How to deal with toxic employees

Of all the factors that contribute to a thriving business, it is easy to subjugate “softer” issues (like staff morale) to more discernible issues (like profit-and-loss imbalances). However, the reality is that morale is a critical driver of outputs like staff retention and sales. Employee morale is also subject to a “herd effect” whereby one negative or incompetent employee can poison the entire team.

As a business owner, it is critical that you learn how to deal with toxic employees so that they don’t derail your staffing efforts. Put in the effort now to master how to manage a toxic employee, and you’ll save yourself a domino effect down the road.

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Importance of dealing with toxic employees

Hiring the wrong person is a potential landmine with far-reaching consequences for almost every facet of your business. Even if a new hire meshes well with your company culture, if his or her skill set is not up to par, the lack of competence can undo whatever successes your team has amassed thus far. When culture “fit” is an issue, the complications worsen, since a staff member not fitting in is a breeding ground for the discontent seen among many toxic employees. To further complicate the matter of grasping how to deal with toxic employees is the fact that it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to fire an employee, depending on the nature of his or her violation and especially if they have been with the company for a long time. Therefore, it is critical that you take the reigns now and master how to get rid of toxic employees so that you’re equipped to manage staffing issues as they emerge.

Signs of a toxic employee: Identifying toxic employees

Before asking how to get rid of toxic employees or how to manage a toxic employee, you must learn how to discern signs of a toxic employee so that you can know one when you see one. Recognizing the following signs and symptoms will take you a long way in identifying toxic employees early on. Look for signs that employees or applicants consistently:

Bully or harass others.

Workplace bullying and harassment take many forms, so be on the lookout for overt bullying behaviors (like physical intimidation) as well as subtler ones (like gossip).


Refuse to accept responsibility.

An employee who consistently blames his or her failures on someone else is exhibiting one of the tell-tale signs of a toxic employee. When it is clear that an employee’s actions caused a certain outcome, don’t accept excuses.

what to do about toxic employees

toxic employee

Dampen collaboration.

Identifying toxic employees means recognizing when an employee has alienated others to the point that no one wants to work with them. Keep an eye out for this type of workplace dynamic.


Orchestrate divisions.

One of the most challenging aspects of learning how to deal with toxic employees is the fact that many toxic employees behave differently one-on-one than they do in teams. Learn to discern when an employee appears helpful in groups but antagonizing one-on-one.

Create drama.

One of the more easily-recognizable signs of a toxic employee is the tendency to create as much drama as possible.  Identifying toxic employees means recognizing drama as soon as it occurs.

Breed negativity.

Although it isn’t reasonable to expect your employees to love their jobs all day every day, if you have an employee who constantly spreads negativity about the job or company, you’ll notice the impact on morale.

impact of toxic employees

How to deal with toxic employees

To master how to get rid of toxic employees, you need a strategy. Focus on your hiring practices and internal workplace communication, and you’ll become better equipped to spot the signs of a toxic employee. Work proactively to:

Assess your hiring practices

Hiring the right employee boils down to asking the right questions. Assess your hiring practices to determine whether and how they provide answers to pivotal hiring questions such as:

Can the applicant do the job, will they do the job and will they fit with the team?

The “can do/will do/team fit” question helps prevent your team from hiring someone who is outright incompetent for the job.

What is the applicant’s personality?

Understanding the personality of an applicant is critical to assessing how they will fit with the rest of your team.


Focus on communication

Research underscores the role of communication in the workplace. A whopping 42% of survey respondents cited communication style differences as a driver of workplace miscommunication, while 54% said they enjoy communicating with others whose communication preferences differ. Build communication training into your staffing practices, and you’ll be well on your way to understanding how to get rid of toxic employees. Leverage workplace communication to your benefit by:

Recognizing that there are different types of workplace communication styles.

Most people fall into one of four broad categories (analytical, intuitive, functional or personal).

Paying attention to others’ communication styles.

When you are speaking with a colleague or employee, pay attention to how they communicate and adapt your communication style accordingly.



Adapting to others’ communication styles.

For example, if you are speaking with a functional communicator, recognize that a lack of detail in an assignment will likely stress them out. Adapt by including sufficient detail when you assign work to the person.

Taking the time to understand how others “tick.”

Practicing basic empathy allows us to relate to others “as they are,” which helps reduce interpersonal conflict and workplace miscommunication.

Communicating clearly.

Coupled with kindness, clear communication has the power to bridge almost any workplace conflict, bringing both sides to harmony.

Take the first step in identifying toxic employees by completing Tony Robbins’ DISC assessment to discern Dominant, Influential, Steady and Conscientious behavior styles among your team.

Ready to purge toxic employees from your workplace?

Learn how to identify and purge toxic employees with Tony Robbins’ 7 Forces of Business Mastery free content series.