Toxic employees spread their negativity to others just as a drop of ink will eventually fill a glass of water. They can disrupt the good work of other employees, drive up the rate of absenteeism and frustrate their teammates. When managers seek to address toxic workers, they aren't just dealing with individuals, but rather with the rippling effects their behavior has on the whole organization.
A systemic problem
Let's take the example of an employee who is generally rude in his interactions with others. Our hypothetical employee is never outright hostile, but he never displays patience with others and often snaps at people when things don't go his way. This negativity seeps into his coworkers. His fellow team members avoid interacting with him and they are often affected by his negative moods.
From a managerial standpoint, the problem isn't limited to just one worker. It has the potential to do harm across a department, which in turn can spiral out to other parts of the organization. From this level, it may not be easy to identify the source of the toxicity. Managers may notice the signs of negativity, but be unable to determine who is most responsible for it.
Harvard Business Review contributing editor Amy Gallo noted that managers may have to get into the trenches to determine the source of toxicity. When they identify the toxic worker(s), they can then take steps to address the behavior. In many cases, toxic workers don't even realize the effect they have on their peers. At that point, managers can help them correct harmful behaviors and make a plan for change.
Check out our infographic below for tips on identifying common types of toxic employees: