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Do You Have a Toxic Employee Wreaking Havoc in Your Business?

Mike Kappel
at Patriot Software, LLC
Jan 29, 2020

When you have toxic employees, employee morale, your business's reputation, even your bottom line take a hit.

The workplace is a delicate balance. Your employees each have their personalities and behaviors that contribute to your overall company culture. 

And when you have a toxic employee, that toxicity can seep out and impact their co-workers and your business. 

Best-case scenario: A toxic attitude can put a damper on all things business success, including productivity, employee morale and even your employer brand. 

Worst-case scenario: An employee’s bad attitude can lead to drops in customers, a ruined business reputation, high employee turnover and lost money. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “No, this doesn’t relate to me. I do my homework when hiring someone.” Although that’s great (we all need to be doing our due diligence during the hiring process), things can change oh-so-quickly. Someone might put on their best face during the interview process but be a completely different person on the job. An employee might not even realize they’re being difficult to work with. Or they may grow comfortable at your business … too comfortable. 

Whatever the situation, dealing with a toxic employee is never easy. But for the sake of your business, you need to address it at some point. So here we go! 

The 7 types of toxic employees

Your employee may fall under one or more than one of the following categories of toxicity. Look for signs that might indicate you have one of these kinds of employees running rampant in your small business.

1. The bulldozer

For business success and growth, you need employees who are willing to come up with and defend their ideas. 

But you don’t need bulldozers.

Quite simply, bulldozers bulldoze their way through other peoples’ opinions and thoughts to get their way. They may interrupt their co-workers or constantly argue against what others say. Sometimes, bulldozers are loud. Sometimes they correct people using humor. 

Whatever the tactic may be, a bulldozer’s toxic traits may seep into your workplace. Keep an eye out for these top bulldozer traits:

  1. Aggressive
  2. “Strong personality”
  3. Always right
  4. Disruptive  

You may have employees who have bulldozer characteristics. If these traits sound familiar, there are several things you can do to help the situation. 

Meet regularly with employees so everyone feels like their ideas are heard. You may set up weekly one-on-ones to check in and nip problems in the bud. That way, your bulldozers and the people they bulldoze are equally heard. 

You may also consider gently talking to the employee with this type of personality to help them see what they’re doing. 

2. The passive-aggressive employee

A passive-aggressive individual is someone who doesn’t speak their mind when they’re upset. Instead, they indirectly show that they’re not happy about something. This can be very toxic for the workplace.

Imagine asking a co-worker to get something done. They’re unhappy with the task, but instead of telling you directly they make snippy remarks or procrastinate on doing the task. 

Here are a few quick facts about the passive-aggressive one:

  1. Avoids direct conflict
  2. Bitter or snarky 
  3. Backhanded comments 
  4. Puts off doing things they don’t agree with 

Someone who is a passive person may be more inclined to bottle their feelings and avoid taking action. When there’s conflict, they may get frustrated and display passive-aggressive behaviors. 

To help deal with this type of toxic characteristic, foster an environment of communication. Encourage your employees to express themselves. Give your workers plenty of opportunities to regularly talk with you (one-on-ones, suggestion boxes, etc.) to diffuse these types of situations. 

3. The complainer  

Ah, the complainer. You know the person – there’s always something wrong. They always have a burr in the saddle. You just want to grab them by the shoulders and say, “Lighten up!” (But that would be highly frowned upon.) 

So, instead, you let it go until the negativity builds and builds. But that building negativity has to go somewhere, and often it’s into the rest of your team and your company culture.  

Here are some signs that you’ve got a complainer on your hands:

  1. Negative
  2. “Woe is me”
  3. Never happy
  4. Nothing can go right  

To deal with the complainer, pay attention to their complaints. Maybe they always make negative comments about the same thing. If that’s the case, you may be able to talk to them and see if you can help (e.g., offer a flexible work schedule to help an employee who complains about their work-life balance).  

If a complainer just has a negative attitude about anything and everything, you may want to address it with them. Or you can talk to a group of employees about the importance of positivity in the workplace so they don’t feel like you’re singling them out.

4. The knowledge hoarder 

The desire for job security can be a dangerous thing. Employees who want to secure their jobs may decide to keep processes and business-related knowledge to themselves. 

But successful businesses thrive on the flow of open communication, shared knowledge and collaboration. 

A knowledge hoarder isn’t just detrimental to your team’s morale –they’re a liability to your company’s success. What happens if they leave? Where does all that hoarded information go? 

Here are some undeniable indicators of a knowledge hoarder:

  1. Anti-team players 
  2. Have independent processes 
  3. Attention-seeking
  4. Insecurities about work 

A workplace can’t run when you have at least one person hoarding knowledge and refusing to work on a team. To root out this problem, create a knowledge base and require all employees to share and manage documents (and other things within it). 

Another way you can discourage knowledge-hoarding actions is by rewarding those who don’t hoard knowledge. Praise employees or offer bonuses to employees who share information with others or help train new hires. 

5. The prideful one 

Do you have an employee who thinks they know it all? A prideful employee is easy to spot. Like the bulldozer, they are “always right.” And if they’re wrong, they’re slow to admit it. 

I look for employees who are hungry, humble and smart, as described in the book The Ideal Team Player. Not ones who are blase and prideful. Humble. 

Pride can be a dangerous thing. As an entrepreneur, I try to stay humble and set a good example for my co-workers. Likewise, I look for leaders who exemplify humility. 

Here are some prideful employee red flags:

  1. Slow to apologize
  2. Quick to brag
  3. Always right
  4. Unresponsive to criticism 

As I said, I think it’s important for leaders to set a good example of humility. Another way you can help humble your prideful co-worker is by lifting up the employees who possess humility. 

6. The gossip   

Your employees likely enjoy talking with their fellow co-workers. Maybe they talk about work or their personal lives. 

Or maybe they’re dishing about other employees, your business’s status or even you. 

Gossip is often an unfortunate but inevitable part of the workplace. People like to talk. And those talks can often turn personal and pump life into the rumor mill. Gossip can bring resentment, expose personal affairs and cause frustration. 

Here are some signs of a gossiper: 

  1. Always whispering 
  2. Seems uncomfortable around certain people 
  3. Talks about others to you 
  4. Two-faced 

You can’t prevent gossip. But again, you can set a good example by not partaking in it. And you can try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to your business so you can beat employees to the punch.

We have a monthly newsletter that gives employees the lowdown on what’s happening at my company, Patriot Software. That way, my co-workers know that I’m upfront with them, and they can be upfront with me.  

7. The underperformer 

Your employees’ performance probably fluctuates depending on their strengths and weaknesses, mood and what else is going on at work. But if you have a perpetual underperformer, you have a toxic employee. 

And you know what else it means? Your other employees have to pick up the slack. Your employees don’t want that. Not to mention, your business can’t handle that long term. 

In a nutshell, these are the traits of an underperformer: 

  1. Disengaged with their work
  2. Fails to meet goals
  3. Constantly needs others to pick up the slack  
  4. Makes excuses 

To get the underperformer up to par, you may need to meet with them to find out why they are falling short. You might also decide to put them on a performance improvement plan to encourage a better work ethic. 

Image Credit:

Traimak Ivan / Getty Images

Mike Kappel
I'm founder and CEO of Patriot Software, LLC. I have over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience across five startups. I started Patriot Software in the basement of a factory and grew it into a multi-million dollar company that serves small businesses all across the United States. I know what small business owners and entrepreneurs face because I've faced it myself.