The Toxic, One-Layer Deep Effect


Are your employees holding your company hostage? Of course not- you’re the manager, right? Your employees don’t determine the functionality or success of your department- management does… Or do they?

Hopefully, toxic employees at your company are few and far between, but even one toxic employee can contribute to the catastrophic One-Layer-Deep Effect. The One-Layer-Deep Effect occurs when only one employee is knowledgeable or responsible for doing a task that is essential to the day-to-day activity of the business. For instance, I have consulted a company that had a very experienced, very knowledgeable account representative that had been on staff for over a decade. This front-line employee’s tenure combined with her high aptitude made her the go-to representative for complicated compliance questions and major account servicing since her peers were not as developed. Unfortunately, this employee was also known for being a Negative Nancy- frequently interrupting meetings with pessimistic comments, talking down to peers, and even treating the customer with disrespect. So why didn’t we just get rid of her? No one else had the knowledge she possessed, so there would be a major gap in services if we let her go or if she left voluntarily. As a result, we tolerated behaviors that were otherwise disciplined, and we met the employee’s unrealistic demands in order to keep her happy. Sounds like a hostage situation to me.

So how do you add a second layer? Consider engaging in internal succession planning to train your existing employees to grow and learn more about their next professional step. Otherwise, consider improving your talent gene pool by adding staff and evaluating your company’s current recruiting and hiring practices when developing existing staff isn’t a viable solution. Here are a couple things to keep in mind to avoid future one-layer-deep situations:

  • Applicants who are extremely overconfident about their qualifications are more likely to be a toxic employee post-hire.
  • Recruiting only Type A personalities can result in a battle-of-the egos when fighting over the short straw to do grunt work.
  • Perks are nice for employees, but all the free snacks and foosball in the world won’t be able to make up for an enabled toxic work environment.

Do you have positions or responsibilities in your organization that are one-layer-deep? What necessary steps do you need to take to install a second layer?

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my current employer.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: