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Staffing 101: Is Your Employee Toxic?


Nobody wants toxic employees in their company. They bring others down, create an environment that is less productive, and ruin the overall company culture. The reason the term “toxic” is used is because their behavior, like a poison, spreads and negatively affects others. According to a study by Harvard Business School, “toxic workers induce others to be toxic.”

Here’s the unfortunate part, toxic workers are not always easy to identify. In fact, they may be some of your hardest workers. This is why it sometimes takes upper-management years to figure it out. If you have a feeling that one of your workers is harmful to your organization, don’t ignore that gut-feeling. Here are three subtle warning signs that you shouldn’t ignore.

Others Give Excuses to Avoid Working With Them

When people gather, whether it’s a social setting or work, it’s expected that not everyone will get along.  You’ve seen this over and over throughout the years in the business world, and this is normal. However, if a number of employees across different departments make excuses as to why they can’t work with a certain individual, it could be that this employee is toxic.

This doesn’t just go for employees. You should factor in how clients respond to these individuals, as well. Clients may repeatedly call asking to be connected to others within the organization, deliberately avoiding this person, too.

If it appears that people both inside and outside of the company are avoiding this individual, it could be that he or she is exhibiting toxic tendencies and they don’t want to deal with them.

People Clam up When Asked Directly About Working With Them

Sometimes you can just tell if there is something off about your employee, but you’re not sure if they fit into the category of toxic worker.  In order to learn more, you may directly ask other employees how they feel about working with them, but you may not get a direct response. However, in certain situations, an employee’s silence may also be very revealing.

If the person you are inquiring about is a manager, or has been with the company many years, the employee you are speaking with may not feel comfortable giving you their honest opinion. They may fear possible backlash, especially if they really believe that the employee in question is toxic.

If an employee gives you a short or vague answer, you could very well have a toxic employee on your hands. Consider this: if an employee was wonderful to work with, there would be no shortage of others singing their praise. A quick and or vague answer by others may suggest they fear this toxic person’s retaliation–especially if they have gotten away with their behavior for years.

They Don’t Share Important Information With Others

There are some people that work better alone. However, there are subtle differences in those wanting to work alone and those working alone because they don’t want to share information with others–even if it pertains to their department. For example, they could keep information about a change to an order until the very last minute to make another employee look bad or to be perceived as powerful.

Toxic people also don’t share details about their job, even if it’s required of them to cross-train others. They may only give others the highlights, leaving out important details, in order to make themselves look irreplaceable to upper management. Other employees end up looking incompetent because a toxic employee did not share necessary work-related information.


Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time to figure out if an employee is toxic or not. The clues can be less apparent in certain situations, and with certain individuals.

If you think that you may have a toxic employee on your hands, try to get to the bottom of it. Someone may be exhibiting negative characteristics because they are going through something in their personal lives. On the other hand, a truly toxic employee exhibits negative behavior consistently.

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you have to let someone go. Studies have shown that sometimes this may be the best option, and will be better for the business financially, even if this toxic employee was one of your perceived hardest workers.

Although you may be worried that training someone new will take time and effort, there are specialized staffing agencies that can handle all of the hard work. For more information, contact us.