You Must Identify & Address these Employee Traits

You Must Identify & Address these Employee Traits

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, what differentiates one organisation from another is its human assets. The knowledge and skills of their human resources give one organisation an edge over another and are critical to the overall success of every company.

We know that happy, positive, and productive employees with high morale contribute immensely to a company’s success. However, on the flip side, negative employees can bring a company down and be destructive to the work environment or the organisational culture.

Unfortunately, negative or toxic employees are not rare. At some point in their career, everyone has come across workmates who have sucked the energy out of them and have negatively affected team morale, performance and have generally wreaked havoc until someone has taken corrective action against them.

However, it may be challenging to identify negative employee traits as they may not be overtly manifested.

So, let us look at some indicators that will help flag negative or toxic employee behaviour at the workplace.

Six Negative Employee Traits to Take Note Of

Negative employees normally don’t get any satisfaction from their jobs; they do not want to be at work and take their dissatisfaction out on their co-workers.

Here are some typical signs that may give you a clue whether your employee is negative or toxic.

1. Not sharing at meetings/being unresponsive 

Some employees lack the confidence or are sometimes shy to talk during meetings out of the fear that their ideas are not good enough. However, if you know that your employee is not the shy/unconfident type and is still not sharing during a meeting, perhaps the problem lies elsewhere.

Watch employees for a generally negative and hostile attitude and lack of enthusiasm, especially in a team environment. It is a reasonably good indicator that an employee is negative and not contributing to team efforts.

2. Letting the team down

Emergencies and unexpected events are part and parcel of life, and sometimes these events force employees to let down their team. However, when this becomes a pattern or deliberate behaviour, then it is a cause for concern. Employees who make it a habit of calling in sick during critical times, like an important meeting/ presentation/ event, are worth keeping an eye on.

Toxic employees can even intentionally sabotage their co-workers’ or their team’s efforts and make the company look bad.

3. Not keeping deadlines  

Missed deadlines are sometimes unavoidable. But when employees never care enough to meet deadlines or get the work done, it needs to be dealt with.

Watch out for employees who constantly blame somebody else, complain, play victim, shirk their work, and unashamedly refuse to carry out assigned tasks or obey rational orders. They will end up creating a hostile work culture and problems for everyone around them.

4. Inability to control anger

Anger is a natural emotion, and everyone feels it from time to time. However, when anger is not adequately controlled, it can manifest in destructive and unhealthy behaviours like temper tantrums, misbehaviour, disrespect for colleagues, bullying/harassing co-workers, or using harsh or demeaning language to criticise team members. Mutual respect is important, and no workplace should be dominated or controlled by angry or aggressive employees.

Watch out for a situation where employees have low morale and are too fearful of saying anything that could result in conflict.

5. Gossiping 

Gossiping at the workplace is unprofessional it is a waste of time and lowers productivity. Not only that. Gossiping about management and colleagues can spread malicious rumours, defame, and even ruin people’s reputations.

Although it is natural to have groups of employees who are friends and discuss the events at work, watch out for tight hostile cliques that contribute to an unhealthy culture, divides at the workplace, and an “us versus them” environment.

6. Time wasting

Although rare, you might come across employees who believe they get paid for just showing up at work. Their day is often spent chatting with friends online, browsing social media, shopping, etc. As a result, they can spend their whole day being unproductive. Such employees don’t value their role or contributions to the company and have no qualms about shamelessly wasting company time and getting paid for it.

These are employees to watch out for as this behaviour can be infectious when other employees soon realise they can get paid without working.

Why It Is Crucial to Deal With Negative/Toxic Employees

There are several reasons why negative employees have to be dealt with before the situation gets out of hand. Here are but a few:

  1. They hold their team and organisation back.
  2. They spread negativity, leading to reduced engagement and performance from those around them. Studies show that 66 per cent of employees said that their performance declined because of toxic colleagues.
  3. They drive away good talent and potential who do not want to put up with a toxic environment leaving the company with less talent. The same study showed that 78 per cent of surveyed employees said their commitment to the organisation declined in the face of toxic behaviour.
  4. They induce enormous but vastly underestimated and invisible costs to the company in the context of productivity, morale, and talent drain (cost of replacing talent that has left).


So, how should you deal with harmful/toxic employees? 

As a manager, you must deal with employees misbehaving as the effects can quickly spread and create a hostile work environment. It can also set a precedent for other employees to behave badly and not expect any consequences in return. However, by responding timely, you can get to the root of the problem before it gets out of hand.

1. Do your homework

First, try to find out what the problem is and how the employee’s bad behaviour affects everyone at work. An anonymous survey is a good way of doing this. It will encourage your staff to speak up. Show them that you are serious about dealing with the problem and care about being fair and consistent. Let them know that you are approachable.

2. Have a private discussion

Once you have all your facts in place, call the erring team member for a confidential discussion. Stick with the facts and examples that you have gathered by speaking to other employees. Hear what the person has to say for themselves. They may be reacting to behaviour from other team members. Be kind but firm when dealing with the employee and let them know how their behaviour affects other people around as well as their team’s performance.

3. Define acceptable behaviour 

You must set clear behavioural expectations for the employee- what is acceptable and what is not. Spell it out for them. By specifying the behaviour that you value and expect, you will be setting the standard to follow. Make sure that your employee agrees to behave acceptably.

4. Spell out the consequences

Let your employee know that you mean business by outlining the consequences if they do not comply with what has been agreed on. However, refrain from giving dire ultimatums as it could make the situation worse.

5. Cut ties 

If you have warned your employee multiple times and their negative behaviour continues, perhaps it is time to cut ties and move on. Besides, it may be more destructive if you keep the negative employee around and destroy the work culture for the rest of your team.


Communication and collaboration are what is required for every organisation to move forward. A work environment is a place where everyone should feel valued and supported.

So, although addressing negative or toxic employees can be an uncomfortable thing to do, destructive behaviour has to be dealt with before it is too late.

And now it is your turn. Has this article given you ideas on dealing with an employee’s toxic behaviour? Have you previously dealt with a toxic employee and have something to share? Leave us a comment. We would love to hear from you.


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