Toxic employees can damage workplace team work, morale, culture, and organizational health. Tips for avoiding and handing them from Dr. Vic, TEP.Global.

Tips for Avoiding and Handling Toxic Employees in Workplaces

Tips for Avoiding and Handling Toxic Employees in Workplaces

By Dr. Vic | Feb 27th, 2024 | Employee engagement, HR consulting, Management consulting, Organizational development, People management, Talent assessment, | 0 Comments

Toxic employees can damage workplace team work, morale, culture, and organizational health. Here are some tips for avoiding and handing them from Dr. Vic, TEP.Global.

We’ve all encountered a “toxic employee” at some point.  He or she may be perpetually unhappy, behave disrespectfully, or even sabotage co-workers.  In this article we will consider ways organizations can avoid toxic employees and provide suggestions for dealing with them if it becomes necessary.

It has been said that the difference between a “difficult” employee and a “toxic” employee is that the toxic employee spreads negativity to others, like an infection. In the worst cases, the infection can cause the organization to develop a toxic work culture, with devastating consequences.  

The cost of even one toxic employee is shocking.  A 2015 study, reported in the Harvard Business Review, compared the bottom line costs of a toxic employee with the benefits of a high achieving “superstar” employee.  It found that a toxic employee generally costs an organization more than twice the benefit it receives from a high achiever.  

How can organizations avoid toxic employees?

Develop a human-centered culture.  The best way to protect organizations from the effects of toxic employees is to develop a strong and supportive culture. That includes becoming a human-centered organization, aligning employees’ intrinsic talents and passions with their roles in the workplace.  

To achieve that goal, organizations need to create an environment where learning and development drive engagement and job satisfaction.  They also need to ensure open communication and transparency.  

When people feel valued and respected, and have the opportunity to follow their passions, the organization will be well positioned to avoid the effects of negativity and toxicity.  Open communication means that, if problems do arise, employees will be able to confide in their leaders – and leaders will have the ability to respond.  

Look at the “whole person” when interviewing candidates.  The job interview process is another critical component in the effort to avoid toxic employees.  Organizations need to look at the whole person for insights into personality and cultural “fit.”  The focus should be on how the candidate thinks and interacts, not just on qualifications and accomplishments.  

Asking open ended questions and exploring problem solving styles is a good way to learn how candidates think.  Having candidates interview with existing team members can give a broader perspective on how they interact with others.  Including a social component, like inviting candidates to lunch, will provide still more clues about personality and “fit.”

Dealing with a toxic employee

Despite an organization’s best efforts, it may discover a toxic employee in the workforce.  Maybe a “rotten apple” slipped through its screening efforts.  Maybe a productive employee developed problems after being hired.  The organization needs a decisive plan of action to prevent further damage.

Have clear standards.  The organization should already have clear written policies and standards in place.  Set the expectation that employees treat each other with professionalism and respect, free from any harassment or discrimination.  Make sure those expectations are reflected in the workplace experience.  

Investigate complaints promptly.  When the organization receives a complaint of toxic behavior, it needs to take immediate action.  Investigate the facts and interview witnesses.  It will be important to document the effort in writing.  Offer appropriate support to the employee who reported the behavior.  

Give specific feedback.  After investigating, the organization should meet with the employee who engaged in toxic behavior.  Be direct and give specific details about the behavior at issue.  Discuss exactly what change is needed and provide well-defined, measurable goals for success.

Explain consequences.  The organization should also discuss potential disciplinary measures.  Explain to the toxic employee what steps will follow if the behavior does not improve.  The organization should take precautions against future accusations that it was less than transparent or failed to warn of consequences.

Keep records and follow up.  The organization should maintain records of its investigation and all steps taken to correct the behavior.  It’s a good idea to send emails to confirm the details of conversations.  

Follow up periodically to make sure the toxic behavior is being addressed.  If the employee fails to make satisfactory improvements despite the organization’s best efforts, further discipline should be considered, including termination.  

Toxic employees are a detriment to healthy organizations.  Their negative influence can spread to others and cause lasting damage to the organization, its brand, and its business relationships.  To set themselves up for success, organizations can begin by creating a strong human-centered culture.  If an employee still causes problems through toxic behavior, the organization must protect itself with decisive action.  


TEP.Global brings a people centered approach and 100 years of combined experience to help your organization bring out the best in its team members.  We are uniquely qualified to find the “good buttons” that will let your people soar.

Please contact us for more information, or schedule an appointment for your specific needs.

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