Fostering Excellence
Bringing out the best in each of us
Every organization has one, an employee who brings the team down and mires it in unnecessary problems. Toxic employees should not, however, be confused with run of the mill coworkers who are underproductive, annoying or add more drama than is necessary to the workplace.  The perfect coworker does not exist, and expecting a coworker to have absolutely no faults whatsoever is a tall order.

That said, toxic employees bring so much negativity to the table that the team is immeasurably worse for having them on the team. In these cases it would be better to be short one team member than to have this coworker present. What follows are some of the attributes of toxic employees, those behaviors that tear down teams:

Attributes of the Toxic Employee

Resistant to change – Change is a constant in any organization. Companies need to constantly shift and adapt to successfully compete in the modern market. Employees who resist change not only create unnecessary contention in the work place, they can cause teams to miss critical opportunities. While there should always be healthy debate in an office on ‘where’s and means,’ toxic employees resist change for its own sake, not for any coherent and well reasoned argument.

All complaints, no solutions – Toxic employees see the bad in everything; problems are everywhere and the ship is sinking. The organizational problems these employees cite may indeed exist, but the key difference between these and other employees is that they will offer no solutions and will criticize the solutions proffered by others. Their naysaying stalls initiatives, slows down change, and dampens morale.

Undercuts Coworkers – Gossip is a part of office culture, and it is likely to always be with us. This is not to say that gossip is acceptable, but toxic employees engage in a special kind of gossip. Their gossip tears coworkers down in ways designed to build themselves up. Character-sabotage with an eye to build oneself up by comparison is what is going on here. Instead of lifting themselves up, toxic coworkers tear down their associates.

Underproductive – Toxic employees are often unproductive (though not necessarily so), but for all the wrong reasons. Some folks simply are in the wrong position and need to find a better fit. Other underproductive folks are in need of training, or are learning a new position.  Unproductive toxic coworkers, on the other hand, are never productive, whatever the circumstances. They don’t seek training, and they underperform in whatever position they are in, because of who they are not because of any lack of ability. They bring down the team by not pulling their weight, in addition to the above behaviors.

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Leaders owe it to their teams to move these types of employees along as soon as possible. Coworkers who resist change, complain about problems while naysaying solutions, undercut their coworkers and underproduce destroy teams leaving them worse than if their position went unfilled. Enable your teams through the best possible hiring and by not tolerating these types of behaviors.

Michael Farr, PMP, is a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and founder of He is passionate about recognition and enabling professionals to motivate their organizations through recognizing their member’s excellence. When he is not slaying dragons with his kids, he can be found at @fosterxcellence on Twitter, @fosteringexcellence on Facebook, and @fosteringexcellen on Instagram.