Man walking and trying to talk to his boss

Top 4 Traits of Toxic Employees and How to Respond to Them?

Unfortunately for us, we all have colleagues or employees that do not always contribute healthily to our teams. It might be easy to dismiss some of these toxic behaviours by just accepting that “it is just who they are”.


Toxic employees scolding other at work


However, ignorance towards negative traits or toxic personalities would create a hostile working environment. Moreover, it could also drive good talent away. As such, here are the top four red flags or traits of toxic employees, and how to address them.


1. Gossiping 

Conversations with confidential information should never leave its four walls. However, if you realize that a colleague tends to spread rumours or fails to be discreet with information, it needs to be addressed. There’s a difference between confiding in people they trust (especially when stressed) and spreading ungrounded lies or private information about others.


A group of employees discussing together


In fact, serious groundless accusations can be considered defamation – even if it’s a passing statement made online, action can be taken against you. Furthermore, if a person tends to tattletale, they are deemed untrustworthy with clients’ confidential information.


Gossips can be very damaging to workplace relationships – either between peers or with managers, subordinates, or clients. When relationships are damaged, the lack of trust makes it difficult to be productive and efficient as it creates an awkward and tense environment. 


2. Making Excuses

I learnt from a very early stage of my career that it’s easier to just admit the mistake, apologize, learn from it and move on. There’s no use making excuses or trying to cover it up when you know for a fact that you have made a mistake.


Woman frustrated staff at work


People who refuse to admit their mistakes, or choose to blame others (such as their juniors) for their blunders, tend to be emotionally immature. This also suggests that they struggle to accept honest feedback and would refuse to improve themselves. Such attitudes, especially amongst seniors, make it difficult for the company or tasks to progress.


3. Gaslighting

According to Medical News Today, “gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.”


For example, an employee was meant to finish reading a report but failed to do so. Instead of admitting that he didn’t complete the reading, he attributes the blame to a junior by saying that the important facts were omitted from the report. As a junior, they dare not stand up for themselves and just accept the blame. As a result, the junior feels a lack of confidence towards their own work.


These toxic personalities refuse to own up to their mistakes. The will go the extra mile to manipulate others into thinking that they are the ones at fault. This behaviour is extremely dangerous, as it causes anxiety upon others.


4. Victim Mindset  

On the contrary, there are also employees that are very “inside their own heads” and fail to see things from other perspectives. They expect the world to revolve around them. They throw tantrums when people don’t submit to them or pay attention to their needs. It is not about challenging the status quo, victim mentalities have fundamentally negative perceptions that cripples work productivity. 


Girl angry at work to complete task with her colleagues


According to Healthline, there are three key beliefs of those with victim mentalities:

    1. They believe that bad things happen and will keep happening (specifically to them)
    2. Victims believe that other people or external circumstances are to blame for these “bad things”
    3. They genuinely believe that any efforts to create change will fail, so they don’t even bother trying


Beyond a fixed mindset, they have a negative outlook on life or work that constantly hinders their performance. 



How to Respond to Toxic Traits 

1. If you are a manager 

Your employees may not realize that any of these behaviours have negative impacts; as such, educate them and give them a chance. Give clear examples of their speech or actions that are unhealthy. If you are vague with your examples, they can easily deny it; or they wouldn’t know which specific behaviours to correct.


Both woman talking about work


For example, explain to them that gossiping causes unnecessary distrust amongst the team and affects productivity. Also, make the consequences or repercussions clear. Such as making it known that if they continue to show these behaviours, it would affect their chances at a promotion or bonus.

2. If you are a colleague

Try to address it as a peer or friend. Do remember that when you raise your concerns, they should never be personal. However, do so objectively. It might be difficult to confront them, but they need to know that you do not support their behaviours.


If they continue to be in denial – or even get mad at you for the feedback – you can choose to step away from any of these negative conversations.


woman manager talking to her two employees


For example, just excuse yourself from the conversation politely. For example, “I understand that this is important to you, but I think this is information I do not need purview to”. When you have the opportunity to do so, raise it to your management with clear examples and request guidance.


3. If you think you are portraying any of these negative behaviours 

Don’t worry, there is always room for improvement. Pay attention to your own behaviours and intentions. Then, commit to correcting them. Pause and think:

    • Does this person actually need to know? (or are you just gossiping?)
    • What are your intentions?
    • Why do you feel the need to make excuses? (what are you trying to cover up?)
    • Why is it hard to admit your wrongdoings or weaknesses?
    • Why do you feel the need to push others down in order to rise up?
    • How can you shift away from a victim mindset and begin adopting a growth mindset?


You can also develop an accountability partner, this can be a manager or a peer. Try asking them to point out these negative behaviours or remind them to improve themselves.


4. If it’s a senior

It’s the trickiest when the person portraying these toxic traits is a senior – you might not have the authority to speak up or are afraid of social repercussions. However, if you have genuinely tried persevering and still struggle, then there is no reason to put up with it.


Man walking and trying to talk to his boss


If you have addressed a matter objectively just to be given a personal response (such as your personality or emotions being attacked), escalate the issue to a manager to mediate if needed. Alternatively, you can also report it to Human Resources and have them launch an investigation.




We watch in dramas and movies that bullies should never be tolerated, and it is no different in the workplace too. Together, by improving ourselves and urging our colleagues to do the same. We can create environments that are healthy for our development. This in turn will allow the company to grow. 


For further reading on workplace tips and advice, check out this article on Essential Tips To Ease The Process Of Working In Teams and 5 Lessons I Learned From Working With A Bad Boss.

Change Management Consultant by day, writer by other parts of the day - because at night I sleep. Being funny is my self-proclaimed strength and I enjoy talking about politics, social issues and faith.

Post a Comment

Close Bitnami banner