Identifying Toxic Workers and How To Deal With Them

Every company should strive to develop a healthy and harmonious work culture. Companies are made up of individuals with different personalities and affiliations. While there are employees who will diligently work, there are also those who will make life miserable for their co-workers. These are toxic employees. As a manager, it is pertinent that you learn how to deal with toxic workers or your whole team will be affected.

Good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they have a toxic co-worker. Toxic behavior from employees can have an impact on other workers. Employees who have toxic co-workers experience the following:

  •       Crying and getting emotional
  •       Isolating themselves from colleagues
  •       Getting angry
  •       Increase in unhealthy habits
  •       Picking up a hobby

Such toxic behavior can affect the functioning of the whole team. It can also decrease job performance and discourage motivation. In addition, the cost of replacing an employee who quit their jobs because of a toxic environment can be great. Hiring one toxic employee for a team of 20 costs approximately $12,800 as opposed to the $4,000 cost for hiring a non-toxic employee.

With this in mind, management should pay attention to dealing with toxic workers. While they only make up about 3 to 5 percent of all employees, their impact on co-workers and the office culture in general are much more noticeable and costly to the whole organization. As such, it is important to spot and deal with these bad apples so it won’t affect the whole bunch. This article will delve on the following topics:

1. What is Toxic Behavior?

2. Signs of a Toxic Office Employee

3. Types of Toxic Workers and How To Deal With Them

4. How To Manage A Toxic Work Environment?

 What is Toxic Behavior?

Before management can learn how to deal with toxic workers, it is important that they first understand what constitutes toxic behaviors. These types of behaviors can impact other employees. Whether management or employee is involved, it can have a significant impact on a business. Toxic workplace behavior may include a workplace marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal conflicts can affect productivity. Here are examples of toxic behavior that can happen in the workplace.

  •       Aggressiveness. This can affect workplace safety and productivity
  •       Narcissism. Too much self-focus can negatively affect a positive workplace culture that includes a balance of give and take.
  •       Lack of credibility. This happens when people don’t follow through with promises and other things.
  •       Passivity. Too much passivity can affect productivity.
  •       Disorganization. All organizations need focus, discipline, and strong structure.
  •       Lack of adaptation. It is important to instill the culture of adaptation to your organization.
  •       Gossip. Office gossip can result in unwanted conflict and undermine working relationships and can negatively impact teamwork.
  •       Glory seekers. Morale can be seriously impacted by workers who take credit for someone else’s achievements especially when seeking all the glory for a team project or downplaying the efforts of others to highlight their own contribution.
  •       Intimidation or bullying. These types of behaviors can affect company morale and may result in legal actions if the company allows such behavior.

Signs of A Toxic Office Worker   

The key to dealing with toxic workers is spotting them right away. While issues like not paying attention at meetings or getting to office late might seem like a minor problem, they are initial signs of a toxic worker. Here are some major signs you need to look for:

1. Toxic People Spread Gossip

Socializing and talking to co-employees is normal in the workplace but talking behind one’s back is a different thing. Toxic co-workers will spend their time spreading gossip about the company or their co-workers. Toxic workers will bad mouth their boss, question authority, and discourage other workers. It can affect the whole team and eventually the company. Spreading gossip can create unhealthy communication precedents. It may also hurt people with rumors.

2. They Do Everything Except Their Immediate Duties

Toxic employees are not great at their jobs. They spend their time shopping online or procrastinating. They make excuses why they cannot do their tasks for the day. They are fond of complaining and show a negative attitude. They sign up for many different workgroups just to be busy doing nothing and pretend that they are overloaded. Toxic workers do not pay attention at meetings, are constantly late, and spend a lot of time on breaks.

3. Toxic People Have Conflicts with Clients and Other Workers

One of the major signs of a toxic worker is that clients and other co-workers don’t want to cooperate with them. If people refuse to work with someone, it can be a cause of worry for management. It may be because of their words or there is tension in a team.

4. They Mask Harassment Behind Jokes

Teasing is pretty common among co-workers. It might be comic relief and will promote better relationships. But there is a clear line between friendly teasing and bullying. If the joke is already hurting the other person and already makes them uncomfortable, such a practice has to stop. If the co-worker is already feeling intimidated or upset by the joke of their colleague, it is time for you to step in and put a stop to it.

5. Toxic Workers Avoid Taking Responsibility

Toxic workers are afraid of accepting responsibilities. When they make a mistake, they would deny it or even pass the blame to their co-workers. It is natural to make a mistake but it is important to acknowledge them. Toxic workers never recognize their mistakes so you need to confront them if one of your team members is like that.

6. They’re over confident

Toxic workers tend to overrate their own abilities and skills. They believe that they are better at their jobs than their co-workers. Because of their arrogance and know-it-all attitude, working with them in a team can be difficult and may cause conflicts due to lack of cooperation.

7. They are self-centered

Toxic workers only care about their own well-being and success before co-workers. They are likely to put themselves first whenever possible. These types of workers are unlikely to help their colleagues when they need assistance and will only go beyond their role if it is for their own direct benefit. Toxic workers are ego-centric and are oblivious to the impact they have on co-workers.

8. They always complain

Toxic workers are often negative in the workplace because they are unhappy in their jobs. It is common for them to complain about their work to anyone that cares to listen. The issue could revolve around their workload, manager, customers/clients, or work-related concerns. Toxic workers will often try to convince their co-workers that there are problems in the workplace and bring the mood down in general.

9. They use unethical methods to get ahead

Toxic workers will often say something behind their co-worker’s back or sabotage another just to be acknowledged by management. For example, they take the credit for other employee’s work or flag their mistakes to make themselves look better.

10. They are dead-set on following rules

Following company rules and regulations areis a positive qualities of any employee. However, individuals who claim to be rule followers are 33% more likely to be toxic employees. The more adamant an individual is that rules should be followed at all times, the greater is the chance that they will be terminated for not following rules.

Types of Toxic Workers And How To Deal With Them

Most managers don’t want to deal with problem behaviors in the workplace based on the belief that “we’re all adults so let’s deal with it.” However, such an approach can be detrimental not only to your bottom line but to the entire company as well. Toxic workers can create discord, crush morale, and reduce team productivity.

When learning how to deal with toxic workers, you should first know how to identify them.  Here are some of the most common types of toxic workers management should pay attention to for the good of their business.

1. The Slacker

A slacker is never around when there’s work to be done. They arrive at the office late, leave early, and miss meetings. Because these toxic workers are experts in work avoidance, other members of the team may become overwhelmed and resentful for taking up the slacker’s slack.

A slacker finds a way to avoid work and can be a major drain on everybody’s time, energy, and enthusiasm. They don’t seem to care about what other team members or managers think of them. A slacker is known for having low motivation, lack of regard for deadlines, bad timekeeping, wasting time online, and absenteeism.

Antidote: To deal with a slacker, you need to ask them what’s going on and listen to systemic problems instead of individual ones. If they have the same workload as the other team members, set clear expectations and deadlines. Set regular accountability meetings to review progress and deliver feedback. Reward them when their deadlines and quality expectations have been met.

2. The Volcano

These types of toxic workers smolder and rumble quietly for days or even weeks and then suddenly blow. They either have a short temper or cry under the slightest pressure. Such behavior can make the other workers uncomfortable and may result in a disruptive workplace.  

Antidote: Talk to the employee privately to find out what’s going on. Focus on the behavior and provide tangible examples of how the behavior can negatively impact the workplace. The employee may not realize that their volatility may make the other employees feel bullied or that people may avoid working with them because of it.

3. The Martyr  

At the onset, a martyr may seem like a good thing for your team. They say yes to every project and no deadline is impossible. But take a closer look. These toxic workers may prevent others from acquiring new skills because they take all new opportunities and refuse to delegate.

Martyrs may have control issues and may be working too much to prove themselves. This will create imbalance to the team and foster unrest. They tend to come to work when sick and may infect everyone else. These types of workers are prone to burnout.

Antidote: Make sure that projects are spread out fairly among team members. Explain to them why they aren’t getting the hardest jobs. Give them a special project or two to satisfy their need without disrupting the normal workflow.

4. The Socialite  

The socialite is funny, entertaining, and is a friend of all the employees. They treat their jobs as their own personal stage on a daily basis. Socialites like to gossip and chat the first thing in the morning. While fun and fellowship may be good in the office, socialites may take things too far. To deal with a socialite, ensure that the following is done:

  •       Provide regular redirection
  •       Define social times and activities for staff
  •       Be clear about appropriate behavior
  •       Harness communication skills
  •       Channel interpersonal energy

5. The Sociopath

An estimated 4% of the population meets the clinical definition. However, even without a diagnosis, sociopaths can be detrimental to your company and leave a trail of destruction and discord wherever they go. They poison the atmosphere and create a hostile environment for other employees. One sociopath employee can ruin the morale, cohesion, and effectiveness of the whole team. When they are placed in a customer facing role, it can be detrimental to your reputation and your bottom line.

Sociopaths are known for bullying co-workers. They disregard protocol and encounter issues with authority. They encounter interpersonal problems and like to manipulate and sabotage their co-workers. To deal with sociopaths, management should do the following:

  •       Provide a safe and supportive environment
  •       Take employee complaints seriously
  •       Enforce strict anti bullying policies
  •       Trust your instincts
  •       Carefully document negative behaviors

How to Manage A Toxic Work Environment  

There’s a huge difference between a difficult employee and a toxic one. The latter is not only harmful but also affects other employees. When they cause frustration or put down their co-employees, the whole team will suffer, according to Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.

The best way to eliminate toxic workers is to not hire them in the first place. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. It would be costly on your part to get rid of them once they are already on your team. The good news is that there are other ways of dealing with toxic workers without having to fire them. Here are some steps of how you can manage toxic workers in your organization:

Dig deeper  

Find out what is causing their behavior. Is the employee unhappy with their current role? Are they struggling with their personal life? Are they frustrated with their co-employees? Once you get to the bottom of it, offer your help. You can do some coaching sessions with them or suggest resources that will help them address the root of their problem.

Give them direct feedback

In most cases, toxic workers are oblivious to the effect they have on others. They only focus on what they feel and how to behave and are not aware of the broader impact. This is where direct and honest feedback comes in. It is important for them to understand the problem and have the opportunity to change. Be objective when giving your feedback. Explain to them the effects of their behavior and use specific and concrete examples.

Explain the consequences

If the carrot doesn’t work, you can also try the stick. Some people tend to respond more strongly to potential losses than potential gains so it is important to make the employee aware of what they will likely lose if they don’t improve. If the person is hesitant to change, figure out what they care most about and put it at stake. For example, the possibility of missing out on getting promoted or suffering other consequences may motivate them to behave in a more civil way.

Accept that some people won’t change

While you always hope that the toxic employee will change, not everyone responds the same way. In the most extreme situations, you should also acknowledge that you won’t be able to fix the problem and begin to look for more serious responses.

Document everything

If you have no other choice but to really fire the employee, put everything in black and white. List down all their offenses and any responses you have offered so far. Provide supporting materials such as formal complaints or relevant information from performance evaluations. At the end of it all, your objective is to protect yourself and the company. Show the employee the reasons they are being fired.

Separate the employee from the rest of the team

If you can’t get rid of the bad apple, protect the rest of the team by isolating them from the others. There will be a tendency that people close to a toxic employee may become toxic themselves. Fortunately, the risk may also subside. By separating the toxic worker from the rest of the team, you can see an improvement in their situation. This is called “immunizing the others.”

Avoid distractions

Learning how to deal with toxic workers can drain your time, energy, and productivity. But don’t micromanage an employee to the point that you get distracted from what you should be doing. Surround yourself with supportive and positive people. Always look after your own welfare through exercise, good eating habits, taking breaks, going on short and long vacations, and others. Being healthy and staying proactive can provide you with a solid buffer against toxic workers.



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