Toxic Employee Conundrum – Is your Hire Culture Right?

Tackling the demon of ‘negative social dynamics’ at workplace by understanding the workings of a Toxic Employee

A great place to work is largely defined by the productive people who bring value to organization with their commitment, integrity and quality.

While there are tons of studies and reports singing the praises of how an organization benefits from high performing employees, it is safe to admit that little has been said or done about employees who are labeled as “toxic”.

Fire the toxic worker or put him through an intervention plan to get their act together?

When it comes to dealing with employees who perpetuate negativity and cripple employee performance, the organization is left with two obvious choices – Fire the toxic worker or put him through an intervention plan to get their act together.

The strategies are more of reaction to the problem. However, the old adage of “Prevention is better than Cure” holds timeless appeal.

This is where companies can revisit their hire culture modus operandi to ensure they are nipping the problem in its bud.

Who can be categorized as a Toxic Employee?

Simply put toxic employee is someone who deteriorates organizational productivity by engaging in drama and infighting to increase their social power or divert attention from their performance shortfalls and misdeeds.

They cause a toxic work environment by resorting to unethical means, mean-spirited motivations and sometimes-illegal behavior to further their personal gains.

A toxic employee is marked by certain typical traits such as:

  • Plays blame-game and shrugs off responsibility
  • Sticks to minimal work with no extra input or involvement
  • Indulges in bullying and bickering
  • Sabotages work of others by spreading rumors, backstabbing, badmouthing or withholding information
  • Seems unhappy and cynical with the ways of organization
  • Takes meeting and important discussions off track
  • Pushes own work onto others and show no enthusiasm
  • Creates emotional scene on many occasions
  • Mistreat subordinates and those with less authoritative power
  • Complains, tells lies, gossips and makes excuses
  • Lacks initiative and is distracted most of the times
  • Doesn’t invest in self-growth and showcases “Know-It-All” attitude

Realigning Hire Culture to keep Toxic Employees at Bay

A toxic employee proves to be a heavy liability for organizational performance by adding to the burden of cost.

A recent research study done by Cornerstone OnDemand, which looked at a database of around 63,000 hired employees, reported exact cost of hiring a single toxic employee onto a team of 20 workers to the tune of $12,800.

This is huge sum as opposed to hiring a regular, non-toxic employee that costs an average of $4000.

Exact cost of hiring a single toxic employee onto a team of 20 workers to the tune of $12,800

The horror doesn’t end here.

The rippling effect of toxic coworkers causes 47% increase in the likelihood that a person will become toxic if they are in a group with a high density of toxic employees.

These alarming statistics are more than convincing for the companies to hire right with structured modules and standardized behavioral questions.

This will help to identify problematic candidates who go on to become the dreaded toxic workforce and spell doom for the organization.

How to fire an employee who is highly toxic?

Instead of investing time and energy in brooding over ‘How to fire an employee who is highly toxic?’ after recruiting them, the following list tries to sum up hiring tips that help to save on organizational resources.

1. Interview the candidate for job fit

It has been observed by many recruiters that employees occupying job roles that don’t do justice to their skills or talent are more likely to become toxic.

If during interview you feel the job would be taxing, frustrating or undermining for the individual, don’t hire.

Free time and under performance is later masked as uncivil behavior by the employee, who behave negatively as a defense mechanism.

2. Interview questions should throw light on civility

Ensure your interview is a good mix of behavioral questions and unexpected line of job history questions that takes the candidate off-guard.

Trying “Why shouldn’t I hire you?” or “What are the things you liked least about your past/current company?” will give more valuable insights into toxicity than using the rehearsed positive questions like “Why should I hire you?” or “Why are you thinking to switch your job?”

Some other questions include: “What would you change about your previous employer?” “What skill are you still missing?” “Tell me about a failure or a time you could have done better?”

3. Look for subtle signs of Incivility

The interview offers many occasions to know whether the candidate is a red flag for the organization.

While answering situational questions or describing roles handled in the past, if the individual perpetually poses as a victim, complaints, blames others or over emphasizes his righteousness and confidence, then these are enough indicators to steer clear of hiring them.

4. Do not underestimate the value of References and Job History

Apart from connecting with the references provided by the candidate, go a step further by locating some other people in the industry circle who might know the candidate personally or professionally.

Checking their LinkedIn or browsing their profile on other Social Media accounts like Facebook and Twitter may involve additional work but it would be worth the information gathered.

Toxicity and Insensitivity is hard to hide on social platforms.

Another effective way is to let the candidate discuss his employment history during the interview. The results might be surprising to say the least.

Toxicity and Insensitivity is hard to hide on social platforms

5. Go for a Collaborative Hiring Process

To avoid one-head bias, involve your team or cross-functional touch points to spend some time with the candidate and share their views on assessment.

It can be a formal face-to-face interview or some leisure time spent at the cafeteria over lunch or games, but it sure helps the candidate open up and reveal his true colors.

6. Pre-hire Assessment Tests help you spot toxic employees

Personality tests not only aid in identifying high performers and ideal candidates, but also delve astute information on toxic predisposition and attitude of potential hires.

Devoting some portion of the hiring process in carefully studying these reports helps make a wise call saving embarrassment and money to the company.

The toxic employee comes in various forms!

Attention seeker, fly on the wall, victim, rebel, rule-breaker, know-it-all, non-believer or energy dissipater –the toxic employee comes in various forms.

As Cornerstone OnDemand quotes it in its research report, “Toxic Behavior is contagious and it is indeed the case of one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch”.

It is up to the organization and hiring patrons to set the tone right from the word “Go” by having processes and systems that cut out negativity and nourish productivity.

RIP Toxicity!


Written By

Mitalee Chhatre

Mitalee, a true professional with over 5 years of corporate experience in Human Resources and Health Sector. Contributor on CakeHR where tracks the newest trends and practices of the work-life world.