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Want a better workplace? Detoxify!

<a href=" rThere’s nothing more insidious than a workplace that tolerates toxic attitudes and behaviors. If even one employee is allowed to speak ill about the company, clients, or coworkers, negativity can soon become the norm in the corporate culture. Over time, toxic people can bring down entire work teams and departments, derailing the company one nasty comment at a time.

The most common types of toxic people at work

If you want a better workplace, it’s time to scrub your company clean of toxic people. Watch out for these unpleasant people:

The Chronic Whiners: Every office has at least one of these toxic employees who spend most of their time complaining about everything from work hours to details of projects they don’t like. Many will vent on unsuspecting coworkers, hell-bent on making them as miserable as they are. These employees were loyal workers at one time, but then somewhere along the line a coworker or boss slighted them, or they didn’t get a raise (or two), and so now they love to carp about nearly everything all the time.

The Backstabbers: These folks relish talking trash about coworkers, especially when the coworkers aren’t there to defend themselves. Mostly, backstabbers are people who don’t quite feel up to par with their colleagues and are threatened by anyone they perceive as getting attention. Backstabbers will go out of their way to say negative things about other people and will stop at nothing to spread rumors and defame others.

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The Credit-Stealers: When a big project comes up or a deadline looms, these are the people you can count on to take credit for others’ hard work and ideas. They’ll present outstanding work as their own and later you’ll learn they really don’t have a clue how it got that way, because well … they actually didn’t do it! Credit-stealing people act like they’re interested in your ideas and plans, but as soon as they have the chance they’ll rob you of your efforts and make you look like a fool.

The Limelight’s: “Look at me!” should be the motto of every toxic employee who likes to grab attention. Limelights act immature or cutesy in the presence of people who fall for this nonsense, then spend the remainder of their time hanging out with backstabbers and bullies to get their way. Backstabbers seize every opportunity to take over meetings and other group events, and I” and “me” are abundant in their speech, so they’re easy to spot.

The Hero: In an emergency, Heroes seem to be great at making snap decisions and putting out so called fires. The truth is, they’re just bored employees who thrive in chaos and enjoy creating problems they can “solve” while showing off their superhero skills. Call their bluff, because they are melodramatic drains on the work environment.

The Informant: Think you can keep a secret from the boss? Think again. These “brown nosers” would stick by the boss’s side 24/7 if they could, all the while acting like the company sentinel. Sniffing out other employees who aren’t doing things as the Informants please is their main past time, and they’re often viewed as bullies and know-it-alls by colleagues. Their self-important attitudes do more damage than good. Informants cut down everyone else who has good ideas, and they ostracize or bad mouth anyone they view as offenders.

Four ways to deal with toxic people in your workplace now

Now that you’ve had an overview of the most toxic types of people in the workplace, it’s time to do some house cleaning. Here are some quick guidelines to get started.

#1. Educate employees about toxic work behaviors. As an employer, there’s a lot you can do to spread awareness of acceptable employee behaviors in your work environment. Host some training sessions relating to toxic workplaces, and provide employees with the tools to deal with these types of people, including your policy on respect for all.

#2. Don’t give toxic employees a platform. If there’s one thing toxic employees enjoy it’s the attention they get from their nasty behavior. Instead, refuse to give them a platform for spreading negative attitudes. When toxic employees start gossiping about their coworkers, stamp it out by letting them know the company doesn’t tolerate that kind of nonsense.

#3. Promote employees based on performance. Toxic employees often feel threatened by good performers, and they’ll do what they can to sabotage their work while making them look bad. Make your workplace about rewards for those who do their jobs well, come up with new and better ways of doing things, and respect their colleagues.

#4. Take complaints seriously and get rid of toxic people. Toxic employees are everywhere, and chances are you’ve got a few in your workplace right now. Keep a close eye on how your toxic employees effect your other workers. Keep them away from your high-performance staffers, and listen to employee complaints about negative behavior. Warn toxic people about the consequences of continuing along the path they’ve chosen, and don’t be afraid to terminate their employment. You’ll rid yourself of a headache and send a message to the other toxic employees at the same time.

If these methods seem challenging, they are. But in the end, reducing toxic behaviors and people from your ranks will help produce a more positive and productive workplace for all.

Tess C. Taylor
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TomSimon Casas Recent comment authors
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Don’t forget the toxic types who are very “under the covers”. They don’t trashtalk, they don’t backstab, they basically don’t do much at all. that includes work. They do as little as possible and still collect a paycheck. They aren’t doing anything poorly, but they take 8 hours to do perhaps 3 hours worth of work. Everyone around them sees it, and it cause a big sense of “why should I care when they let him/her work here?” These people never complain, don’t participate either, but over time they totally drain the life out of those around them. I think… Read more »

Simon Casas
Simon Casas

I agree with the four suggestions and with Carolynn comment. However, just fire them now. You’ll be glad you did.


This includes (though similarly but not specifically mentioned) those that demand their fellow employees listen to their own daily family drama/life problems in an attempt to garner sympathy, favors, and attention. While they “suck the life” out of their co-workers, there is a loss of production as the chronic complainer demands undivided attention. The longer this dynamic continues the more resentful co-workers become as they try to remain polite while becoming ever so exhausted by the relentless drama of one. Supervisors and Managers must address this appropriately otherwise a loss of staff -good hardworking ethical staff- is eminent.


Unfortunately, my employer is part of a larger government organization and is risk adverse to lawsuits. We have had toxic employees file erroneous OEO complaints and now have to walk on glass when reprimanding them because of the fear it can be viewed as retaliation. The private sector is probably better positioned to terminate toxic employees more quickly and effectively.


I think you have to make sure that you don’t violate employees’ rights to discuss working conditions. The NLRB has ruled that employees have a wide berth to complain about their employers. So I wouldn’t be too zealous in firing the whiners, complainers, chicken littles, etc. or else you may find yourself in front of the NLRB.


Thankfully where I work we deal swiftly with this type of behaviour. However, our first response is education. Often as humans, we are ignorant to how our behaviours affect those around us. So we let our employees know how their behaviour affects those around them and then set the bar for the type of behaviour that is expected from them. We then give them some time to adjust and make concrete their behaviour. If they then continue to behave in toxic ways, then we fire them and pay them out unless it is clearly a “for cause” situation. All in… Read more »

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