Small Business Help: Toxic Employees


Not everyone loves their job, and the people that don’t tend to waste time, complain and do everything they can to avoid their work responsibilities. On the flip side are the people that love their job too much and despise coworkers that don’t put in the same level of work they do – working through lunch breaks, taking work home and showing up before the boss. In the middle are the people that are just unpleasant to be around; gossipy and malicious, always ready with a complaint, whine or put down. These are toxic employees. Do you have any in your company?

Identifying the Threat

They are not hard to spot. Look for the signs. Is there someone in your company that the rest of the employees are keen to avoid? Are there rumblings of work being passed off or overlooked despite that employee having time to browse Facebook on company time? Does your “good morning” to a certain employee result in a barrage of woes from aching knees to money problems? Has this behaviour gone on for a several weeks? If so, you have identified a toxic employee.

Symptoms of Toxicity in Your Workplace

The toxic employee is bad news for your workplace. He or she sows discord, engages in verbal backstabbing and breaks the spirit of your team. They can make your other employees not want to come into work. If the toxic employee is a bully or aggressive, this can have a lasting physiological impact on your team.

If your toxic employee is a bully, it is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed promptly. “Bullying destroys teams, causing disenchantment, demoralization, demotivation, disaffection, and alienation…staff turnover and sickness absence are high whilst morale, productivity and profitability are low. Any perceived efficiency gains from bullying are a short term illusion: Long term prospects are always at serious risk,” warns

The main symptom of a toxic element is your workplace is the erosion of your team’s morale and a drop in productivity.

What Can you Do about these employees?

Most small businesses do not have the resources to hire a full-time HR person to deal with this threat, so the responsibly falls on you – the business owner. For the sake of your team and your company’s success, take action.

  1. Speak privately with the employee about their actions. They may be unaware of the effect they are having on others.
  1. Seek to understand their motivation. Are they unhappy in their position? Is there something going on at home that is destroying their ability to work efficiently? Are they just nasty in general?
  1. Together, set out a plan for improvement such asking the employee not to pass of work he or she has time to do, encouraging work-appropriate conversations that do not include personal issues, time off to deal with a health or family matter, more responsibilities if the employee is bored, etc.
  1. Monitor the behaviour to see if it improves. Note in writing the time you first met with the employee and any successive meetings. Keep a statement of what you discussed. Note further disruptions or improvements. If it comes to the point where you must fire the employee, you must be able to prove just cause.
  1. If the situation is not improved under your guidance, work out an exit strategy that is mutually beneficial to the both of you. This may include severance or a long lead time to their final work date so you can find a replacement and the employee can find other work.

There are many reasons why employees turn toxic. Sometimes they are not the right fit for the job and sometimes there are factors outside of work that are hurting them. By demonstrating compassion and a willingness to work with this person, you can go a long way in helping them be a better team member and saving the moral of your team. If they are simply not the right fit, everyone benefits from that team member moving on.

Dealing with toxic employees is not easy for anybody – especially the boss that has to make a decision about their future with the company! But as with most problems, when you face it head on and do what you need to do with integrity and compassion, everybody wins.

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