Company Culture

Spotting and Dealing with a Toxic Employee

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
February 8, 2023
7 Min Read
Spotting and Dealing with a Toxic Employee

No business wants to deal with a toxic employee. From lowering the morale of their colleagues to damaging the company’s reputation, the toxicity effects can be far-reaching. Fortunately, it is possible to spot these kinds of employees and take action accordingly – but only if employers are aware of the warning signs.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to identify and address toxic behavior in the workplace. Read on for advice about protecting your team from harm and creating a positive atmosphere for everyone.

What is a toxic employee?

A toxic employee is one who creates a negative environment for themselves and others. They often spread negativity that can be difficult to manage, especially if you're working in an office setting with other people.

Toxic employees are difficult to manage because they aren't willing to take responsibility for their actions or work well with others. They make excuses for their behavior instead of trying harder at fixing it — and sometimes even blame those around them instead of taking ownership over whatever issue they're facing at work.

Can toxic employees be in remote work settings?

Yes, toxic employees can exist in a remote work setting. It’s vital to be aware of how the atmosphere in the workplace might affect their behavior and take steps to ensure their interactions with other team members are positive.

How do you manage a toxic employee?

The first step in managing a toxic employee is identifying and addressing the behavior quickly. It’s important to communicate with the employee and establish clear expectations, while also being aware of any potential underlying issues that may be causing this behavior.

Be sure to document all conversations so you have proof if needed in the future. Speak directly with the individual as soon as possible — don't wait until each instance of toxicity becomes too large or damaging, as this could put your team at risk.

It can be helpful to set up regular check-ins with the employee in order to keep track of their progress and boost morale while they work on improving their attitude and workplace behavior. Additionally, provide resources such as counseling or coaching if they need them.

Things you shouldn't deal with when it comes to toxic employees:

Don't let toxic employees get away with their behavior. If you see someone engaging in any of the above behaviors, it's time to step in and set them straight.

Don't let toxic employees take over the conversation. If a toxic employee is monopolizing meetings or phone calls by talking over everyone else, then you should speak up and remind them that this isn't how things work in your office--and if they continue acting like this, then they will be removed from future meetings or calls altogether!

Don't let toxic employees take credit for your work (or anyone else's). If someone claims credit for something that wasn't theirs alone — or worse yet, steals another person's idea entirely — then make sure that person knows he/she has done wrong.

Is it possible to "fix" a toxic employee?

Though it is possible to “fix” a toxic employee, it takes patience and commitment from both the employer and the employee. The employee needs to be willing to take responsibility for their actions, as well as make an effort to change their behavior.

The employer can help by providing resources such as counseling or coaching, setting regular check-ins, and establishing clear expectations. Additionally, recognizing positive changes in behavior can go a long way in helping the employee reach their goals.

It’s important to remember that managing a toxic employee isn't easy — but with dedication and support, it is possible to create a positive work environment for everyone.

Toxic workers are not always easy to identify

Toxic employees aren't always easy to spot. They may be good at hiding their true nature and can play the game, so they can be hard to spot. Toxic employees are also manipulative, which makes them even harder to spot.

The best way to deal with a toxic employee is by not hiring them in the first place. But what if you've already hired one? Here are some ways you can identify whether or not your new hire has toxic tendencies:  

  • Pay attention to their interactions with other employees. Are they respectful and professional, or do they exhibit signs of aggression?
  • Watch for signs of unprofessional behavior such as gossiping, belittling others, or taking credit for someone else’s work.  
  • Observe how the employee reacts to criticism. Do they take responsibility or do they become defensive?  
  • Look for signs of a lack of team spirit and collaboration. Do they try to go it alone or do they contribute in group activities?

By being observant and setting clear expectations early on, you can help ensure that your workplace is free of toxic behavior.

How to spot toxic workers before hiring them  

There are a few ways you can spot potential toxic employees before hiring them. The first is during the interview, ask questions  that allow the candidate to showcase their communication and collaboration skills. Additionally, ask them about past experiences working in teams and how they interacted with colleagues. You can also look into their references and check for any red flags that may indicate toxicity.  

Tips to manage a toxic employees

If you need some tips to manage a toxic employee, here are a few to get you started:  

Give them direct feedback

In many cases, toxic people are oblivious to the effect they have on others.  So it's important to give them direct feedback about their behavior and how it affects the team. Explain what behaviors you expect from them, and be clear about the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

Finally, make sure that your team is aware of these expectations as well so they can reinforce them when needed. This will help create a unified front against any potential toxic behavior in your workplace.

Enforce consequences for unacceptable behavior

If someone isn't responding positively to your feedback or attempts to change their behavior, then it's time to start enforcing consequences. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could range from verbal warnings to suspension or termination.  

The goal should always be to help the employee improve—but if they are unwilling or unable to do so, then you need to take steps to protect the rest of your team.

Separate the toxic person from other teammates

In some cases, it may be beneficial to separate the toxic person from other team members. This can help ensure that their negative behavior doesn't spread further and allows them to focus on improving their own attitude and outlook. It is important to make sure that everyone on the team feels comfortable and safe working together.

If separating someone is a necessary step in achieving this goal, then don’t hesitate to do so. Finally, it’s important to address any underlying issues as they are often at the root cause of toxicity in the workplace. Stress, burnout, or unresolved interpersonal conflicts can all lead to toxicity if not dealt with appropriately.

Accept that they might not change

It’s important to accept that some people won’t change their behavior even with your best efforts. In these cases, it is better to part ways so that their toxicity doesn't spread further in the workplace.

By taking a proactive approach and setting clear boundaries around acceptable behavior, you can go a long way towards managing toxic employees. This will help create a more positive working environment and increase morale amongst the team. With dedication and support from both employer and employee, it is possible to make meaningful improvements in any work environment.

Things to remember

Do:

  • Foster an environment of open communication
  • Give direct feedback to employees
  • Enforce consequences for unacceptable behavior
  • Separate toxic workers from other team members
  • Address underlying issues  

Don't:

  • Ignore signs of toxicity in the workplace
  • Avoid dealing with difficult conversations
  • Sweep problems under the rug
  • Enable bad behavior through inaction
  • Give up on employees without making an effort.

Can too many toxic employees create a hostile work environment?

Yes, too many toxic employees can create a hostile work environment. Toxic behavior such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, and intimidation can quickly cause an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in the workplace.

This can lead to decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and a lack of team cohesion. It is important to identify any potential signs of toxicity early on and take steps to address them before they become an even bigger issue.

If you are unable to manage the toxic employee yourself, consider seeking out professional help from Human Resources or other experienced professionals. They will be able to provide practical advice and resources that may help resolve the situation in a more effective way. Ultimately, your goal should be to ensure that everyone in the workplace feels safe and appreciated.

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