Despite best efforts in hiring and management, every company has a toxic employee infect its ranks at some point. A toxic employee is different to a poor performing employee (although one can be both). A toxic employee is someone whose negative behaviours affect not only themselves, but their fellow team members as well.


Some examples of toxic behaviour are:

Aggression – verbal or physical hostility towards other employees or management.

Disruption – constantly preventing others from doing their work. Disruption can be difficult to spot if the person is a ‘pleasant disruption’, e.g. Peter loves to talk about football with all the guys in the office, but it’s become so commonplace he talks about football more than he does work.

Arrogance – high degree of self-importance which unbalances a team dynamic. More commonly seen in high performers who think they’re “untouchable”.

Complacency – satisfaction with the status quo and resistant to change; can greatly affect future growth potential.

Rebellious – undermining authority by consciously refusing to follow company rules and norms.

Addressing Toxicity

When it comes to toxic employees, early detection and intervention is key.

  • Be clear upfront on what is considered unacceptable behaviour. This can be written into employee manuals, discussed in orientation or during training. But it should also be reinforced when you begin to see evidence of toxic behaviour, or have taken an action that could trigger toxic behaviour e.g. major company change.
  • Keep a log of toxic behaviour. Be vigilant in documenting any instances or reported instances of toxic behaviour. Are there any patterns? Does it only occur with one employee or many? Is it only apparent in certain situations? Is it worse at any particular time of day or day of the week?
  • Confront toxic employees one-on-one. Address the employee face-to-face and be prepared with specific examples. Avoid sounding accusatory; instead focus on facts and try to uncover why this behaviour is occurring. Sometimes external factors such as health or problems at home can cause negative behaviour at work. In other instances, the meeting may reveal other work issues that require further investigation.


However, the most effective way for dealing with toxic employees is to weed them out during the hiring process. Always employ best practices when hiring and avoid cutting corners during the process.

  • Use behavioural assessments (such as a workstyle assessment) to identify any possible areas of concern that should be probed into further in an interview.
  • Conduct in-depth behavioural interviews and use the power of silent pauses to lead candidates into explaining themselves further.
  • Always check numerous references – both supervisor and peer. Make sure references are from more than one position.

When dealing with toxic behaviour, consult other trusted figures of authority for their opinion; not everyone views behaviour the same way. Also, know that toxic behaviour can be seen in everyone, at all levels, including you. Many people aren’t aware when their behaviours are negatively impacting others. Simply bringing it to their attention will often nip the issue in the bud. However, be prepared to terminate toxic employees if their behaviour fails to improve. If left untreated, toxic employees can poison your culture and significantly derail performance.