Managing the Toxic Employee


You get what you tolerate.

AT SOME POINT in a leader’s career, they’re confronted with the tough decision of what to do about a toxic team member. Executive team development is at stake. Leaders sometimes inherit this tough challenge when they take over a team, or when the bar is raised for performance and behavior, and toxic employees become much more visible against the contrast of the new culture. The costs are enormous, and a true test for the leader. Tolerated toxic employees come in many forms:

  • They produce excellent results on their own, but their micromanagement chokes off moral, initiative and productivity in others,
  • They quietly do just enough to stay under the radar, creating more work for others,
  • They actively sabotage efforts to improve the culture by disengaging and promoting a “this will never work” attitude,
  • Their criticism and gossip create fear and distrust.

In every case, the toxic employee isn’t aware their behavior is toxic or they don’t accept the effect they have on others, the culture, or the work. To them, what they’re doing is fine. The issue is with others.

A leader who doesn’t act on the toxic employee enables the behavior, sends a message that good teamwork is not important, and will be seen as an ineffective, weak leader. No one wants confrontation. But, if after the leader has done everything they can to encourage the employee to go from Toxic Employee to Team Player (providing feedback, training, a coach, etc) they have to hold them accountable with corrective action, performance improvement plans, or termination. If they don’t, the leader becomes a Toxic Leader; one who allows the toxic behavior of others.

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“When a workplace becomes toxic, its poison spreads beyond its walls and into the lives of its workers and their families. In contrast, positive organizations energize and inspire their workers.”

― Gary Chapman