Employees who behave badly can wreak havoc on a business. Questionable behavior can crush morale, grind productivity to a halt and create an unprofessional atmosphere.

According to a Harvard Business School study1, working with a toxic colleague had the following effects on employees:

  • Nearly 50% “decreased [their] work effort” and 38% “intentionally decreased” the quality of the work they produced
  • 25% took their frustrations out on customers
  • 12% quit their jobs

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to spot the signs of troublemakers and turn around their destructive tendencies. You can accomplish the above by following a few tips.

Recognize the Signs

Pinpointing “toxic” employees is not rocket science. They usually exhibit one or more of the following behaviors at work:

  • Their idle time outweighs their productive time
  • They blame others for mistakes or justify their own mistakes with flimsy excuses
  • They are negative all of the time about everything, from assignments to co-workers to management
  • They spread petty gossip among their co-workers
  • They do not get along well with others, whether that means being combative/argumentative, super nitpicky, or isolating themselves from the team
  • They have a history of being unable to hold onto jobs or they switch jobs frequently

Catch the Signs Early

When it comes to determining whether or not a potential employee or current employee is a bad apple, you need to take a proactive stance.

  • Vet job candidates by scheduling interviews with the teams they would join. While it may be common for HR or manager to do the interviewing, the team that will be interacting with a candidate is often a better judge of how a person may interact.  In some cases, someone on the team may know the candidate and have inside information that can be critical to the vetting process.  Alternately, if a team member and the candidate get off on the wrong foot it may be sign that trouble will be forthcoming should the candidate be hired.
  • Review their social media interactions to see how they interact with others and how they present themselves and identify trends they display in their behavior.
    For example, social media interactions can reveal quite a bit about someone’s mindset. If they tend to be argumentative, disrespectful and complain about everything, this is likely how they will be in the workplace.
  • Comb through their resume to see how long their average tenure has lasted at previous organizations. Call all previous employers, not just references.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about whether that person is eligible for rehire, or if the previous employer would hire him/her again.
  • As for current employees, talk to their supervisor to see if they are a team player and how well they follow directions, whether or not they finish projects in a timely manner and take constructive criticism. Do not question their co-workers, as this can come across as unprofessional and spur internal gossip. However, do look at employee evaluations. Sometimes notes from previous supervisors can provide insights that a current supervisor does not.

Build Corporate Culture Pillars

Providing a road map for the way employees should conduct themselves in the office gives them a professional, moral and ethical compass to guide them through their time at your company.

Setting corporate cultural standards is accomplished by taking actions such as minimizing gossip before it becomes widespread and discouraging future gossip, encouraging positivity by rewarding it, strengthening teams to form a stronger whole, establishing professional and personal goals to make employees feel empowered and heard and requiring managers to hold meetings with their employees to get their feedback and get to know them on a personal level.

Hear out Low Morale Employees

While it may be tempting to dismiss low morale employees and focus on your star players, doing so would be a grave mistake. A few negative employees can adversely affect their team or even the entire organization.

Instead, make an effort to hear out your low morale employees. Meet with them and pick their brain about the following:

  • Their reasons for joining the company and taking the job
  • The changes they have seen in the organization, their team, supervisor or their role since they started
  • Whether or not the reasons they wanted to work for the business are still important to them
    • If they answered “yes” to the previous question, find out what the employee feels is broken whether that is a belief they are undervalued, resentment about being overlooked for a promotion, a feeling of boredom, conflict with management or a team member, challenging of their performance from a new employee, customer burnout if they are on the front lines, a feeling of being overwhelmed by their responsibilities or a negative occurrence that happened to them.
    • If they answered “no” to the previous question, it may be time to end the relationship, demote them, decrease their responsibilities or transfer them to a different department
  • Whether or not they want to see changes made and their recommendations for making those changes

Make a Concerted Effort to Invest in Their Morale

Once you get feedback, it is critical to take steps to build troubled employees’ morale. Your efforts must be genuine; people can sense when someone is faking it. Mentor and coach them, but most importantly, lead by example.

Taking the following steps are an effective way to strengthen employee morale:

  • Provide resources such as books, videos and courses to empower them to take action to better themselves
  • Do not stop with the first meeting. Connect with employees on a regular basis to discuss challenges, adjust the strategies employed and reframe problems and solutions
  • Encourage employees consistently to show them you are in the corner and that they have your ongoing support
  • Acknowledge and reward positive behavior. The rewards do not have to be expensive; a little bit goes a long way in this area
  • Discuss behaviors they are exhibiting that do not honor the strategies you have formulated. This should be done in a non-confrontational, constructive manner

By following these tips, you will transform many of the most difficult employees into highly productive, hardworking, cooperative team players who drive the long-term success of your organization.

For more information about how Gavel International can help your organization through outsourced meeting planning, event and travel incentive programs, contact us



Eloisa Mendez