How to Effectively Deal with a Toxic Employee?

toxic employees


Whether it’s the top performer on a team, or a small contributor, regards who the team member is, being able to deal with toxic employees is imperative to maintaining a healthy workplace culture. If you neglect a toxic employee, their attitude will change the rest of the team and decrease engagement. Worst case scenario, employees will start to look elsewhere and leave because of a downward spiral culture.

According to a Harvard Business School study “a superstar performer–one that models desired values and deliver consistent performance” brings in more than $5,300 in cost savings to a company.  Letting one of a toxic employee quickly can save a company at least $12,500. In addition, employees who deal with the toxic employee spend 80% of their time worrying about offending the bad apple. In other words, getting rid of toxic employee early on will dramatically help the company from a bottom-line perspective as well as the culture.

However, managing a toxic employee is a very challenging task. Questions often arise such as: should, or should you not intervene? In addition, would intervention create an unnecessary scene further hitting the team culture? After working with companies in dozens of industries, toxic employees are everything in many different forms. From my experience with consulting and also running my own companies, here are a few steps that I use that I think you could benefit learning to deal with toxic employees.


Step 1: Seal the Deal, Crack a Deal

Unless you want to fire the toxic employee on the spot, a one on one conversation is needed to address their behavior. However, before you walk into the room with guns blazing with criticism, managers need to do some homework to prepare for the meeting.

The first thing that a manager needs to do is list specific incidents where their toxic behavior occurred. This does not mean support your point with “I have noticed that you were negative in meetings” would suffice. You need actual meetings days, and what they actually said word for word.

Why is such scrutiny necessary? Because once accusation of toxic behavior is sent, prepare for denial, or shifting of responsibility from the accused. Examples could include, “I didn’t say that”, or “so-so is also negative, why aren’t they being talked to.” Stay firm in your position and restate that is what you saw and what you are sticking to.

Second, you need to have a reason why their behavior is negative for the team. Being able to address how this impacts the team, and organizational goals give the toxic employee a big picture of why they need to change their behavior.

Third, asking why this behavior is occurring could be helpful in addressing a lower level issue on the team.

Fourth is putting down black and white boundaries.


Step 2: Ready, Set, Boundaries

Here is where the tire meetings the road, having actual consequences if their behavior does not improve. Without this step, the toxic employee will have no reason to improve their past behavior. Usually, a good benchmark is stating “if your behavior on x,y,z does not approve in 30 days, you will be put on performance review.”

Warning: Document everything in this process. If you have to resort to HR intervention, you want all of what you covered documented.

Warning 2: Sometimes a toxic employee after being approached would approach other team members and confront them about them thinking they are negative. Make sure to address this in when setting boundaries.

Once you have the boundaries in place, you need to set another meeting to check to see if it is working, this is the follow up.  


Step 3: Follow Up

All that this is is putting in concrete notion to when you plan to meet next. Just make sure that you have a date that works with both of your schedules. In addition, be ready with positive and negative direction of what should happen with the employee’s behavior. In addition, the toxic employee should have a clear direction on what they should do to improve their behavior during this period.


Step 4: Take Action

After you meet with them again, make sure that you have tangible proof of how they performed. Then, depending on what you stated in the first meeting, take action on it. If that means firing, lay the hammer. If they improve their behavior let them know. Or if they are going on a performance review, make that clear as well.

While this seems pretty straight forward, the sad reality is, it really is. However, many people put their heads in the sand and avoid having those difficult conversations in the workplace. If you address things head-on in addition to doing your homework, you will find dealing with toxic employees a lot easier to deal with than you could imagine. This all comes at the price of building a strong, productive workplace culture.


Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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