Like germs silently spreading from one person to another, so negativity and toxicity encircle a workplace and fester, creating a slow cultural destruction.

It only takes one toxic employee in the workplace to destabilise overall efficiency, lower morale and undermine management.

The toxic employee is often negative about the work environment, engages in gossip, stirs up opinion, constantly complains, or blames and back-stabs others.

They actively engage in hallway talk and create doubt about the performance of co-workers or management.

They distract co-workers through gossip and drama and cause them to choose sides in ongoing animosity.  This insidious behaviour translates into lost productivity and a drop in workplace morale.

How does an employee become toxic?  Is it simply poor recruitment?

The old adage that ‘people are hired for their talents and fired for their behaviour’ is true.

Toxic employees often sell themselves well at interview.   They keep to well rehearsed lines about achievements, key outcomes, and promotions in current or former roles.   They present as positive, likeable and friendly candidates – someone you might enjoy working with.

Before you hire, get hard evidence from others.  The influence of reference checks has been greatly diminished over recent years, but this should not be the case.  If a referee is asked questions specifically about a candidate’s workplace behaviour and attitude, they have an obligation to provide a true response to such questions.

They can only provide such information in response to specific questions, but if a question is posed they are obliged to respond frankly and truthfully.

What happens when existing employees become toxic?


The toxic employee may have been employed by the organisation for some time.  They may even have been promoted due to their competency – commencing their employment with a positive work focus but becoming disengaged over time either through a lack of challenge, or perhaps organisational change.

Or, an employee may have slipped through the probation period recognised as being something of a work to rules, complaining type, but not causing undue problems – with the toxic behaviour becoming more evident over time.

If toxic behaviour is allowed to escalate it will result in workplace division, gossip, innuendo – and downtime.

How should toxic employees be managed?

Even if a Manager is aware of toxic behaviour in an employee, they may avoid dealing with it because:

  • They are too busy dealing with more urgent matters;
  • They are uncomfortable confronting the behaviour directly; or
  • They lack the management skills to deal effectively with the behaviour.

Managing poor performance is time consuming, confronting, and generally makes managers downright uncomfortable.

However, not dealing with a toxic employment situation in a timely manner will create a high likelihood of ‘good’ employees resigning, with other negative factors impacting on staff such as increased workplace stress, burnout, and turnover – at high cost to the organisation.

Sit the employee down for a frank discussion.  Provide examples of negative behaviour, the affect it has on others, and provide feedback from co-workers about how the behaviour is affecting the team.

Follow up in writing with a summary of your discussion to ensure the employee is clear about expected behaviour, and provide a timeline within which you expect to see lasting change, as well as consequences for noncompliance.

Need more advice on how to detox your workplace?

Past behaviour repeats itself and the workplace situation will not improve until the toxic issues are resolved and a harmonious workplace restored.  As much as we might wish the problem would just go away,  the toxic behaviour will not right itself without effective management input.

We strongly advocate that:

  • Workplace policies are in place: your strongest guide to acceptable workplace behaviour
  • A measured performance management process, which incorporates workplace behaviour, is in place for use by all managers;
  • You protect your business with proven guidance from an established and impartial HR Consultant.

Contact us on 02 4353 4453 or   We’re here to provide you with workable solutions.

To be a step ahead, businesses need to understand the necessity to correctly handle workplace behaviour every step of the way.