Toxic Employees: Some Are Like Atomic Waste and Never Go Away

by Michael Haberman on July 2, 2008 · 7 comments

Toxic employees. We have all had them or have them now. They serve as a constant reminder of our mistakes. Mistakes? What mistakes you ask? Here are the mistakes you have made to get that toxic employee and the reason you still have them. Here is how you got them in the first place:
  1. You did not clearly understand what you needed in a new employee.
  2. You did not clearly understand your corporate culture.
  3. You allowed time pressure to outweigh your common sense.
  4. You did a rotten job of interviewing because you did not know what you were looking for.
  5. You “sold” in the interview instead of “asking.”
  6. You got “wowed” by a school, a degree, a title, a company.
  7. You did not do your due diligence and do a thorough background check.

Here is why you still have them:

  1. When you realized they were “bad news” you did nothing about it, hoping they would get better.
  2. You did not measure their performance.
  3. You did not document their poor performance.
  4. You did not act to stop their “bad mouthing” the boss/other employees/the company/etc.
  5. You ran scared because they were (in no particular order): over 40, female, black, asian, hispanic, pregnant, Islamic, Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, diabled, etc.

So to avoid toxic employees avoid hiring them in the first place. If you have one act on doing something right away. Otherwise if they stay they poison everyone. And sometimes even when you do get rid of them they keep coming back and back and back. They threaten lawsuits, they file lawsuits, they harass you and other employees, they “bad mouth” your company, they steal your employees and generally make life miserable for you in anyway they can. They end up costing money, time and energy.

So get some backbone, make good decisions and don’t procrastinate. Just a thought. What can you add to this discussion? Other tips or reasons I missed?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Wally Bock July 2, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

Wally Bock


Jackie Cameron July 3, 2008 at 4:58 am

Oh this is so good Michael – especially #1 on why organisations still have them. I am sure most of us have had the misfortune of working with a toxic employee …and their poison can be infectious!
If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment though – maybe your toxic employee is crying out for help. It might be worth a wee bit of effort.
Call to action – do something (positive or negative) about toxic employees today!


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 3, 2008 at 9:54 am

Thanks Wally. Your praise is greatly appreciated.

Jackie, indeed there may be a call for help there. That is why issues need to be addressed right away. You might be able to turn someone around. However, if you decide that the person is not going to change then you need to get them to move on before they cause anymore destruction.


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