How to Manage a Toxic Employee


Some employees are difficult to deal with, and there are those who are plain toxic. Difficult employees may get themselves involved in all sorts of inexcusable behaviors without putting their peers to the consequences that follow. While both kinds cause problems, the latter types are called “toxic” because they spread poor work attitudes to others. It is the villain that makes work environment miserable. A leader is often perplexed by a single bad apple in organization because as unruly as the toxic employee’s behaviors are, they don’t run against anything legal to call for termination of employment. As a leader, here is what you can do instead.


Explore the Underlying Problems

 The last thing you want to do is jumping to conclusion. There can be reasons why some employees behave the way they do at work, and you will find a lot of possible culprits for examples conflict with coworkers, financial hardship, marriage problem, recent loss of family member, medical condition, or even mental health issue. Personal circumstances affect performance, and to some extent encourage unpleasant behaviors at work. If that is the case, you can in fact offer support such as counseling resources or recommend potential solutions to alleviate the underlying problems. As a leader, this is part of due diligence.

 Make Clear the Consequences

 Another possible reason a toxic employee shows no willingness to improve is the unawareness of negative consequences. People have tendency to deal with potential losses more seriously than with potential gains. They are also inclined to be more responsive anytime there is a real possibility of serious penalty. In other words, you may need to make threats and follow through if the person is hesitant to change. For most people, the likelihood of suspension without pay or missing out on a promotion makes a strong enough motivation to behave in more civil way.

 Get the Documentation Compiled

 You should hope that a toxic employee will eventually improve and be responsible for damages done, but there are times when you just have to accept that some people will not change. If at the end of the day there is nothing else you can do in your professional capacity to alter the situation, terminating the term of employment is the last resort. Before you do that, however, make sure to document all offenses made along with your responses so far. It is crucial that you establish a pattern of the employee’s behaviors and measures taken to address the issue. Formal complaints, video or photo evidence of poor conducts, performance evaluation records, and other relevant information would be helpful. The idea behind documentation is to protect the organization (and yourself) from legal consequences and show that you let the employee go for good reasons.

 It certainly takes a lot of time and energy – invaluable resources you can otherwise spend more productively to address more important issues – to fix problems with or caused by a single toxic employee. The negativity is sometimes too much to deal with, but put in mind that this is one of the responsibilities every leader must bear. As a leader, you are deemed capable of putting an end to the issue with the least possible consequences on productivity and organizational well-being.

 Ultimately, your company has invested a lot of time and resources in hiring, grooming and supporting each employee. It is a lot more cost-effective to listen to employees, come to a clear understanding of what needs to change and help them be more successful. Every “problem” is really an “opportunity”. Listen more than you speak and try to find win-solutions. Trust is earned and fragile. Earn trust back and help the employee know you want him/her to be the best employee possible and how their success is your success. Of course, we must own our own mistakes and do our best to be supportive leaders. Leadership is an active process, right?

Make good choices and have a great day! Only you get to choose how you feel about it!

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Dr. Paul Gerhardt is a skilled leadership and diversity trainer who builds customized workshops online or at your workplace. He is a tenured professor of management. He is a diversity and leadership well-respected and trusted trainer who helps organizations get amazing returns on their training investment. Visit for more great free articles and to learn more about leadership effectiveness. Dr. Gerhardt is the author of several publications available on, including Diversity at Work, The Diversity King; Leadership Lucy and the Leadership Handbook. Consider inviting Dr. Paul Gerhardt to do customized leadership or diversity training at your organization. Most organizations find that diversity and leadership training by the right trainer yields a significant instant return on investment. You can get your FREE COPY of the Leadership Handbook by clicking this link:



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