing Bambi’ Life Cycle

It is interesting to note what happens if a 2%er does not get managed.

Phase one: Confusion

The first phase of the ‘Killing Bambi’ life cycle starts with your good people starting to question your management capability. They look at you to see if you will do anything. They want you to do something. They start talking among themselves. Your management approach starts being questioned and commented on. Downtime from work starts to increase as they discuss you, not just the 2%er.

Phase two: Frustation

The second phase is the frustration phase. Their frustration becomes more tangible and permeates through the work environment. The frustration of one person feeds the frustration of another. More talking and downtime occurs. The emotional build-up can cause distractions in their work. Sometimes workplace accidents can occur because of these distractions.

Phase three: Resignation

The third phase is where they become resigned; resigned to the fact that you are not going to do anything about the 2%er. You are considered a poor manager. The talking is reduced but views are confirmed. Disengagement starts to happen. What once was a great place to work may no longer be viewed that way.

More downtime occurs as these good employees start to look for another job. The top reason consistently shown in surveys about why employees leave a job is that they leave because of their manager. So your good employees want to leave because of you.

Guess what? They are a good employee, so generally they won’t find it difficult to find another job. Maybe in a tight labour market it take some time, but they will find another job.

You have just lost one of your good employees. You have just ‘killed Bambi’. What hasn’t changed is that you still have your 2%er, who is causing a problem and making life miserable for everything else.

This will be become cyclic if the 2%er is not managed.

What happens  if you don’t deal with your 2%ers?

I have had discussions with a number of managers over the years and asked them why they don’t quickly deal with their 2%ers. Some of them tell me that they think the toxic employees will eventually resign. Some say that it is too much hard work. Alternatively, some tell me that it takes too much of their attention to deal with them and they just don’t have the time.

Well, in response to the first reason – assuming the 2%er will resign – my experience tells me that it rarely happens. Why? Because the 2%er can get away with doing whatever they are doing in your business. In some ways, they feel like they are in charge. It makes them feel good. Why would they leave a job where  they are comfortable and can get away with things?

In the second case, trying to avoid the hard work is a false economy. The time spent with these high-maintenance employees over time is far more than the amount of time required to quickly fix the problem. Sure, some concentrated effort is required and paperwork will need to be attended to off and on, but from then on the pressure eases.

The time you could have spent on fixing your problem by dealing with the toxic employees is now replaced by having to train a new employee. Why? Because one or more of your ‘Bambis’ have now been ‘killed’ and you have a period of lower productivity because the new employee will take longer to reach the levels of productivity of your previous “Bambis’.

Of course, you also have to consider the cost of recruiting a new employee, which is estimated to be between six months’ and two years’ salary or wage, depending on the type of role. This estimation is based on both the hard costs of recruiting – that is, the cost to advertise, pay a recruiter and so on – and the soft costs, which include training for the job and loss of productivity compared to an experienced employee.

So the lesson that this article and my experience have taught me was that if your toxic employees aren’t quickly dealt with, you are at risk of losing your good employees; your ‘Bambis’. I think I would probably prefer to lose my 2%er. Wouldn’t you?

This excerpt comes from the book The 2% Effect by Di Armbrust, in collaboration with Mark Shaw.

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Treating your best and poor performers the same leads to mediocrity. Top performing organisations create a culture an of accountability holds everyone to that standard.

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Killing Bambi: what happens when you let toxic employees get away with murder?


Allowing bad behaviour from toxic employees to fester at work costs more than time and money. You could lose your best employees, too. 

Bambi is a euphemism I’ve coined for your good employees – those worker bees and ‘gifts’ (highly motivated and productive employees) who keep on keeping on for you and therefore, keep delivering the requirements of your business. They stand in contrast to the small number of toxic employees. 

So ‘Killing Bambi’ refers to what happens to the 98 per cent of your employees – your worker bees and gifts – when you don’t deal with the 2%ers.

Nothing is more distracting or more off-putting in business than people behaving badly. Unfortunately, the 98 per cent are generally too polite to say anything to these people. However, they are sitting there wishing you, their manager, would do something about them. They can’t understand why you don’t.

The poor behaviours or performances of the 2%ers also impacts on the performance of worker bees and gifts. My experience tells me that the distraction caused by one of these 2%ers can affect the productivity of your good employees and you by around 20 per cent. So that’s one-fifth of your wage bill that is going by the wayside. It’s good money down the drain.

In business, the culture is set not just by what leaders say or what is documented, but also by whether there is a match between what is said or written and what is done.

People generally know that they have to do their job and do it well. So if you let a 2%er get away with misbehaving or underperforming to an unacceptable level, it causes confusion for your good people.

Similarly, these good people get frustrated listening to the whingeing from the 2%er or see the 2%er wasting time or not doing as they are told. If the 2%er is in a work team, that team will only be as good as their weakest link; in this case, the 2%er.

The ‘Killing Bambi’ Life Cycle

It is interesting to note what happens if a 2%er does not get managed.

Phase one: Confusion

The first phase of the ‘Killing Bambi’ life cycle starts with your good people starting to question your management capability. They look at you to see if you will do anything. They want you to do something. They start talking among themselves. Your management approach starts being questioned and commented on. Downtime from work starts to increase as they discuss you, not just the 2%er.

Phase two: Frustation

The second phase is the frustration phase. Their frustration becomes more tangible and permeates through the work environment. The frustration of one person feeds the frustration of another. More talking and downtime occurs. The emotional build-up can cause distractions in their work. Sometimes workplace accidents can occur because of these distractions.

Phase three: Resignation

The third phase is where they become resigned; resigned to the fact that you are not going to do anything about the 2%er. You are considered a poor manager. The talking is reduced but views are confirmed. Disengagement starts to happen. What once was a great place to work may no longer be viewed that way.

More downtime occurs as these good employees start to look for another job. The top reason consistently shown in surveys about why employees leave a job is that they leave because of their manager. So your good employees want to leave because of you.

Guess what? They are a good employee, so generally they won’t find it difficult to find another job. Maybe in a tight labour market it take some time, but they will find another job.

You have just lost one of your good employees. You have just ‘killed Bambi’. What hasn’t changed is that you still have your 2%er, who is causing a problem and making life miserable for everything else.

This will be become cyclic if the 2%er is not managed.

What happens  if you don’t deal with your 2%ers?

I have had discussions with a number of managers over the years and asked them why they don’t quickly deal with their 2%ers. Some of them tell me that they think the toxic employees will eventually resign. Some say that it is too much hard work. Alternatively, some tell me that it takes too much of their attention to deal with them and they just don’t have the time.

Well, in response to the first reason – assuming the 2%er will resign – my experience tells me that it rarely happens. Why? Because the 2%er can get away with doing whatever they are doing in your business. In some ways, they feel like they are in charge. It makes them feel good. Why would they leave a job where  they are comfortable and can get away with things?

In the second case, trying to avoid the hard work is a false economy. The time spent with these high-maintenance employees over time is far more than the amount of time required to quickly fix the problem. Sure, some concentrated effort is required and paperwork will need to be attended to off and on, but from then on the pressure eases.

The time you could have spent on fixing your problem by dealing with the toxic employees is now replaced by having to train a new employee. Why? Because one or more of your ‘Bambis’ have now been ‘killed’ and you have a period of lower productivity because the new employee will take longer to reach the levels of productivity of your previous “Bambis’.

Of course, you also have to consider the cost of recruiting a new employee, which is estimated to be between six months’ and two years’ salary or wage, depending on the type of role. This estimation is based on both the hard costs of recruiting – that is, the cost to advertise, pay a recruiter and so on – and the soft costs, which include training for the job and loss of productivity compared to an experienced employee.

So the lesson that this article and my experience have taught me was that if your toxic employees aren’t quickly dealt with, you are at risk of losing your good employees; your ‘Bambis’. I think I would probably prefer to lose my 2%er. Wouldn’t you?

This excerpt comes from the book The 2% Effect by Di Armbrust, in collaboration with Mark Shaw.

1
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clifton warrn
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clifton warrn

Treating your best and poor performers the same leads to mediocrity. Top performing organisations create a culture an of accountability holds everyone to that standard.

More on HRM