Yes, one toxic employee can ruin a team. When I worked for a large remodeling company, we decided to go against the industry’s standards and hire full-time employees as installers. Most remodelers at the time used sub-contractors, which was often a dice throw; some days, you found excellent workers, and other days…not so much.

Skilled Workers Aren’t Always Great Employees

One of our most proficient company installers wasn’t a good employee. He did excellent work, had good customer service skills, and completed jobs on time. It sounds like a perfect match, doesn’t it? There was one problem. He was toxic. He constantly complained about the work, policies, and company culture. His poison brought other employees down.

Who is the Most Toxic Employee?

Toxic teammates are employees that disrupt the organization. In the extreme, this includes bullies, harassers, thieves, or anyone who exposes the organization to liabilities. But it also encompasses anyone who undermines the culture, vision, or mission of the business. Look at the list below. Of the four combinations, which has the potential of being most damaging to the organization?

SP – Skilled with Positive Attitude

UP – Unskilled with Positive Attitude

SN – Skilled with a Negative Attitude

UN – Unskilled with Negative Attitude

Did you choose unskilled negative attitude? A UN can indeed be a problem. Educating a UN as to acceptable behavior, as well as skills training, is critical. However, they’re not the biggest problem. The UN employee has little influence; co-workers don’t put much credence in their complaints. The skilled negative employee is the most dangerous because of who they influence. Teammates listen to them. When SN employees aren’t held accountable, they can destroy a team.

Don’t Ignore this Behavior 

Too often, the toxic employee is allowed to behave poorly because of their skills. Whenever leadership manages from a position of weakness, they lose. Excusing poor behavior due to the fear of losing an employee’s skills and production is a slippery slope. In the end, you may lose more output by allowing the toxic behavior. Toxic employees chase valuable teammates away, create a hostile environment, which adversely affects production, and ultimately places pressure and stress on management.

One Bad Apple

A business owner told me about a time while driving to work that he nearly turned around and went home—he didn’t want to face the turmoil currently festering in his office. When he analyzed his emotions, he realized it was all centered on one toxic employee. Although they were skilled and efficient at their tasks, they constantly stirred up trouble. He let them go and learned a valuable lesson; sometimes character is more important than skills. Is your organization allowing troublemakers to thrive because of their skill sets? How does your organization handle toxic employees?

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

Photo by Pablo Stanic on Unsplash