back to blog

How to Handle a Toxic Employee

austin executive recruiters

Many employees lift others up, while some bring their colleagues down. The latter is a group of toxic employees. They may be slackers, bullies, gossipers, or have any number of negative traits, and their impact can be more significant than you think.

One Harvard Business School study found that a single toxic worker can cost a company about $12,000 a year. In comparison, the study found that hiring a superstar employee (defined as the top 1% of workers when it comes to productivity) adds $5,000 to a company’s profits. So it takes more than two superstar employees to make up for one toxic employee. Another fascinating study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found negative behavior is contagious and can spread across an organization as easily as the common cold.

Toxic job candidates can fly under the radar. It’s essential, however, to be aware of the signs so your hiring victory doesn’t quickly turn into a critical mistake. Pre-employment personality and behavior tests can help, as can asking the right questions. Consider these seven interview questions that can help uncover toxic clues like complaining about or blaming others, a lack of passion for the job, or not being able to recognize one’s own faults.

No one is perfect. So while you may screen for toxic behavior, you may still end up with someone on your staff with redeeming qualities that seemed to surpass their negative ones. But then the signs start appearing and, soon, the writing is on the wall. Perhaps the employee could benefit from HR support, mentoring, performance reviews, or another corrective measure. But don’t dwell on these actions if they don’t lead to quick results. The best time to let go of a toxic employee is a soon as you realize their behavior is poisoning the workplace.


The HT Group fills roles in Temporary Staffing, Executive Search, Technical Recruiting, and Retained Search.

And be sure to connect with us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter for up-to-date news and tips and let us know what’s on your mind.