There’s that one person on your team — the bad apple who has nothing positive to say, riles up other team members, and makes work life miserable. If you can’t fire him, how do you respond to his behavior? What feedback do you give? How do you mitigate the damage he inflicts?
What the Experts Say
There’s a difference between a difficult employee and a toxic one, says Dylan Minor, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management who studies this topic. “I call them toxic because not only do they cause harm but they also spread their behavior to others,” she explains. “There’s a pattern of de-energizing, frustrating or putting down teammates,” adds Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown and the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace. “It’s not just that Joe is rude. The whole team suffers because of it.” Of course, your first step as a manager should be to avoid hiring toxic people in the first place, but once they’re on your team, it can be hard to get rid of them. “Oftentimes the behavior doesn’t run against anything legal so you can’t fire them if others in the organization don’t agree that a line has been crossed,” Porath explains. Here’s what to do instead.