Don’t Turn A Blind Eye To Toxic Employees

Learn how to identify and manage—then retain or release those challenging employees

Toxic Employee

By definition, toxic means poisonous, Or, when defining behaviors: extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful. It’s important not to lose sight of that first definition, however, because your extremely harsh, malicious, harmful employees are releasing metaphorical poison into the lifeblood of your organization. Negative attitudes, back-stabbing, and a lack of attention to timeliness and detail are disruptive behaviors that decrease morale and set a bad precedent for coworkers.

According to Cornerstone On Demand, good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee. Don’t let behavioral challenges sidetrack your own work, or your organization’s productivity.

Toxic behavior should be addressed affirms Human Resources specialist Carol Hacker. In her audio conference for Audio Solutionz, “Stop Toxic Employees from Sidetracking Your Organization,” Hacker explains how to confidently confront toxic employees, set standards for positive behavior, and prevent them from destroying morale.

Toxic Behavior Red Flags

You must proactively identify and manage employees that indicate a high likelihood of toxic behavior—before they cause damage in the workplace. Who are these employees? The internet abounds with catchy buzzwords to describe these workers, including martyr, slacker, bully, pessimist, and even sociopath. But forget interpretations of who they are; focus on what they do.

Here are some damaging behaviors—taken from a GETVOiP infographic—that may indicate you have a toxic employee in the house:

  • Disorganization
  • Lack of credibility
  • Passivity
  • Resistance to change
  • Low motivation
  • Lack of concern for deadlines
  • Wasting time online
  • Absenteeism
  • Doesn’t know his/her limits
  • Complains often
  • Comes to work sick
  • Loud and distracting
  • Immature approach to work
  • Fans office drama
  • Bullying behavior
  • Disregarding protocol
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Manipulation and sabotage

A toxic employee isn’t necessarily a lost cause, however. Harvard Business Review offers these steps to coach them to success:

  • Dig deeper. There might be an underlying reason for the employee’s actions that you can help them address.
  • Give feedback. Be specific about why the employee’s behavior is disruptive. The individual might not even realize how his/her behavior is affecting co-workers.
  • Set consequences. Determine what the employee cherishes most about the job and present that aspect as a potential loss if the behavior isn’t corrected.
  • Accept that some people won’t change. Because not everyone will respond to intervention and coaching, you should be prepared to shift to another form of repercussion for toxic behavior.
  • Document everything. Create a paper trail of every complaint, evaluation, and intervention as proof of your correct proceedings in case of firing and employee retaliation.

Make The Right Choice

Once you’ve identified and attempted to manage a toxic employee’s behavior, you must make a decision: Does the employee stay or go? According to, there are nine types of employees you should fire immediately, including:

  1. The one who says, “Oh well, that’s their problem”
  2. The one who leaves work for an “appointment” as soon as the boss exits
  3. The one who everyone else complains about
  4. The one who is clearly unhappy
  5. The one who always takes meetings off track
  6. The one who uses a company credit card to purchase personal items
  7. The one who says, “That’s not my job,” or “This is stupid”
  8. The one who constantly yells or loses their temper with clients and coworkers
  9. The one who pushes his or her work off on everyone else

The list above notwithstanding, there are some challenging employees who, in the long run, are worth your extra efforts to coach and retain them. In her session, Hacker emphasizes this approach, providing dozens of practical tips for addressing specific, difficult-behavior problems that you can put to use to create a happier more harmonious workplace for all.

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About Amy Palermo
Amy is a regular content contributor for the AudioEducator and AudioSolutionz Blogs. A freelance editor who has worked in all phases of publishing over the last 25 years in both print and digital formats, Amy specializes in healthcare, human resources, technical skills and other key industry content. She is also experienced in book and journal layout and design, traditional and digital illustrations, and photo editing.