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How To Identify And Deal With A Toxic Employee

How To Identify And Deal With A Toxic Employee
Bitrix24 Team
January 25, 2022
Last updated: April 5, 2023

Having to deal with a toxic employee is an inevitable, if unpleasant, part of any manager’s job, but it has to be done.

A single individual can do more than just rock the boat. They can create an environment that spreads hostility and absenteeism, and puts up barriers to creativity.

However, with a good strategy, you can avoid the mental and emotional drain on your team as well as potentially high legal costs.

In this article, we’ll give you some hints and tips on the best way to deal with a toxic employee, from first identifying them to attempts at improvement, and possible firing.

What is a toxic employee?

The phrase “toxic employee” is an umbrella term for a vast array of behaviors that can go beyond affecting just an individual, disrupting your team as a whole. However, it’s not necessarily a workplace bully or a gossip. Those are just two of a range of toxic employee traits that can cause problems.

Other kinds of toxicity are more subtle. For example, a well-liked worker who doesn’t pull their weight can just as easily be toxic to your team. This slowly generates a feeling of resentments as projects are put on hold and colleagues have to pick up the slack.

Another less-obvious form of toxic behavior are those who insist on working overtime. If this happens to be a manager, it can spread a huge amount of unjustified pressure across your team.

How do you deal with a toxic employee?

When you identify a toxic employee, you need to weigh up your options and choose the right strategy. Rather than ruminating and letting imagined situations increase your stress level, it’s important to be calm, fair, and professional.

Managing a toxic employee is never an easy ride for you, them, or the rest of your team, but we have a few tips that can help.

1. Get as much information as possible

It’s very easy to think of a toxic worker as someone who is intentionally obtuse, on an ego trip through the office. However, you might be surprised at how workplace flashpoints are caused by events that have nothing to do with your job.

You may have an employee who is going through a tough time outside of work. In this case, your approach should be completely different than if someone is simply slacking and passing the buck. Try offering time off or counseling sessions before taking a more disciplinary approach and you could solve your problems without jeopardizing your working relationship.

2. Find a time to formally speak to your toxic employee

Choosing the right time to bring up your worries is a constructive step in finding an acceptable resolution. If you have a periodic appraisal coming up, that’s perfect, however you may have to schedule an impromptu meeting. Try to set it late in the working day so you can both sleep on it and avoid a potentially awkward day.

3. Discuss the issues and set expectations

Here you have to be calm and professional as you outline goals and clear deadlines and consequences. As a consequence, you could use a formal warning, or if this isn’t the first time, dismissal. It’s important to avoid all-out criticism and focus on what they can do to improve so they have a sense of achievement and personal growth.

Without these steps, your employee will have no real incentive to improve, so create a shared document and restrict the access rights to just you two.

4. Be realistic about what you can achieve

You can’t expect behavior to change immediately, but you can take steps to mitigate further aggravation. When planning your projects, avoid putting potentially difficult colleagues together to gradually reduce tensions.

5. Don’t neglect the rest of your team

When you deal with a toxic employee, it’s highly unlikely that it will have gone unnoticed. Be professional with everybody involved — there’s no need to go into granular detail, but reassuring everybody that your problematic employee is working on their issues is a wise move.

It’s very easy to allow one unhappy employee to eat up all of your time and energy, but you must remember the other aspects of your job and make sure everybody is feeling fulfilled.

All you might need to organize people in your team is here - try employee management system.

If you want to increase the efficiency and involvement of your employees, you should keep their interest heated up. Bitrix24 is an online workspace that helps employees engage and collaborate. 

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How to fire a toxic employee

Firing can often seem too drastic a move to take and many managers will shy away from it, learning to cope with the situation rather than biting the bullet.

When all other options are exhausted, you may find yourself at the stage when dismissal is the only choice you’re left with. In this case, it’s best to be decisive and nip the issues in the bud at the earliest opportunity.

Make sure to document detailed instances of their behavior and steps you have attempted and hand your information over to your HR department, and follow your company protocol.

Although firing is never the nicest experience, when you deal with a toxic employee decisively, you can give a new lease of life to a fatigued, frustrated team.

A final note: Avoid hiring toxic employees

It’s impossible to have a complete idea of someone’s personality before you choose to hire them, but you can reduce the risk before you start your hiring process.

Make sure to use interviews to focus on an employee’s cultural fit as well as their technical skills and results. You may find a rock star profile, but if they act like a rock star in the office, the negatives will soon outweigh the positives.

With experience, you’ll be able to spot red flags such as narcissism, bullying behavior, or laziness more easily, but there is no replacement for a well-structured hiring process.

Prepare your business for potential toxicity

In an ideal world, we’d all have hiring processes so robust that we’d never hire toxic employees in the first place. But realistically, one will slip through the net every now and then and the best way to deal with a toxic employee is to have clear guidelines for managers to follow.

By offering opportunities for redemption, focusing on keeping others happy, and knowing when to cut ties, you can mitigate the impact of any toxic environments in your workplace.

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