Tips For Preventing a Toxic Employee From Deflating Your Company’s Culture

From the underperforming excuse-maker to the superstar with an attitude problem, you’re bound to come across toxic employees. These employees exhibit behaviour that is potentially problematic for a number of reasons, ultimately damaging morale and productivity.

For employers who find themselves in this predicament, questions you may be asking include:

  • How do you identify a toxic employee?
  • What can you do to show these employees that they need to change?
  • And how can you implement these changes before too much damage is done?

Keep reading to learn how to identify and handle a toxic employee.

The Characteristics Of A Toxic Employee

Toxic employees can be tricky to identify because their issues are often hidden behind good contributions. In fact, your hardest worker could be toxic.

A toxic employee may have all, some, or even just one of the following traits:

Low Impulse Control

A toxic employee will rarely stop themselves from behaving inappropriately. As a result, they can be unpredictable and difficult to manage.

Poor Work Ethic

A toxic employee may form bad habits in the workplace. Neglecting important work duties, procrastinating, making excuses, shooting down ideas, or refusing reasonable requests are common examples.

Poor Interpersonal Skills

A toxic employee may be difficult to interact with. They can be unkind or hostile, and often gossip about, bully, or even harass others.

Does Not Consider Other Employees’ Experiences

A toxic employee may show signs of narcissism. They don’t consider how their behaviour makes the workplace more hostile, or how their poor work performance brings the company or other employees down.

READ MORE: Workplace Bullying vs. Harassment

Not Self-Aware

Commonly, toxic employees don’t know that they are behaving in a problematic manner. They also may not have the ability to reflect on their own behaviour, meaning that they won’t take criticism or change.

What A Toxic Employee Does To Company Culture And Workplace Environment

Sometimes, it takes one person to ruin everyone’s experience. Here are some of the ways toxic employees can negatively affect their workplace environment:

  • Create a hostile or unsafe environment
  • Ruin morale
  • Hinder productivity
  • Distract you from more important tasks
  • Increase turnover rates

READ MORE: Getting to the Root of Workplace Conflict and How To Proactively Avoid It

How To Manage Toxic Employees

Not every toxic employee needs to be removed from the workplace. It is entirely possible to help toxic employees improve their behaviour or recognize the damage they are inflicting. Besides, some toxic employees still have a lot to offer, and it’s worth working towards a solution to keep them.

First, Look Inward Without Bias

As a leader, your behaviour can influence that of those around you. Before turning your focus to the toxic employee, look at your own behaviour. Can you recognize any troublesome behaviours, even small ones, that could be influencing others? Doing this self-check will help you to prepare to approach the toxic employee. Also, understand that, no matter how many issues you may have had with the toxic employee, you will need to be as objective as possible.

Set Clear Behavioural Expectations

Does your company have ethics and behavioural policies? Are they easily accessible to employees? You may think that some expectations don’t need to be stated, but you cannot assume that all employees will be on the same page. Ensure that your expectations, and consequences are clearly stated. A good employee should be able to work within your expectations; frequent violations of these expectations indicate a deeper problem.

Be Assertive And Clear

A toxic employee might use lenient leadership to their advantage. Make it clear that you will not stand for toxic behaviour. This means enforcing the policies and initiating the consequences you’ve set out.

Lead By Example

Give the toxic employee a chance to see what improved behaviour looks like. Try not to be patronizing but ensure that they see what you are doing.

READ MORE: The Uncomplicated Truth About Leadership

Set Boundaries

Does an employee’s behaviour tend to gradually become worse until it “crosses the line?” Make it clear where that line is. Setting realistic boundaries allows employees to understand what is and isn’t appropriate, without feeling overbearing.

Don’t Contribute To The Issue

If the employee in question makes inappropriate jokes, make sure you stray away from encouraging them or making them yourself. If the employee has trouble meeting deadlines, make sure that deadlines are clear and realistic. This does not mean that the employee is not accountable for their behaviour, but it will be easier to pinpoint when you are not adding to the problem.

Document Your Findings

Keep a record of a toxic employee’s behaviour, as well as any improvements. This will help you down the line if you have future issues – and there’s a fair chance you will. Gather evidence, facts, concrete examples, and plans you’ve made.

Deliver Feedback

In order for a toxic employee to improve, they will need feedback that is honest, clear, and delivered in a way that is delicate and professional. Using vague, generic language will make it sound like you are drawing a conclusion or delivering a personal attack. Instead, offer specific examples in an unbiased manner.

Be Available To Opening And Receiving Feedback

This process should allow two-way communication. That means you should accept feedback on your leadership and your approach to dealing with the toxic employee.

Continue To Check In With The Employee

An employee’s growth does not have to be quantified as a “pass” or “fail.” You should also not expect instant results. Instead, monitor changes over a set period of time, and keep the flow of communication open between you and the employee.

Terminate The Relationship, If Necessary

Unfortunately, some people are not going to change no matter how many chances you give them. If you give a toxic employee the benefit of the doubt too many times, they will use your patience to their advantage, and can cause irreparable damage to the work environment.

READ MORE: Signs of a Hostile Work Environment

The Takeaway

Whether a difficult employee improves their behaviour or cannot see the issues they are causing, it’s important to take the aforementioned steps when dealing with them. By offering patience, explaining boundaries clearly, and monitoring growth, you might save your work environment from falling apart at the hands of one toxic employee.