How to deal with a toxic employee

Negativity from a toxic employee is like a seed, once dropped it can grow and spread causing unease and dissatisfaction in a team quicker than poison, sucking out the productive juices of everyone in the environment and contributing nothing to the growth of the business.

Causing high staff turnover and low morale, toxic employees can be bad for business.

Colleagues dread working with them and customers dread communicating with them, so it’s no surprise that when their behaviour becomes detrimental to the business, it’s time to start taking some action.

Whilst we can all clearly see the effects of such staff members, recent research by Harvard Business School found that the annual cost of not hiring a toxic worker was around £8,573, which is the average expense of replacing workers who leave in response to a toxic colleague. Penny de Valk a Managing Director at HR frim Penna comments that “toxic workers can be manipulative, slippery characters that can find their behaviour acceptable”.


It’s the HR nightmare that all employers dread, and whilst you may personally be able to tolerate the toxic behaviour, you must never underestimate the impact it is having upon others.

Rather than hide your head in the sand and hope that it all goes away, these practical steps should encourage you to tackle the issue head on.


Many employers are quick to believe that’s it’s best to jump in with a hard authoritative meeting that will nip bad behaviour in the bud.

However, the old-fashioned command will work in the opposite way as many toxic employees may resist authority and feel vindicated by your actions.

Give them the chance to explain their behaviour and look at what is causing the negative feelings towards the company or to other colleagues.

If you can come to a solution and resolve the issue on a level ground, they will be far more cooperative and assist in meeting a resolution than if you had gone in all guns blazing.

The root of the problem may be causing ripples throughout the company, so identifying it early on could ensure that employees feel understood by senior members, easing frustrations and bringing back the balance.


Unfortunately, if a talk is not sufficient enough to change attitudes and behaviours, the next step is the process of going through rigorous steps that allow the employee to understand that if there are no changes they are at risk of being let go.

This is a step that no employer wishes to undergo, as unhappy employees can commonly claim unfair dismissal and the cost of recruiting is a significant business cost.

Most of those who are toxic are nonperformers for the business anyway and are probably ready to leave. No matter what type of person you are, consistently under-performing doesn’t make for happy employees.

Take the responsibility to address them about their role in the company and start the legal process of written warnings.

It’s not a case of big bad boss versus innocent employee, there should be plenty of room for communication and a clear guide to the expectations on where they failed to deliver.

“There’s a common misconception that it is impossible to sack staff, or that you have to follow a particular process, but the truth is quite different. As long as you have a combination of one of the five fair statutory reasons; conduct or behaviour, capability, redundancy, breach of statutory restriction or some other substantial reason such as a restructure” comments Luke Hutchings, Employment Lawyer at Taylor Rose.

Investigate the case fully with legal guidance to ensure the company is protected, but don’t feel as though you’re being cornered to keep the toxic employee.

If you’re concerned that you may accidentally hire a toxic employee without even realising it, then it may be best to look at your existing practices to ensure you avoid characters that may begin to harm the company’s reputation or even the environment of workers in the business.

Don’t rush recruitment, as this can lead to quick hires that may not fit in as well with the existing company culture, and set up schemes to recognise and reward those already in the business so that they feel valued.






As a freelance writer within the business and marketing sector, I’ve spent many years working alongside SME’s in an effort to grow and boost their business in the new digital age of marketing.