How to manage toxic employees

July 22nd 2020

A toxic person is someone who left you feeling confused, anxious, worried, frustrated, angry or even fearful and disrespected. It could have been a boss, a co-worker, a customer or another stakeholder. You discover that the more you need to interact with this person, the more you feel unhealthy and you experience negative feelings or emotions. Typical body signs that you are dealing with a toxic person are a knot in your stomach, sweaty palms and/or tightness in your chest. If you get to this point, action must be taken. Because over time, you could even begin to feel helpless to do anything to make a difference; and even hopeless about getting out of the situation, leaving you feeling anxious, fearful or depressed. However, there is a lot you can do about it.

Toxic employees may not be aware of the negative impact that their behavior has on another person or group of people. When they are aware, they may or may not even care. When provided with feedback, they may react in either a passive destructive or active destructive manner. Let´s first have a look on the features of a toxic employee:

Characteristic of a toxic employee:

Lack of self-awareness
A toxic employee may not even be aware of their behavior and the impact of their actions. Sometimes it´s all about their low self-esteem and the insecurity they experience. Sometimes it’s about their primitive thinking and the need for their own survival.

Lack of self-control
They disregard procedures, rules, regulations, code of conduct, social norms or laws. They operate and do things according to their own preferred code or methods. They are usually selfish and insensitive to the needs and feelings of others.

Lack of social skills
Lack of soft skills and ability to communicate with people. These people may be very good in their job, but completely unable to have a normal relationship with their coworkers. They are quick to find fault, point fingers, or blame others.


What you can do about it:

Set expectations
In order to set expectations you have to be firm and clear on the behaviors that you value and appreciate not only for yourself, but also for your other team members, customers, or other key stakeholders. Let the employee know what behaviors you expect to see from them that are appropriate and acceptable.

Set limits
It is essential that you identify your own personal boundaries and limits at work. When someone’s behavior “crosses the line” that you define as unacceptable, inappropriate or unwelcome, you have a right to call that person out on their behavior.

Assert Yourself
Communicating with the other person in a style or manner that matches theirs, can often stop them in their tracks. Speak firmly and ask why the person is talking/treating you this way - asking questions helps them reflect on their own behavior and teaches them what your boundaries are and how you expect to be treated – respectfully and not backing down in a passive way.

When giving feedback remember to use language that judges and focusses on the employee’s toxic behavior, not on the person. Describe the negative consequences and the impact on the business of their toxic behavior. Make sure that your feedback is helpful to the employee.

Terminate the relationship

You may consider moving the employee to another group and if the employee’s behavior continues after a reasonable period of coaching on workplace behaviors then consider terminating the contract with the employee. In the end, it may be what is in the best interest of the toxic employee, others on your team, you, and the organization as a whole.

Colleagues, managers and customers prefer to avoid them at all costs since being around them leads to so much discomfort or even stress. People begin calling in sick, individual or team performance begins to be affected, a star performer leaves the organization. The worst is when the word gets to potentially good candidates or clients, and then they may not even want to work with the organization. That is why ending the relationship as soon as possible, before your corporate image has been damaged, is the best choice.

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