When I worked for a large remodeling company, we made the decision to go against the standards of the industry and hire full-time employees as installers. Most remodelers at the time used sub-contractors, which was often a dice throw; some days you found excellent workers and other days…not so much.

Hard Workers aren’t Always Great Employees

One our most proficient company installers wasn’t a good employee. He did excellent work, had good customer service skills, and completed jobs on time. Sounds like a perfect match, doesn’t it? There was one problem. He was toxic.

Who is the Toxic Employee?

Toxic teammates are employees that disrupt the organization. In the extreme this includes bullies, harassers, thieves or anyone who exposes the organization to liabilities. But it also encompasses anyone who undermines the culture, vision, or mission of the business. Look at the list below. It’s a simple visual of two attributes of employees—skills and attitudes. Of the four combinations, which has the potential of being most damaging to the organization?

SP – Skilled with Positive Attitude UP – Unskilled with Positive Attitude
SN – Skilled with a Negative Attitude UN – Unskilled with Negative Attitude


Did you choose unskilled negative attitude? It’s true a UN can be a problem. Educating a UN as to acceptable behavior, as well as skills training is critical. However, they’re not the biggest problem. The UN employee has little influence; co-workers don’t put much credence in his or her complaints. The skilled negative employee is the most dangerous because of who they influence. Teammates listen to them. When SN employees aren’t held accountable, they can destroy a team.

Don’t Ignore this Behavior  

Too often, the toxic employee is allowed to behave poorly because of their skills. Whenever leadership manages from a position of weakness, they lose. Excusing poor behavior due to the fear of losing an employee’s skills and production is a slippery slope. In the end, more production may be lost by allowing the toxic behavior. Toxic employees chase valuable teammates away; create a negative environment, which adversely affects production, and ultimately places pressure and stress on management.

One Bad Apple…

A business owner told me about a time while driving to work, that he nearly turned around and went home—he didn’t want to face the turmoil that was currently festering in his office. When he analyzed his emotions, he realized it was all centered on one toxic employee. Although she was skilled and efficient at her tasks, she constantly stirred up trouble. He let her go and learned a valuable lesson; sometimes character is more important than skills. Is your organization allowing troublemakers to thrive because of their skill sets? How does your organization handle toxic employees?