Toxic workers can make their co-workers unhappy, frustrated, less productive and even reconsider their place of employment. Perhaps these toxic workers do great work, they meet their bottom lines and they’re always cheerful around their superiors. In these cases, they tend to be well liked by management. The challenge is that they may be unaware of the unhealthy influence these people are creating in the workplace. Here’s how human resources professionals can help.

Listen to Your Employees

You may not always know what’s going on around the office, but your employees do. Listen to your employees when they tell you about an employee who isn’t beneficial to the company. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • The gossip. This kind of employee becomes toxic when they’re mostly preoccupied with fun stories and gossiping rather than actually working. They also tend to be social butterflies and distracting to others.
  • The “yes” person. Although they don’t cause direct trouble, they tend to agree to new projects without taking initiative. If they don’t ask questions, this could probably be an indicator that they’re not willing to learn.
  • The procrastinator. Distractions happen, but when they become more frequent, problems can arise.  If your employee starts missing their deadlines or submitting subpar work, it needs to be talked about. Start giving them more details about what you expect and strict deadlines.
  • The excuse maker. When asked to do something, they won’t go above and beyond, but will instead say things such as, “That’s not my job.” They may have many absences, low energy and lack of motivation. You can watch and cure this behavior with unexpected visits and holding them accountable for their tasks.

  • The grump. This is the employee who complains about everything and is never satisfied. This behavior can spread and cause negativity amongst the whole team.

Toxic employees affect your entire team negatively. Listen to your employees when it’s brought to your attention, and be on close alert for this behavior so it can be addressed.

Don’t Hire Toxic People

Yes, this is much easier said than done. However, there are steps you can take in the interview process to weed out potentially toxic applicants. During the interview process, you have to constantly be on the lookout for any issues. Asking the candidate how they have previously managed a particular situation provides more valuable insight than hypothetical questions. It’s best to have a strategy before you go into any interview to ensure you get the best read on the applicant. Consider questions such as these:

  • What would your former co-workers say about you? Provide positive and negative examples.
  • What would your former employer say about you? Provide positive and negative examples.
  • What about yourself would you like to improve?
  • Talk about a stressful time at your previous job. How did you handle it?
  • What are some signals that you’re under too much stress?
  • When have you failed?
  • What are some examples of your ability to manage and supervise others?
  • What kind of people do you find it most difficult to work with?

In addition, take note if they were on time to the interview, how negatively they may speak of others and if they take responsibility for things that have happened in the past.

Another way to identify people who are not team players is to have candidates meet with team members. This can be done over lunch, when someone’s personality may emerge with ease and you can see how well they interact with others.

Follow up with every employee who encounters the candidate, not just those on her interview schedule. How did they treat your receptionist or anyone else they may have come in contact with? Does the candidate come across as kind and respectful? This may seem like you’re taking things too far, but it’s a good way to ensure you’re taking all of the necessary steps in hiring a superior employee.

Another step to take is to talk to the references provided by the applicant. Understanding how the candidate behaved in the past will help you assess whether they’ll be civil when they come to work for you. Ask their references for specific behavioral examples of the candidates’ characteristics, such as:

  • How did co-workers feel about working with them?
  • Are they comfortable working with different types of people?
  • Are they a team player?
  • How did they react to authority?
  • Would you rehire them?

Share the company’s values with the reference and ask them if the candidate meshes.

Repair or Replace

Toxic team members can’t be left to repair themselves. If their issues can be addressed and fixed in a short time frame, it is worth the effort. If not, plan to make the replacement quickly, as teams with negativity are more likely to fail. When you fail to deal with a toxic employee promptly, much is at stake. Here are a few reasons why:

  • You’ll lose trust. If you indulge negative behavior and allow it to continue, trust in management will wear thin quickly.
  • Motivation can decrease. When you reward negative behavior, you are telling your employees that hard work doesn’t lead to valued outcomes.
  • Core values will seem obsolete. All the groundwork you’ve laid concerning team values and commitment to those values, can evaporate quickly when damaging behaviors are allowed to continue.
  • Energy becomes non-existent. Team members can lose energy and focus, as the result of continually dealing with a toxic team member. Over time you may see lowered engagement.

By identifying and repairing or replacing toxic employees, you can keep your workplace a positive one.