Toxic employees are bad news for any company. They consume more time, energy, and resources than they give back, which creates an imbalance of power that is detrimental to the business. As a Team Leader or Manager, it’s wise to learn how to manage toxic employees in order to create a balanced environment where people can thrive.

This blog will cover some key strategies to consider when it comes to managing toxic employees. But first, what makes an employee toxic vs. simply just not performing?

If someone isn’t performing, sure it’s a problem, but the problem is only with that employee. In my experience, an employee becomes toxic once their behaviors begin spreading to others. Once this happens, things can quickly spiral out of control and you can end up with a team of toxic employees.

Strategies for Managing Toxic Employees

1. Diagnose the employee’s behavior

Try to understand where they are – are they are unhappy with their job? Struggling with personal issues? Frustrated with a co-worker or colleague? The best way to find out is by sitting down and talking with the employee and asking good non-judgmental questions and inviting them to share their perspective.

2. Share Direct Feedback

A simple format for doing this is C.O.I.N.

  • Context: Give them context or an example
  • Observation: Share what you’re observing about them
  • Impact: Describe the impact of their behaviors on the project, business, or relationship(s)
  • Next Time: Share what you would prefer they do next time

3. Clarify the Stakes

Let them know the consequences if their behavior doesn’t change.

4. Accept Everyone Doesn’t Want to OR Isn’t Willing to Change

Remember, you don’t have control over whether the employee changes their behavior – you only have control over how you handle the situation.

5. Be Prepared to Take More Serious Action

Recognize when you’ve done all you can and elevate the issue as appropriate within your organization.

6. Document, Document, Document

Having documentation demonstrating a pattern of behavior will be key if and when you need to take more serious action. Be sure to include your own observations, details from performance reviews, as well as peer and stakeholder feedback.

7. Separate the toxic employee from others

To minimize their toxicity, do everything you can to separate them from others to avoid their behavior spreading, e.g. have them work on independent projects, have them in a different location – and try to be as discrete as possible when doing this.

8. Take Care of Yourself & Stay Focused

Dealing with toxic employees takes a lot of time and energy so be sure to take care of yourself and get the support you need to ensure you and the rest of the team are still able to deliver.

9. Try to Avoid Hiring Toxic Employees

While it seems like a no-brainer, making a conscious effort to explore if a candidate could be toxic is highly recommended.

Doing things like asking good behavioral-based interview questions can go a long way. Some areas to consider include:

  • How they’ve held themselves accountable or accepted blame
  • When have they gone above and beyond to help someone
  • How they’ve handled conflict and disappointment
  • What would they change about their previous employer

You can also tap into your own network of people who might know the candidate, e.g., former co-workers, past clients, etc.

The strategies I’ve outlined here are not an exhaustive list and will likely be different for every situation. It may take time to find the right combination of strategies but doing so will make all the difference in your work environment and bottom line.

If you’re dealing with a toxic employee now and want some help navigating the situation, please reach out. I’d love to talk with you! – [email protected].