How To Manage Toxic Employees

Try These Tips if You Need to Manage Toxic Employees

Unaccountability. Negative attitudes. Meeting hogs. Freeloaders and hot tempers. Toxic employees and their behaviors bring a lot of hostility into the workplace. What happens when you’re in charge of these employees? Being an effective manager is a task of its own, but managing an employee with toxic tendencies is a whole other ball game. Use these tips to help manage toxic employees in the workplace.

Types of Toxic Employees

Toxic employees are no one-size fits all. In fact, toxic employees come with all different types of tendencies. Some may be the life of the party while others are entirely unpleasant to be around. Check out our infographic of types of toxic employees. Hopefully, none sound too familiar!


Recognize the Difference Between Difficult and Toxic

Toxic is not synonymous with difficult. Difficult employees are hard to manage or work with. However, the attitudes and behaviors of toxic employees are contagious. Dylan Minor, former assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management, explains the difference between toxicity and difficulty in Harvard Business Review:

“I call them toxic because not only do they cause harm but they also spread their behavior to others.”

Difficult employees are relatively harmless in the long run. However, toxic employees can cause team-wide suffering. It’s important for managers to recognize when one employee’s toxic behavior has spread to other employees. The result can be detrimental:  toxic behaviors have a negative effect on team morale and productivity.

The Cost of Toxic Employees

Toxic employees come with a price tag. Research shows that the estimated savings from avoiding the hire of a toxic employee is $12,489. In comparison, hiring a high-performer costs a company less than half ($5,303 in onboarding costs) of this figure.

Monetary costs aside, toxic employees also have a strong effect on their colleagues. Cornerstone OnDemand’s research shows that when a toxic employee enters the workplace:

  • Good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit
  • Team-wide performance drops by 30 to 40 percent

That’s why we put together the following infographic:

How To Manage Toxic Employees

Download now!


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1. First Things First, Avoid Hiring Toxic Employees

The easiest way to avoid toxic employees is not to hire them. Yet, that’s a mere ideal. Candidate sourcing techniques can take a disproportionate amount of an employer’s time, and it’s inevitable that a few “bad apples” are hired. Plus, some toxic employees sneak past screening — performing well on paper and in interviews.

In the event that a toxic employee is hired, as a manager do not to dwell on their toxic actions. Instead, act upon their behaviors before they spread. Managers should identify negative and unprofessional behavior and delve further. Investigative questions like, “What is the root cause of this behavior?” address underlying causes of toxicity.  

Additionally, some non-toxic employees may begin to display toxic behaviors over time. This could be a reaction to a stressful life event, like an ill family member or a divorce. As an employer, you may suggest taking time off or offer counseling resources. Investigative questions uncover these factors. When factors go unidentified, you won’t be able to offer a remedy.

2. Provide Clear Feedback

If you directly manage toxic employees who are also highly competent, it’s critical to establish communication. Communication is one of the most important factors of working with others. In fact, communication is shown to increase teamwork efficiency.

As such, providing feedback helps in managing toxic employees. Sharon Jordan-Evans, president of the Jordan Evans Group, suggests being crystal clear about a toxic employees’ behaviors. In addition to bringing their behaviors to their attention, make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable.

Feedback serves as a moment to explain the consequences for toxic behaviors. Tie feedback with expectations and tie expectations to a timeline. For instance, meet again in one month to discuss professional behavior and productivity.

Manage Toxic Employees and Difficult Employees Differently

3. Know That Some Employees Won’t Change

Some employees don’t work well with others because they’re unhappy in their current position. When moved out of that role, these employees’ can become highly productive. However, some employees are just plain toxic.

In another Harvard Business Review study, it was discovered that 4 percent of people engage in uncivil behavior because it’s “fun and they can get away with it.” If you shuffle employees around, provide clear feedback, address the causes of behavior, but behavior goes unchanged, then it may be time to accept that this employee is incapable of change. In this case, don’t hesitate to start looking for a replacement if an employee is underperforming and/or acting unprofessionally.