Small Company, Big Problem: How to Manage Toxic Employees

Negativity breeds more negativity. The actions of toxic employees have a detrimental effect on the entire workplace, and this is especially true in smaller organizations that may not now how to manage them. The more intimate the workplace, the faster negative interpersonal issues can spread. Workplace conflicts and decreased office morale can disrupt productivity, alienate workers and have a catastrophic effect on your employee retention efforts.

How do you stop one bad apple from spoiling the bunch? Here are some typical types of toxic employees and options for how to manage them effectively.

Toxic employees 1: Gossipmongers

These workers spread fear and uncertainty by spouting (often untrue) hearsay about the future of the company. The key to curbing office rumors is direct, honest and frequent communication. Instill trust in your team by sharing what news you can — both good and bad — in a timely fashion. Doing so will help quell concerns and insecurities. Also give workers tips for avoiding office gossip, such as walking away from corrosive conversations.

Toxic employees 2: Big bullies

Some toxic employees repeatedly put down others by verbally intimidating or humiliating them. While you don’t want to give leeway to bullies, termination may not be a possibility. So what can you do? First, consider whether you’re giving too much power to the bully. If so, curb it immediately. Next, hold confidential meetings with all victims and witnesses. Gather written documentation of the bullying behavior should you decide to escalate the problem later with human resources. Give a verbal warning in private to the bully and let him or her know you’re watching and expecting behavioral changes.

Toxic employees 3: Saboteurs extraordinaires

Is someone trying to gain an advantage by obstructing their coworkers? After documenting any disruptive behavior that you and your other employees witness, schedule a one-on-one conversation with the individual. Also, consider your own unintentional but potential role in the conflict. Is the toxic employee working the system or bringing down colleagues because he or she is struggling to meet impossible deadlines or juggling a heavy workload that you’ve imposed? Reexamining your expectations and your employees’ capabilities may help alleviate the problem.

Toxic employees 4: Spotlight stealers

These toxic employees pull double-duty: They take the credit from others and hoard the limelight during team projects. Hold a private meeting with the individual to discuss the difference between “collaboration” and “idea theft.” Sometimes self-absorbed employees just need a direct and honest intervention followed by self-assessment. Some light humor will serve you well when dealing with a glory-hogger.

To thwart future problems, let your teams know that your door is always open and they can rely on you for support and discretion. Give them tips on how best to cultivate workplace connections. Also, take a look in the mirror: Do you communicate well, and are you as considerate and approachable as you could be? The best way to keep a bad apple from spoiling the bunch is to lead by example.

More management tips

A supportive, focused and professional work culture leads to productive, excited teams that drive company success. See our work culture and training articles.