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Don’t Let Toxic Employees Contaminate Your Team

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Don’t Let Toxic Employees Contaminate Your Team

If you’re like many managers, you may be reluctant to get involved in employee disputes. While that’s fine for minor arguments over the coffeepot or the shared refrigerator, some employees are truly toxic. A toxic employee can destroy teams, tank productivity, and even send top workers fleeing for a new environment. Here’s how to recognize toxic employees and how to stop them. 


Slackers are full of excuses for why their work is never done on time. They may arrive late and leave early, miss deadlines, and find ways to force others to do their share. Over time, slackers tend to build resentment in those who end up taking on their workload. 

To deal with a slacker, first, listen to his side of the story to see if there are any system-wide problems you need to address. Then set clear guidelines along with penalties for underperforming. Check-in periodically, both at established meetings and on a surprise basis, to make sure all milestones are being met. Offer assistance with overcoming obstacles, and reward the employee for meeting each goal. 


Volcanoes unexpectedly blow up at seemingly random times. Some volcanoes are yellers, while others cry uncontrollably. Either way, they’re over the top emotions can lead coworkers to walk on eggshells around them. If a volcano erupts in front of a customer, you could have huge problems. 

Deal with a volcano by directly addressing her behavior. Give examples of how it affects the workplace. Find out whether there are problems at home, and refer the employee to your company’s employee assistance program (EAP). If needed, involve HR in placing the employee on an improvement plan. 


Martyrs are an extreme version of top employees. They are willing to take on seemingly impossible projects and deadlines and are unafraid to work constantly. But top employees know when to say no, and they understand that they’re only at their best when they make time for self-care. Martyrs will run themselves into the ground, putting themselves at serious risk for burnout while making it tough for anyone else on staff to get any attention. 

To cope with a martyr, pay attention to how you’re distributing assignments. Don’t let the martyr sign up for everything. Also, gently insist that he use available vacation time and focus on work-life balance. Don’t answer messages from martyrs that come in after-hours unless it’s an extreme emergency. 


These aggressive employees are perhaps the easiest toxic workers to recognize. They’re experts at manipulation, taunting, and insults. They often work their way into positions of power if they are not stopped early on. 

Bullies must be stopped. Lesser bullying tactics such as talking derisively about a coworker should be called out publicly and shut down immediately. Higher-level bullying such as intimidation or yelling must be taken to HR right away. 

It’s rare to encounter employees who are so toxic that they can’t be coached. Make it clear to all workers that everyone will be held accountable for their behaviors, and then follow through. As soon as you see problem behaviors, take proactive steps to guide employees in the right direction. 

Is Your Team Dealing With Slackers?

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