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Handling an Employee Who is More than Just a Problem

Published 25 January 2017

Dealing with a’ toxic’ employee early on can prove beneficial in the long run but it is not always the easiest thing to do.

It could be that a long-serving, dynamic or assertive employee’s actions, behaviour and conduct are upsetting and unsettling colleagues or customers.

This type of behaviour can affect staff morale and have a detrimental impact on colleagues who may become less productive, take sick leave or resign.

Academics have coined the phrase’ toxic employee’ for a member of staff who are more than problematic, and research from the Harvard Business School has revealed that they can cost businesses tens of thousands of pounds a year. (1)

Researchers also provided tips on how to deal with a toxic employee. (2)

The term ‘toxic’ is used rather than difficult because the type of employee described by the study can not only cause harm, but their behaviour can spread to others. The research identified some personality traits of this type of employee, which include extreme confidence, being self-centred and productive.

The results produced by such individuals may be good for business but complaints, concerns and problems highlighted by colleagues cannot be ignored.

Raising and discussing such a matter with the person who a complaint is made against may not be the easiest thing for any line manager to do, but it cannot be avoided.

Acas has produced a guide titled challenging conversations and how to have them, which is intended to help employers stay in control in whatever situation they have to deal with. (3)

There may of course be situations where speaking with a ‘toxic’ employee is not enough, and further action is required because of the seriousness of a complaint.

An employer should investigate any complaints or personality clashes. If a formal grievance is raised ensure it is dealt with in a fair manner and without unreasonable delay. (4)

If the grievance establishes any type of misconduct then this can be dealt with in accordance with the disciplinary procedure.(5)


1. Housman M, Minor D. Toxic Workers. 2015 Oct 22 [cited 2017 Jan 25]; Available from:

2. Gallo A. How to Manage a Toxic Employee [Internet]. Harvard Business Review. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 25]. Available from:

3. The Cube 123 Albion Street. Challenging conversations and how to manage them | Acas [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2017 Jan 25]. Available from:

4. Handling an employee’s grievance - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from:

5. Taking disciplinary action against an employee - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 25]. Available from:

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