Managing the Toxic Employee

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Most managers are unaware that a toxic employee is on their team. Toxic employees can be wily creatures. They are always nice to management and only act out when the boss is not around. They may even be super nice to someone’s face, but the minute their back is turned that person can be subjected to being derided, disrespected and having their character grilled and skewered.

It is even more difficult for a CEO to be aware of these toxic team members as they are so far removed from the front lines. Their blissful ignorance can even extend to their own executive teams.

Who are these misguided moppets? You can recognize them as they engage in the following behaviors: rudeness, bullying, bitterness, anger, being critical, having negative attitudes, and gossiping. We may think that all of us must put on our big boy or girl pants and deal with such issues from time to time. We need to reevaluate that idea.

The actions of a toxic employee are no small matter. According to an article by Christine Porath, Ph.D. for HBR, the poisonous trail they leave in their wake affects the entire organization and can foster an array of ills. This toxic waste includes:

  • Interactions that deflate energy levels as much as seven times more impactful than a positive interaction.
  • Destroying a sense of family
  • A lack of information sharing
  • Creating opportunities for others to become toxic
  • Reducing performance
  • General unhappiness

Any and all of these leads to high turnover and low productivity – two death knells to profits. Let’s look at some ideas on managing these disrupters who can wreak havoc on your organization.

While your first inclination might be to terminate the individual, it is best to make every effort to give the toxic employee the opportunity to change his or her ways as many have no clue as to how offensive their behavior is to the people around them. However, on the other hand, it is not wise to allow any employee to hold the organization hostage. As an example, one CEO stated that he is reluctant to let a toxic executive go because of her level of expertise. Others may suggest that the toxic employee does a good job. To quote Suzanne Lucas, “But let’s be clear: No one who is ‘poisoning the team’ is actually doing a very good job, because not being a poisonous snake should be part of the job description for every job.” Better hiring practices may help alleviate some of these venomous types. However, if you have already opened the gate to the hen house, here are some ideas on how to defang these varmints.

All three of the following ideas involve first having frank discussions with the employee. Never neglect doing this as it allows you to discover the source of the behavior. While the types of behaviors listed above can never be condoned, there may be extenuating circumstances and the employee can take advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). In addition, your frank discussions form the foundation of the documentation you must also do. Accept the fact that some people are not going to change and do not expect overnight turnarounds. The suggestions listed below should not be construed as legal advice and they are not in order of importance or preference.

  1. Implement a performance review plan for the employee. This suggestion involves the following steps:

-          Step One: Have a frank discussion and document the date and time of the discussion.

-          Step Two: Follow-up with the employee in two weeks. If progress has been made, give the employee a compliment, but encourage continuous improvement. If there has been no progress, issue a written arming. This process of course, should all have been laid out in the first discussion.

-          Step Three: Suspend the employee if there is no improvement

-          Step Four Termination.

  1. Isolate the employee from other workers to reduce their impact. This employee may indeed have great value for the organization, but may work better alone with their own locations such as a lab or other separate work area. Limit the individual’s involvement in meetings.
  2. Circumstances may be that you have tried the first strategy listed above, but the toxic employee is still not making any progress and you are still not willing to terminate the offending person. You can try to encourage the rest of the team to stop talking behind the person’s back and help them to focus on their work and not on the actions of others. In addition, you can try to help the offender to rebuild his or her reputation through the referral to counseling or the EAP program.

Dealing with toxic employees is never easy. However, the damage these employees bring might be even more difficult to explain to the Board and other stakeholders.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you would like to have a discussion around employee behavior, call 404-3207834 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit

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