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Toxic employees - spotting them, managing them and even making the most of them

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Toxic employees - spotting them, managing them and even making the most of them


Most of us have experienced this - that one person in the office who throws their weight around, who brings everyone else down, who refuses to work as part of a team, who is loudmouthed and abusive, who fails to get any work done and blames everyone else, or surprisingly, the one who is great at their job, but no one actually likes them. They are all toxic and generally as an employer, you want to avoid hiring them. If they are already a part of your team - you need to know how to manage them and even to get the most out of what could be seen as a potential good set of skills.


A report from the Harvard Business School in 2015 estimated that keeping just one toxic employee on the payroll can cost around £10k in lost productivity. While another study carried out in 2012 by Career Builder suggested that firms could be losing as much as £20k due to poor employees. My own experience as a recruiter has shown me just how destructive the wrong employee can be to a team. A toxic manager or teammate will almost guarantee resignations from other members of your team. Clearly knowing how to deal with toxic employees should be high on the management set of skills.


Identifying the toxic employee


These people are not going to suddenly identify themselves to you. They are pretty good at hiding their true selves until they have their feet well and truly under the table. But in time you are going to start to see some clear signs that the person you hired because they seemed to be perfect, has a few flaws.


  • They are not a team player - this person display an “I know it all” attitude and will not take on board ideas or criticisms from anyone else. They want to be seen to be in charge, the leader or the “ideas person” and will give no credit to others. Initially, this will look like hard work and initiative, but over time that person will destroy the hard fought for dynamics of the team.
  • They are “avoiders” - these people will avoid responsibility, avoid taking on tasks, avoid working on projects. In fact, they just avoid any actual work. They will cite high workload, stress, lack of understanding or even that it is outside their pay grade. Other employees will have to pick up the slack and they will, in turn, become resentful.
  • They just don’t care - these are the people who don’t enjoy their job, who see no point in completing work on time, who will do anything but work if they can get away with it. They are the people who ring in on a sunny morning complaining of a sore throat or who never meet deadlines. They have no excuses - they simply don’t care. Once again other staff pick up the slack and they wonder why the person is never disciplined.
  • They bring their home life to work - all of us find that problems at home affect work at times and this is perfectly reasonable. But for some, their outside of work turmoil is a constant issue while at work. They moan incessantly, they crave pity and attention and their life becomes a vortex for all of the emotion in the office. Everyone is sucked in and it begins to affect the day to day functioning of the workplace.
  • They are negative - There is always one person who hates their job, complains about the boss, moans about the lack of opening windows or that the air conditioning is too cold. They look for issues within the workplace to complain to others about - yet they never take steps to fix them. The productivity levels of the entire workplace can be affected by the constant griping, complaining and gossip.
  • They are a “list ticker” - these people take the time to identify the steps they need to take to reach their desired goals within the company and they set about ticking off the items one by one. Nothing stands in their way, they make no friends through their actions and they will easily and happily step over anyone else to get to the next step. People know they can’t trust these types and will avoid working with them.
  • They are just abusive - these are the easiest to spot as they shout, are rude, they swear and they abuse. They can be the one in the office that people are afraid to work with or deal with. They cause an impasse where no one wants to take an issue to them. These people need to be identified with haste and they are often on a warning pathway to dismissal fairly quickly.

Managing the toxic employee for their sake and yours


Some of these people might actually be good workers. They may very well produce the goods and you get some interesting ideas from them. They may even be free thinkers as they don’t want to be a part of the crowd. But you need to know how to reign them in before they affect the workplace environment in a negative way. The issue is that in many cases these employees are productive themselves and they cannot simply be sacked, due to employment law. The workplace may also be allowing toxicity to grow, so looking closer to home might change the atmosphere that is allowing the poor behaviour to thrive.


Give feedback


A clear message about what is allowed at work can be important in making people aware that they are causing a problem. Don’t just explain to the employee that their behaviour is wrong, tell them why and put in a strategy to make it better. The earlier this intervention is carried out, the better. 


Allow feedback


Make sure that all other employees are able to approach management with concerns - especially regarding other staff members. This aids in identification and ensures you can put in place a plan at an early stage. This can also prevent negativity taking hold and give even the toxic employee themselves a place to air their grievances.


Don’t put it down to their “creative brilliance”


No matter how much money this employee is bringing in , their behaviour is costing you money too. Creative brilliance doesn’t have to come with a price ticket. Many potential employees have this - without the toxic behaviour. Don’t get lured into the sense that this is the price you pay for their exceptional work. It really isn’t that exceptional.


The key to dealing with toxic employees is to establish a workplace where it is not tolerated. If you can’t weed these people out at interview stage, you need to nip it in the bud as soon as it becomes obvious. In other words, don't put up with crap! 






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