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How to Recognize and Weed Out Toxic Employees

Tuesday October 9th, 2018

Estimated time to read: 3 minutes, 30 seconds

As a company leader, you're more than likely accustomed to managing a variety of different personality types. And, as with any team, there are always personalities that are more difficult to manage than others. But what do you do when those personalities become toxic to the company culture? How do you recognize them? 

First, it's important to articulate what classifies as toxic behavior – it's not always obvious disruptive aggression. Toxic behaviors can manifest in many different ways, some of which include:

  • Negativity – When you're trying to lead your team to success, nothing drags morale down like the wet blanket of a pessimist. A person who is always naysaying while the rest of the team is trying to be proactive and solve problems is going to make everyone else miserable and weaken their resolve to push forward.
  • Laziness and Complacency – Complacency might be a tough behavior to spot if you're not paying attention. Employees who are complacent or lazy rely heavily on their coworkers and leave others to carry their weight. This fosters resentment and tensions that are detrimental to productivity, so it is crucial to the team's success to ensure that everyone is carrying his or her own weight.
  • Arguing and Rebellion – This is the most outward sign of toxic behavior in the workplace because it's usually pretty hard to miss. You'll want to nip this behavior in the bud right away if it pops up in your office, as rebellious employees can sometimes find an audience in their coworkers and incite others to join the argument.
  • Inappropriate Comments – Your best way to monitor this toxic behavior is by the complaints of other employees. Make sure that there is a process for your employees to report someone who makes inappropriate comments or advances and let them know that your door is always open to discuss such matters.
  • Gossip – This toxic behavior is a little bit sneaky. It's not outwardly offensive to anyone and doesn't generally cause major disruptions. But we've all seen the gossip mill churn into an HR nightmare when feelings get hurt or personal information gets passed around. Make sure your employees know from the get-go that gossip is not tolerated.

Now that we've identified some toxic behaviors you might experience in the workplace, let's talk about methods to recognize them and eradicate them from your company culture. 

Track It

The first step to recognizing a toxic employee is by regularly observing your team in action. Watch how they interact with each other and look for sources of tension. Keep track of all complaints and write-ups so that you can look for a pattern of behavior. Any employee could have a bad day where they slack off or get into a heated debate. But when you begin to see those behaviors happening repeatedly, you need to make sure there is a detailed record of the behavior in order to address it.

Address It

Of course, if you've been tracking employee behavior and notice a toxic pattern, the next step is to address it professionally and promptly. Don't allow toxic behavior to go unchecked, as it not only demonstrates a bad standard to the rest of the team, but it also has the potential to do significantly more damage to company morale as time goes on without a resolution.

When addressing a toxic situation, meet with the employee in question in the privacy of your office. Avoid using an accusatory tone, as this often adds fuel to the fire and doesn't leave much room for a peaceful resolution. Present the information you've tracked to the employee and give detailed examples of their behavior and how it has negatively impacted the team. If other employees have made complaints about the behavior, be sure to protect their anonymity to avoid further discord.

If you've previously addressed the behavior, issued warnings and seen no improvement, it's time to let that employee go. They've proven that they cannot contribute positively to the team's success and shouldn't be allowed to hinder progress any further. If you intend to issue a statement of termination to the employee in question, make sure every offense is in writing for your records and theirs. 

Prevent It

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that toxic behaviors don't wreak havoc on your company culture is to prevent them before they start. Build a team that you know will work well together by increasing your talent acquisition and hiring efforts to include more emphasis on personality and behavior assessment. This, of course, does not imply that you should make every applicant take five different personality tests before sending them on to the next step of the interview process, though behavioral assessments are valuable in weeding out toxic personalities. 

Make good use of your one-on-one time during interviews by asking open-ended questions and allowing them the time to answer and expand on their thoughts. Don't rush through the interview and miss an opportunity to really see an applicant's personality. Brief pauses in conversation can be very telling and useful in evaluating an applicant's true nature. 

In addition to assessments and interviews, make sure that you actually follow through on the references your applicants provide. Don't just call one previous employer and assume that the rest will have similar reports. Speak to each reference and look for any patterns that might be detrimental to your team. References are a valuable resource in the hiring process and should not be wasted.

Your first priority as a leader is to maintain a positive work environment for your team – one that encourages, motivates, inspires and supports. If any employee threatens that carefully crafted culture, don't wait. Weed out toxic employees and give your team the best opportunity to grow and thrive.