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Management Update: What is a toxic employee, and how they are destroying your bottom line


Everyone today is using the word “toxic” in their personal and professional lives, but what does the word mean and how does it affect dealership life?  Toxic employees can eat and destroy your dealership culture, and toxic employees have a direct correlation to your dealership’s bottom line profit.  This month I will explain to you what a toxic employee is, what to look for, and how to remedy the situation. Dealership life is painful at times, and hopefully, this blog will help you better manage your employees and open your mind to how the toxic employee affects your dealership.

What is a toxic employee? Well, first of all, people in themselves aren’t toxic per se; it is their actions and or behaviors that harm others either immediately. ( In dealership life, these behaviors could manifest into bullying, harassment, volatility, or slander, to name a few. The question that should be coming to your mind is, how do I identify toxic employees, and how should I be managing them, or should I be firing them?

How do I identify toxic employees, and what should I be doing about them?  

First of all, there is no one type of toxic employee floating around our dealerships.  Entrepreneur Magazine has identified five types of toxic employees and offers suggestions on not only identifying them but offers up tips on how to manage them better.  Below are the five types of toxic employees and their related behaviors.

  1.  The Hot Mess: This type of toxic employee is erratic, incompetent, and unreliable. These types of employees put stress on the entire team and are a complete drain on dealership productivity and profitability. The worst traits of The Hot Mess are displaying learned helplessness, disorganization, lack of credibility, passivity, and resistance to change.  To manage the Hot Mess better, you should be offering extra training, implement improvement plans, foster awareness and check in on them frequently, and encourage screening for ADD and related issues. 
  2. The Slacker: This type of toxic employee makes a full-time job out of avoiding work. They take many breaks every day, and they don’t care what their co-workers or managers think of them.  They often challenge the rules to see if they can get away with it. The traits of The Slacker are low motivation, disregard for deadlines, bad time-keeping, wasting time online, and absenteeism. To help you manage The Slacker better, you should try to uncover their hidden resentment, provide them with clear expectations, demand accountability, check up on them frequently and unannounced, and recognize and reward their effort.
  3. The Martyr: The Martyr is the exact opposite of The Slacker. The Martyr works endlessly, does everything themselves, and has severe control issues. The Martyr makes sure that everyone knows how hard they are working and how it is breaking their back. The traits of The Martyr include not knowing their limits, complains in unconstructive ways, comes to work sick and infects everyone, and is prone to burnout. To manage The Marty better you need to enforce delegation of duties, foster a collaborative instead of competitive environment, encourage time off, introduce stress management efforts, and incentivize teamwork over individual efforts.
  4. The Socialite: The Socialite is funny, engaging, and often everyone’s friend. Whether on the phone or with other workers, the dealership is their personal stage. The traits of The Socialite is loud and distracting behavior, lack of focus, immature approach to work, unprofessional behavior, and are big fans of dealership drama. To manage The Socialite better, you need to provide regular direction, define dealership social time for staff, be clear about appropriate behavior, and harness their communication skills.
  5. The Sociopath: We use the term jokingly, but the effect on the dealership is real.  The employee with sociopathic tendencies leaves turmoil wherever they go. The Sociopath tends to poison the atmosphere and creates a hostile environment for everyone in the dealership. This type of apple will ruin the entire basket. The traits of The Sociopath are bullying behavior, disregard for rules and regulations, has issues with management or authority, has severe personal problems, and they manipulate and sabotage dealership success. To manage The Sociopath employee better is to provide a safe and supportive environment, take employee complaints seriously, enforce strict anti-bullying policies, and make sure you document all interactions with the employee.

Identifying and dealing with any toxic employee requires careful thought and consideration. Having an employee handbook can make clear what your policies are and is the best way to protect the dealership from lawsuits and claims of harassment.  Most dealerships do not have human resource departments, so owners need to provide an atmosphere of safety and trust.  You want your employees to feel comfortable coming to you or upper management with their concerns. Always trust your instincts, document everything, and be prepared to terminate employees if necessary. Dealership life is hard enough without toxic people and their behaviors.

After all, it is just good business.

Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for more than 23 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Recently Forrest became an Associate Recruiter with Henry Lonski and Associates and is also the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.


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One Comment

  1. Excellent article. I encounter these folks is in so many dealerships. Often, these people are not being properly managed or removed and as a result, they sometimes end up destroying a good dealership.

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