How to Recognize a Toxic Employee and the 3-Step Process for Addressing Them

Aug 9, 2021

The tips in this article will help you determine whether terminating or retaining a toxic employee is the right choice.

As a business owner, you want to mold your workers into a dream team. Ideally, they will work together enthusiastically and give a rock star performance. 

But sometimes you may encounter a player who is not up to par with the rest, or is a toxic employee. Either will upset the flow you’ve cultivated. You will recognize them right away — gossiping, complaining, trying to pit employees against each other and shamelessly talking about their search for a new job. 

Sometimes an employee may just be going through a rough spot in his or her personal life. Acting out on the job is amateurish, but if this worker has been an asset in the past, it might be a good idea to discuss their performance before making an impulsive decision. But if this person sticks around, it might have an unfavorable effect on other employees.

Here are some scenarios that will help you decide whether to keep an employee on board or give them the boot.

1. The late bloomer

Does your employee want to be at their job or are they just going through the motions? Not everyone learns at the same pace. Some will need a longer learning curve to grasp their position. Perhaps have another employee mentor this person before terminating them right away. Enthusiasm in the workplace is hard to come by, so don’t give up on someone too quickly if they show up on time and have a friendly personality.

2. The clock watcher

Companies take pride in leadership and values. If an employee doesn’t take pride in their work, it may be apparent because they’re watching the clock or punching out right on the dot. They may not go the extra mile by staying late when needed. It may be a good idea to speak to the employee and work out a plan to create a work-life balance, forming a happy medium for the worker and the company. 

3. The lover of office drama

Toxic people thrive on drama. Even though they may be hard workers, they are also hard players. They may view their place of business as more of a social hour. Gossip is the norm for them. This person makes others uneasy, and their poor work ethic can be detrimental to their co-workers. Since these types thrive on being liked, a supervisor might be able to mold him or her into a better employee. Provide them the attention needed by praising their good work. It just might inspire them to become a better employee, thus having less time for shenanigans.

Before deciding, it is a good idea for a manager to assess the situation. Instead of making a rash decision of firing an employee on the spot, offer a warning first. A one-on-one meeting with their supervisor may go a long way. Or not. A talk might make things worse, as a toxic employee could take offense and possibly retaliate. 

Here are some ideas to help you decide whether to fire the employee or give them another chance to prove themselves:

  • Begin with positive dialogue. Let the employee know the good he or she has brought to the table. By beginning on a high note, you may light a spark of enthusiasm in a blasé person.

  • Let the employee know that his or her behavior is unacceptable. If someone is going through a rough time, they may not even realize how poisonous their conduct is. A serious discussion could be the much-needed wake-up call this person needs to make a change in his or her attitude. Or else, you know what to do.

  • Ask the employee how everything is going. Allowing them to express themselves is a great idea. They may not have the courage to come directly to you to discuss a problem, so they let it fester. A heart-to-heart discussion could make a big difference. Give it a shot and see what happens.

A poor work ethic can negatively affect the company, but a dedicated employee deserves the right to be heard. Managers should consider having weekly staff meetings where all employees can voice their opinions or concerns. Simultaneously, it provides a boss with an opportunity to express what they expect from their staff and what they can do to improve as a team. Also, I would suggest dedicating a portion of this discussion towards celebrating employee milestones and company accomplishments.

Keep in mind, no matter how good of a boss you are, there may be an instance where you should cut ties with a worker immediately. These cases can include stealing from the company, lying on a timecard, setting up other employees to look bad or using company equipment to work on personal side projects. This type of behavior is unacceptable — and there should be no exceptions. 

Firing quickly can sometimes be the best solution when it comes to dealing with problematic employees. But working directly with an employee who has potential to improve — and wants to improve — can be a rewarding experience, for you and your company. 

By Vincent Tricarico