Are Toxic Workers Lurking in Your Customer Service Dept?

by Aug 27, 2019

Are Toxic Workers Lurking in Your Customer Service Dept? Unfortunately, there is actually a pretty good chance.

A friend of mine (and customer service genius), Jeff Toister, recently wrote an article around the remarkably high level of toxic employees in customer service positions and he asked me to weigh in. You can find the article here, but I thought I would summarize it for my own awesome enewsletter audience.
Did you know – customer service representatives are almost four times as likely to have a toxic coworker than folks in other industries.

Are Toxic Workers Lurking in Your Customer Service Dept?

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd.

Here are some reasons why:

Common hiring practices could unintentionally be attracting personalities that are likely to engage in negative behavior.

According to Jeff’s article, “…self-regarding people who consider themselves to be rock stars are 22 percent more likely to be fired for toxic behavior.” In other words, postings like, “we are on a quest for a Customer Service Rockstar,” can attract those toxic employees you are looking to avoid. The good news is that Jeff has a list of resources to improve your hiring process, which you can find here.

Managers are not given the tools they need to address toxic behavior in the workplace.

According to Catherine Mattice Zundel – oh wait that’s me! – “coaching bad behavior into good isn’t a skill people automatically possess – it requires training, practice, and empowerment from the organization.” By not addressing toxic behavior, managers are perpetuating the negative effects of it, like high turnover and low morale.

Customer service work itself is a risk factor for workplace harassment

According to a 2016 study conducted by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Customer-facing employees can be routinely subjected to harassment by customers. After a while they can begin acting inappropriately themselves, having deemed the behavior as normal. 

The good news is that Jeff’s article provides some solutions for preventing toxic employees from wreaking havoc on your customer service teams and the rest of your organization:

For one, you can put an emphasis on teamwork.  While it’s important to acknowledge those individual contributors, it’s even more important to emphasize how their actions help the entire team achieve its goals. Competition is good and can drive results, but unhealthy competition can perpetuate negativity. 

Leaders also need to set a positive example. Leaders must be modeling the behavior they wish to see in their employees. In other words, positive behavior comes from the top. 

Lastly, organizations need to prevent toxic behavior from spreading. Allowing toxic behavior to go unchallenged can be detrimental to your teams and your organization. In fact, I often see in my coaching-of-abrasive-leaders-practice that leaders are often allowed to be aggressive for quite some time – decades even. Nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand and save everyone a world of heartache, and your organization’s bottom line.

Toxic employees can work in any position in any industry, so even if you don’t work with customer service employees, I highly suggest following these recommendations. 

You can read the full article here, and might I suggest my LinkedIn Learning course on Creating a Positive and Healthy Work Environment or my course on Handling Workplace Bullying

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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