4 min read

Positive Ways to Deal with Toxic Employees

By Ryan Eudy on Jun 14, 2016 2:11:57 PM

Topics: Leadership
ej4 Blog - Positive Ways to Deal with Toxic Employees

We all have workplace habits that could themselves use a little work. Sometimes though, bad habits combined with bad attitudes can create a toxic combination that spills over and affects whole teams.

There are many toxic behaviors that may be present in your workplace, but it’s important to consider looking out for the unproductive behaviors such as: 


Disorganized individuals are easy to identify - they’re often running late, missing deadlines, or arriving to meetings unprepared. While occasional bouts of disorganization happen to everyone, the disorganized employee never seems to “pull up” and get out of their chaotic funk.

What’s the antidote? Many people become disorganized when the demands of their job begin to overwhelm their ability to keep track of everything; training can go a long way to remedy this. Sometimes a few organization tips and tools are all that is needed to get them on their feet. Pair this training with frequent check-ins and offers of support. If the problem persists, consider removing some assignments or having someone assist them with their workload. 


An employee promises to do X, Y, and Z but never seems to come through on those promises, even when those activities are mission critical. Unreliability can often stem from disorganization, but it’s much more: while disorganized employees often mean well and make excuses for their disorganization, unreliable employees don’t even flag that there is a problem. They simply don’t deliver.

What’s the antidote? As a manager, you need to figure out if the unreliability stems from a personal problem, a work problem, or simply a lack of care. If it’s a problem at work or home, you can take supportive steps. Also explain to the employee that, while work hiccups happen, the team needs to know so that appropriate alternatives can be explored. If none of that works, you have a “lack of care” case on your hands, and it might be time for the employee to move on.


Human beings are naturally suspicious of change. We don’t like disruptions in our routine or our social connections and we fear the unknown. In some employees this natural resistance to change becomes an ingrained habit, so much so that they become speedbumps to any meaningful improvement (or even discussions about improvement).

What’s the antidote? Resistance needs to be understood and dealt with in a formal manner if change is to happen at all. Many times resistance happens because an employee has been burned by changes in the past and so is skeptical about any new initiatives. Be honest about the benefits of any changes, and what makes the current plans better over failed past attempts at change. Listen to their concerns. Finally, give them an “out”: a chance to come talk to you if the change does not seem to be working out. Simply feeling like there is an escape hatch can help the resistant employee feel comfortable getting on board with something new.


Yes, it’s nice to be social with your coworkers. But when socialization turns into gossip and office drama, it can put big dent in productivity.

What’s the antidote? Gossip and other “pro-social” issues usually stem from immaturity, hidden concerns about being liked, or both. You can use this to your advantage: praise them when they do good work in an appropriate manner, and redirect them when they get too chatty or too involved in office politics. Most people will start getting the hint. You might also want to consider training in communication skills.


We've all had an employee that just can’t get motivated to do the important things. Sometimes this employee is open about it; they are the ones you’ll catch playing Angry Birds on their tablets or constantly checking their fantasy football stats. Other times, this employee is stealthy and clever about it (which is why they are not lazy, per se). They’ll find ways to avoid assignments and shirk responsibility, and when they do work, they work at a painfully slow pace.

The antidote: Laziness is a lack of engagement par excellence. You might need to revisit your company’s programs and practices for employee engagement to see what’s missing. Also try approaching the employee directly: sometimes, slothful behaviors stem from unclear expectations or hidden resentments.That said, if your slothful employee is being tricky or deceitful in their work dodging, it might be a sign that they need to move on and consider a career path they would enjoy more fully.


Negativity is a topic we explored recently on this blog, and it’s a big concern in some organizations. Negativity, if it goes on for too long, can sap your company morale and drain away your productivity. It also provides fertile grounds for some of the other toxic behaviors on this list, like disorganization, gossip, and sloth.

The antidote: Take a peek at our blog post about negativity, which lays out 7 tips for managing negativity in the workplace. Following those steps will help you to root out negativity before it begins infecting others.

An important thing to remember is that toxic employees often have good qualities, too… otherwise, they wouldn’t be hired to begin with. Unproductive and antisocial behaviors typically rear their head only when employees are frustrated, scared, slighted, or just plain stressed. Luckily, this means that good managers can do something about them, usually through a combination of changing the work environment and dealing with those behaviors head-on.

If you would like to find out more about managing employee behaviors, start a trial of Thinkzoom so you can check out our video courses on topics like change management, managing negativity, organization, and more.


Ryan Eudy

Written by Ryan Eudy

Since joining ej4 in 2005, Ryan has operated in every facet of the business. It is this experience that Ryan utilizes to manage ej4’s daily operations. Ryan offers innovative solutions and has a unique understanding of matching client needs with the right performance improvement tools to change targeted behaviors.

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