10 Ways to Spot Toxic Employees
10 ways to spot toxic employees:
- Team members are afraid of toxic employees.
- Ask a toxic person what they’re getting done and they’ll tell you what they plan to get done.
- Conversations have winners and losers.
- Listening is their tool to learn weaknesses, find fault, and gain advantage.
- Toxic employees allow you to fail so they look good. As long as they look good, everything is fine. When failure comes knocking, they make excuses for themselves and blame others.
- Toxic employees don’t:
- Acknowledge failure.
- Extend forgiveness.
- Offer an apology.
- Managers, leaders, and fellow employees are idiots. Toxic employees are always right. They carry the ‘burden’ of knowing what everyone else should do.
- Toxic employees always have solutions/answers for everything and everyone but share it in a way to make them look good and you look stupid.
- The only people who aren’t idiots are the people who:
- Admire them.
- Agree with them.
- Acquiesce to their desires.
- Advance their personal agenda.
- Toxic employees throw you under the bus and make it look like they’re helping.
7 ways to deal with toxic employees:
- Give them what they want and utilize their talent.
- Isolate them. Give them assignments that remove them from interacting with others.
- Terminate them.
- Keep them close. This is a viable option in highly political environments. But it propagates toxicity.
- Rigorously monitor their results. But realize they may be productive. The toughest toxic person to deal with is the one who delivers great results.
- Define success with teamwork in mind.
- Don’t hire them. (This doesn’t solve the problem of inheriting toxicity.) During the interview process, ask,
- What are you learning?
- What else are you learning?
- What will you do differently in this position compared to your last job?
- What are you learning about yourself?
- Who has helped you succeed? How?
- Who have you helped succeed? How?
What do toxic employees look like?
What suggestions do you have for dealing with toxic employees?
Sound like you described the Traits of a Narcissist and or sociopath
Thanks Mike. I appreciate the links.
Very interesting topic and one that in today’s environment is often simply not addressed. I’ve found that people tend to avoid addressing difficult topics and this is likely among the most difficult.
I’ve had to address this before and while not pleasant, I don’t shy away from it. Failing to do so, can become toxic to the team as a whole; you often lose good team members because of it. The upside usually is, at the very least, your team recognizes that you’ve addressed it, as toxic people generally can’t keep it to themselves; even though you’ve addressed it in private, and sometimes (though not often) the toxic associate changes their way.
That said, I’d find it interesting to hear your thoughts on how to work for a toxic leader, because they are out there too.
Thanks Tom. I’m glad you brought out the idea that it’s toxic to allow toxicity. Yes, it is difficult to deal with toxic people from a leader’s perspective. It’s even more difficult to be the person working with them.
You described it best, having to address a toxic employee is a difficult conversation it must be had. As a newly promoted supervisor, I have had to address a couple of toxic employees. I never shy away from them. I believe it not addresses the problem head on, but I also grow as a leader. It is an opportunity for both sides, and hopefully both walk away from the conversation better and open to changing.
I would add one caveat, when addressing you must be able to provide solutions that engage the individual in a desire to change. One way I do this is to make the idea seem like theirs (similar to solutions 1 and 6). When they think the idea is theirs they tend to be inclined to change or help facilitate the change. There is danger in that as well, but then you could always default to solution number 5. 🙂
Great article and appreciate the insight!
Makes me think of the humble/hungry/smart characteristics of Lencioni’s ideal team players. These toxic folks are just the opposite!
Thanks Michael. Great idea to go the opposite of Humble, Hungry, and Smart. Lencioni’s book if a wonderful read.
Another timely article Dan you must have a crystal ball to my work life. I have worked for these and with these and regrettably had one work for me. “Brilliant jerks” can also be used to describe them – a legendary Australian football coach has a “no dickheads” rule, which is great if you know they are one before hiring. Strategies 3 and 6 are what I recommend. But what amazes me most is how their superiors often have no idea of their behaviour, and at the same time how their teammates become so paralyzed to do anything to let the superiors know. If you want to be a great leader you really need to learn how to have a radar for this behaviour and a penchant for removing it.
Better to have a hole than an asshole
Ditto to that Greg. I, also have a toxic employee. If I could give you a thousand thumbs up I would do it.
At our last monthly meeting with all employees, I declared – “We have no toxic employees”. It took over a year to accomplish, most of them were terminated and some left. Thank you for your advice. The operation is currently toxic free.
Thanks Scott. Wow!! Congratulations. I know it’s painful to get there, but wonderful when you do. Have a great weekend.
Hi Dan, Hope all is well. Really enjoyed this post. It is probably a very relevant topic now in this toxic gotcha culture we all live in. As a ‘leadership freak’ you come into contact with this condition regularly, and knowing how to deal with toxicity is one of the leadership prerequisites today. It wouldn’t surprise me to see you speaking on this topic more and more. Thank you and God bless.
Thanks Anthony. It’s interesting that you bring this up. I have worked with leaders who are working to create toxic free environments. It’s hard work that requires vigilance. Cheers!
Would love to hear how you get invited to a leadership event to cover this. You are a great checklist writer, maybe do a post on 7 places toxicity occurs: I don’t know where they would be but such a list would be a springboard to do a training.
Toxic employees (and leaders) are exposed by their passive-aggressive behaviour … the easiest way to shame them is call it for what it is.
Because if you don’t, then being passive-aggressive is seen as an acceptable, successful behaviour … and the toxicity spreads exponentially … and the only ones to win are the masters.
Thanks Rurbane. What you allow becomes acceptable. What’s acceptable becomes the norm.
I really like this- I was trying to work out how to say this in a presentation about student behaviour and walking by it without comment means you accept it. Love the way you have clearly stated this.
Over the years I would guess that I’ve run into a few “toxic” employees but thankfully the number is quite low. All those attributes detailed bring back “bad” memories with those employees. I agree with Mark above, narcissists or sociopaths. The interview questions are good ones to attempt to weed out. Its unfortunate the “damage” that these toxic employees can wreck on a team and company .
Thanks Roger. One toxic employee can undo the good you’re trying to create. Their power is seen in how they destroy culture.
Dan, you nailed this one. These people cause more damage to your organization than most leaders understand. I have found over the years the only way to deal with this type of person is to coach them out of your company. When you do overall team morale goes up and respect for the leader that handled this toxic person also goes up. I have had many people try to talk me out of coaching this type of person out, “we cannot run things without this person” or “they are too good at their job to let them leave”. 100% of the time all of this was not true and having that person leaving us what was needed for organizational health. When these toxic people leave it gave other “non-toxic” people opportunity to step up to do that job even better. Good post!
I love when you give me interview questions when I’m working on a recruitment. Thanks!
Great post, Dan and everyone. It just takes one toxic employee to bring down a good team, or to create division. I worked with two different toxic co-workers at two different ad agencies. It was difficult to persuade our leaders to take some action about the discord they were causing because they managed to override (or appropriate) our ideas and concepts. However, these two co-workers eventually experienced karma. They both surreptitiously applied for jobs at other ad agencies, but presented our creative directors’ creative portfolios as their own work. They lost a bit of their arrogance when they were caught.
Great post Dan,
Everyone has seen the “Toxicity”, weeding them out is the challenge, they can sink a team faster than the Apple rots! Love Scott Shaffer’s solution and results. Have a great weekend! Happy Friday! Cheers
Thank you, Dan. Your posts are so concise, relevant, and helpful! Onward!
It sounds like we worked with the same person! You described her to a tee.
Love this, especially the solutions. I’d add one more caution. Toxic people are contagious and discouraging. Whenever we are dealing with them it’s important to check ourselves that we are not reactively, defensively displaying some of the same traits. If we get our own heart honestly sorted first, we can be objective and more effective in how we handle them and those they affect. If not, we risk making things worse.
I would love to dig into this a little bit more. I suspect some toxic employees were not always toxic. What made them go in that direction? Is there a possibility the toxic employees are frustrated because they are not the “yes employees”? Of course, there is a better route to head off that frustration. I would be curious to hear your view on this perspective.
Good Morning Dan, whenever I saw the title for this post I had one person that I work with in mind so I decided to review the list to see which qualities matched up with his. About every single characteristic mentioned was an accurate description of said employee. Every single person involved on his team steers clear and you have to isolate him to reduce conflict. I have never heard this employee apologize to anyone and he only talks about things on his to do list and never what he has accomplished. The most compelling statement of the post was probably number nine “the only people that aren’t idiots are the people who admire and agree with them”. If this coworker is not talking about someone about you, then he is talking to you about someone else. I almost believe he forgets whom he talks to and what he says. Unfortunately, this employee was already hired so termination comes with its legalities and not hiring them is out the window. I also feel that giving them what they want to utilize their talents will only go so far until they get bored and look for something else to sabotage. Isolation is being utilized but becomes a distraction, as you always have to check up on them. Great talking with you.
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