They're all around us.
They're hiding in our classrooms. They're lurking in our offices. They're roaming in our hallways.
Who are these terrifying creatures?
They're energy vampires. And they're taking over our schools.
We all work with people who suck the positive energy out of us. These people leave us drained, exhausted, and unhappy.
Whether we call them energy vampires, energy suckers, or just unhappy, negative people, these individuals wreak havoc on our lives.
It is estimated that 5 percent of employees are "toxic." While not a large number, they have the ability to create 90 percent of workplace anxiety.
Working with these people can lead to burnout. They sap energy to the extent that employees lose interest and motivation and end up feeling increasingly cynical and resentful.
Worse yet, being around negative people for too long can lead to serious health conditions such as depression, anxiety, digestive issues, fatigue, immune system disorders, obesity and heart disease.
According to Leadership Coach Melody Wilding there are three types of workplace energy vampires. Do these individuals plague your schools?
1) The Melodramatic: This person has a poor concept of personal boundaries. They aren’t aware of what’s appropriate to share at work and what isn’t. They lack an understanding of the context of relationships. They take up unreasonable amounts of time talking about deeply personal information or gossiping about others.
2) The Egomaniac: This person is entitled to take up time because their agenda supersedes all others. They brag about accomplishments and downplay the contributions of others. They somehow manage to do all this in one brief encounter. They may even accuse others of being too sensitive or overly dramatic if they speak up to rebut their point.
3) The Dependent: This person wants detailed instruction and reassurance on a regular basis. He or she really doesn’t want to let others down and doesn’t want to make any decisions that could jeopardize the success of a team. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to learned helplessness, dragging down others' productivity along with them.
While identifying energy vampires can be easy, dealing with these employees is a different story.
Most school leaders feel comfortable addressing employees with objective, measurable issues. Poor student test scores, employee attendance issues, and high numbers of parent complaints are fairly black and white.
However, school leaders struggle addressing employees when it comes to subjective, immeasurable issues. Dealing with "toxic" employees can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Most notably, how does one measure a negative employee's impact on school outcomes?
Leaders must overcome their insecurities and realize behavioral accountability is more important than results-related accountability. Why? Because behavioral problems almost always precede - and cause - a downturn in performance and results.
Unfortunately, some leaders believe the best way to address toxic staff is by asking teammates to address a coworker. While on the surface this sounds like a reasonable plan, rarely does this approach work.
What employee wants to challenge a prickly coworker, realizing they have to continue working with this employee in the future? Why would a team member want to confront a colleague about an issue when the leader isn’t willing to?
Leaders - not peers - must take action when it comes to addressing negative employees. Astute managers understand they cannot sit idly and let a team erode, which it certainly will do if an energy vampire is not contained.
So what does a coaching conversation with a toxic employee look like? While there is no perfect approach, the employer must empty the information on the table, making sure the employee is fully aware of their public perception.
While this sounds simple, many leaders dread sharing this information with an employee. The more they anticipate the employee's angry reaction, the more they talk themselves out of having the conversation.
If the thought of sharing this hurtful (yet vital) information gives you the shakes, consider the following: The intense discomfort in difficult conversations lasts an average of only eight seconds. Eight seconds.
Once the information has been shared with the negative employee, the leader should develop clear expectations for the employee's interactions with others. Leaders should document the conversation, and immediately address future complaints and grievances related to the employee's workplace demeanor.
Finally, if transforming the employee's negativity doesn’t work, the employee may need to be removed. While not the easiest to do in a school setting, savvy leaders understand removing toxic employees is well worth the time and effort.
Leaders - your job is to create an environment where your people can do their best work.
The last thing your employees want is to have their spirit sucked by an energy vampire.