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How To Manage A Toxic Employee

There’s that one person on your team — the bad apple who has nothing positive to say, riles up other team members, and makes work life miserable. If you can’t fire him, how do you respond to his behavior? What feedback do you give? How do you mitigate the damage he inflicts?
A toxic employee do not only cause harm but they also spread their behavior to others. They de-energizing, frustrating or putting down teammates. The first step as a manager should be to avoid hiring toxic people in the first place, but once they’re on your team, it can be hard to get rid of them. “Oftentimes the behavior doesn’t run against anything legal so you can’t fire them if others in the organization don’t agree that a line has been crossed. Here’s what to do instead.

  1. Dig deeper
    The first step is to take a closer look at the behavior and what’s causing it. Is the person unhappy in the job? Struggling in their personal life? Frustrated with coworkers? “You might meet with them and ask how they’re doing — at work, at home, and with their career development. If you find there’s a reason for why they’re acting the way they are, offer to help. A manager can use this information to coach the person, or suggest resources to help address the root of the problem. For example, if the person is going through a divorce or struggling with a mental health issue, you could offer “counseling resources or time off that could potentially alleviate the underlying issue.


  1. Give them direct feedback
    In many cases, toxic employee is oblivious to the effect they have on others. Most of the time they don’t realize that they’re as destructive as they are. Some are too focused on their own behaviors and needs to be aware of the broader impact.  That’s why it’s crucial to give direct and honest feedback, so they understand the problem and have an opportunity to change. The standard feedback rules apply:  Objectively explain the behavior and its effects, using specific, concrete examples.  It’s not helpful to say, ‘You’re annoying us’, discuss what kind of behavior you’d like to see instead and develop an improvement plan with the employee. What do you expect them to change? Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals, giving them the chance to have a more positive impact on people.


Case Study: Giving Direct Feedback and Support.

Mr Tayo Oluwole, the CEO/founder of Management Consulting Firm, managed a small team at a start-up earlier in his career. One employee, Priscilla (not her real name), a senior marketing manager, was making the rest of the group miserable.

“She was an alcoholic, abused drugs, and had a medical condition,” Tayo recalls, her work was “full of mistakes,” her work ethic was poor —” she was often out of the office, at least one day a week, if not more” — and she frequently took credit for others’ efforts.

Tayo made sure to document the behavior but says he couldn’t fire Priscilla because she had threatened to sue for a variety of reasons, including her medical condition, should she be let go. Instead, Tayo worked to prevent “the negativity from seeping into everything” by routinely giving Priscilla feedback and direction. “Sometimes people don’t realize the impact they’re having so I like to have a blunt conversation with them about their behavior, what they can do to change it, and how they can work better with the team.”  Tayo approach was “delicate” because, with Priscilla “you never really knew who you were going to get on any given day.” But Tayo learned to read her employee’s “state of mind” and “pick days where she would be more accepting of this kind of conversation.”

Tayo also supported the rest of the team. “Sometimes it was as easy as saying they were doing a great job or thanking them for stepping up to “fill the void” left by Priscilla, Tayo explains. He also encouraged them to focus on themselves and their work, “not on what someone else was or was not be doing.” When they complained about Priscilla, she offered advice “while still respecting everyone’s privacy and staying within the law.”

While Tayo’s efforts reduced the negative impact Priscilla was having, the problem was ultimately solved by circumstance. When their business was acquired by a larger company, Priscilla moved to a different department.

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