Toxic Employee Warning Signs and Solutions

A toxic employee can harm a team and a company. As a result, this can lead to a toxic workplace. It can take months to recover from hiring a toxic employee.

Here are a few warning signs of a toxic employee.

Backbiting and Gossiping

Backbiting is never a good thing.  Most importantly, be particularly careful when an employee gossips about someone you mutually dislike. Simply put, it’s not professional.

In fact, when employees backbite and gossip, there’s a strong chance they will do the same to you in the future.

Therefore, when an employee gossips, you should take that as a warning sign of a toxic employee.


Firstly, it’s important to develop a team that has strong moral standards and respect for each other. To do this, develop trust by being transparent with employees.  In fact, employees will always feel comfortable to speak to leaders and coworkers they can trust.

With a team like this, a toxic employee will not be able to impact the environment. Rather, the team will positively influence the employee and make them more professional.

They Say They Are Not Being Paid Enough

In most cases, employees grow in their position.  Therefore, most organizations have annual reviews in place to provide salary increases based on performance.

For toxic employees, this is not good enough. Therefore, they will go to websites that estimate salaries and find organizations that might pay more for the same role.

Afterwards, they spread the information among their coworkers, creating a very toxic environment and an HR nightmare.


First, deal with this concern rationally. Always partner with HR when dealing with these situations.  Additionally, understand the national average for these positions.

Discuss the national averages with the employee. Kindly explain to them that there is a salary range for these positions. Entry-level will usually be on the lower end. However, with growth, an employee can attain the higher end of the salary.

Ask the employee what they think they should be paid. This way, you know what will make the employee happy and if it’s in your budget to compensate. For great employees, it may be worth paying them a bit more to retain talent.

The Complainers

There is constructive criticism and then there is complaining. Businesses have initiatives and they expect employees to assist the business in those initiatives.

A complainer will have something negative to say about those initiatives. On the other hand, providing constructive criticism allows the team to see warning signs before our customers do.

It’s uncommon for most complainers to outwardly express their position. For those that do, it’s a clear sign of a toxic employee.


Have a meeting with the employee. Try to understand the reasons for the complaints. In most cases, there is an underlying factor that’s creating these complaints.

Try to help employees find solutions to those factors and create an improvement plan to resolve the issue.

Emotionally Unstable

Let’s face it, we all have challenges in our professional and personal lives. Professionalism means that we manage these challenges in a mature way.

Some are extremely difficult to deal with, such as a death in the family. In this situation, many companies provide bereavement leave.

For most other cases, there’s an expectation of professionalism in dealing with personal challenges. Toxic employees may not be able to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, causing problems for others.


Have a meeting with the employee. Let them know about your concerns. Oftentimes, employees will open up and let you know what’s bothering them. If it seems that it is a serious matter, get HR involved.

Coworkers Don’t Like to Work With Them

This is an obvious red flag. When this happens, this can hurt the team and overall bottom line.


Initially, investigate why this is occurring. Ask coworkers to provide more information.

Above all, be sure to understand all sides before coming to a conclusion.

Customers or Clients Filed Complaints About Them

This one is worse than coworkers not wanting to work with them. In this case, you have customers or clients complaining. Unfortunately, this is a huge problem.


Thank the customer or client for their valued feedback. Next, follow up with the employee regarding some of the complaints. Afterwards, develop an improvement plan.

Finally, reach out to the customer and provide a general update to the resolution.

Excessive Excuses

Another warning sign of a toxic employee is when they are making excuses about taking ownership and responsibility. Unfortunately, this behavior can be contagious with the rest of the team.


In short, you need to be able to recognize this and help employees take ownership. Emphasize the topic of responsibility on the whole team.


It’s important to be able to recognize a toxic employee before they hurt the team and environment.

Having a strong recruitment process helps minimize this risk. Furthermore, an organization should assess the hiring process.

Additionally, managers need to keep employee logs to record all incidents. The employee logs should have details about what occurred. Always stick to the facts.

First, ask toxic employees on how to resolve these concerns. Basically, get feedback on how to improve the situation.

Next, develop an improvement plan that you both mutually agree on.

Finally, act upon the development plan and keep the employee updated on progress.

If you need help with recruiting and staffing, please visit our staffing page for more information.

Leave a Comment