Mention the term “toxic employee” and almost every manager will shudder as their mind conjures up an image of a specific employee, past or present.  Consider this as you read: it’s effectively managing these “troublesome” employees that justifies your paycheque; it’s easy to manage the positive and productive ones.


I began last week’s post with the words, “People are not born leaders — but every leader was born.” While researching this week’s post I came across a post of J. Maureen Henderson’s @GenerationMeh on Forbes, titled We’ve Created a Monster: Toxic Employees Aren’t Born, They’re Made.  Thanks for the segue, Maureen!

Jian GhomeshiHenderson focuses her exploration on “what happens when that bad apple is also your golden goose” and holds up a mirror for us to see the roles our broader and organizational cultures play in creating these people and keeping the dirt unswept and hidden under the rug. (Would anyone like to buy a letter Q?)

What I’d like to focus on is the employees whom many managers would think of as the typical, everyday, garden variety toxic employee.  So, I’m not talking about those situations that include illegal activity such as theft and sexual harassment, i.e. things that absolutely demand a formal process and strict applications of human resource policies.

I’m talking about those employees that managers see as just being a real pain in the

A member of the horse family. :)

… employees they recognize in flavours like those described by Reuben Yonatan @reubenyonatan:

 The Hot Mess

 The Slacker

 The Martyr

 The Socialite

 The Sociopath



4 Steps to Detoxifying Toxic Employees:


No matter which toxic flavour you’re dealing with, there are 4 steps you can follow to turn things around:

#1 – Change Your Mindset

#2 – Prepare for “The Conversation”

#3 – Have the “The Conversation”

#4 – Follow Up


Today’s post is going to expand on Step #1.


#1 – Change Your Mindset

A.  Extract head from sand.

"Maybe it will just go away ..."Let go of the idea that somehow this problem will go away by itself.  Dan Rockwell @Leadershipfreak echoes my belief here, in stating, “Leaders and organizations become toxic when they don’t deal with tough issues.”  Commit to stepping up and commit to making the situation better.

B.  Remove the label “toxic” from your employee.

"You cant' see me, can you?"This is a fixed belief that leaves no room or hope for change.  This isn’t about forgetting the person’s destructive behaviour, it’s about removing a road block to changing that behaviour.




C.  Engage your compassion.

"Nobody understands what I'm going through."It’s extremely doubtful that you have an employee who wakes up each day with the express intention of wreaking havoc at work. Most commonly, toxic behaviour is a symptom of emotional pain.  I’m not talking about being all “touchy-feely” just for the sake of it — this is pragmatic: problems that are rooted in emotional distress require empathy and compassion to address them effectively.  You have to decide to care about getting this person to a better frame of mind.


Changing your mindset like this is necessary before going into Step #2 – Preparing for “The Conversation”.  More on that later! 

Have a productive and enjoyable day.

— Brie

Share your thoughts and leave a comment:

  • What other shifts in mindset have you found helpful in effectively managing a toxic employee?
  • How important is this?

Part 2 of the series of posts on Leadership Education is still on the horizon!