How to handle toxic employees

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Personnel Management

How to handle toxic employees

When thinking of the adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” your mind likely conjures up someone you know who oozes negativity. Whether in your sphere or the workplace, your method for managing toxic people indicates health (or lack thereof) in your relationships or company. A perpetually negative attitude can turn a productive team into a dysfunctional workplace. These people with negative attitudes are toxic to company culture. If you have been a manager for a long, you undoubtedly have experienced poisonous employees. Large companies and startups alike tend to handle toxic employees the same way: poorly. Below are five ways management tends to deal with these hostile workers. Let the record show that these solutions are just as detrimental as toxic behavior. A familiar proverb says, “the medicine is often worse than the disease.”

Check out a previous post on how to identify toxic employees.

5 Ways Managers Mishandle Toxic Employees

Toxic Employee siting at desk avoiding work.

1. Apologize for their behavior in advance.

To handle toxic employees, organizations must take proactive steps to mitigate any adverse effects on the morale of their staff. Unaddressed negative behaviors from specific individuals can quickly generate dissatisfaction in the workplace and lead to resignations down the line. Apologizing in advance for potential behavior from toxic personnel may convey a sense of sympathy and understanding. However, it also sends an unhelpful message that this conduct is acceptable. If you catch yourself apologizing for someone’s behavior, ask yourself the following questions. “Am I apologizing for the fact that, as a leader, I have allowed this person to continue poisoning the work environment?”

2. Reassign some of their job responsibilities to others.

The unfortunate thing about toxic employees is that they are often very talented. These talents can prove challenging to remove once entrenched within an organization. Although a toxic team member may possess individual skills and capabilities, their detrimental traits damage the whole. Crafting job descriptions tailored specifically around these individuals becomes necessary to control how much harm they may cause without depleting human resources. This strategy risks sending a message to the company that sub-par performance or attitude is accepted and maybe even rewarded. If other employees catch wind of this, you are in real trouble. 

3. Isolate them to prevent fallout.

Toxic attitudes can be like a contagious virus in the workplace, and it’s only natural to want to protect your co-workers. This means removing their co-workers from their daily interactions and making sure that their negative tendencies are exposed to as few as possible. However, isolating someone from their colleagues could make them the subject of gossip, undermining the collective team spirit that makes up any successful business. If you genuinely value teamwork as part of your company culture, why are we leaving one person on an island by themself?

4. Allow them to be the topic of conversation.

When your company has a new idea or process, immediately the discussion goes to how that toxic person would react. This results in a meeting before the meeting just with this person to flush out any bad reactions and make your case instead of having a negative public discussion. When you have a toxic employee, you end up letting them occupy a lot of space in your mind and become the topic of multiple conversations. 

5. Believe they will change one day.

This is the most dangerous stall tactic out of all five. Instead of firing immediately, you delude yourself into believing they will eventually change. When people show you who they are, you are wise to believe them. Actions honestly do speak louder than words. Firing employees is unpleasant and stressful, but we often need to work on doing the hard things. 


As a manager, you are tasked with being a leader, which means taking an assertive stance when there are poor attitudes. A swift and decisive firing communicates what is expected from everyone while reducing turnover from frustrated co-workers and improving company productivity when hiring the right employee. 

Traditional Human Resource practices of write-ups, one-on-one coaching, and performance improvement plans are merely stall tactics designed to delay the unpleasantness of firing someone. The ugly truth is that human resource departments have been tasked with reducing employee turnover, limiting wrongful termination lawsuits, and keeping unemployment claims to a minimum, all while creating excessive documenting practices.