The Collateral Damage of Toxic Teammates


You walk slowly up to the door of your business. Carefully opening the door, you try to quietly make your way to your office. Your bag gently settles onto your desk and you smoothly pull out your laptop. As you sit, your office chair makes a loud creaking noise and you wince; knowing you should have applied some WD40 the other day. You wishfully think maybe he didn’t hear it. But then you hear footsteps drawing closer and a shadow darkens the hallway just outside your office door. The acid in your stomach starts to churn.

He steps into the doorframe and you resign yourself to the inevitable. You’re going to have to talk to him.

He starts with the usual insult-meant-as-a-joke. You feign laughter. You pretend to care about his report of last night’s frivolities. Then he drops the news on you. He’s being promoted. You try and hide your clinched jaw by forcing the corners of your mouth upward.

“Good for you.” you say somehow without separating your teeth.

His mission completed, your antagonist takes a sip out of his coffee and makes a cliché remark about going back to the grindstone. You both know he’s doing online research for his upcoming fantasy draft. You are left dazed. Your mind swirls as you wonder how this decision came about. How did this guy, with less experience, less seniority, less tact, yet more abrasiveness and foolishness… how did HE get the promotion YOU were wanting?

We all know toxic individuals. We have experienced their difficult behavior and have daydreamed about how much easier our lives would be without them. In the workplace, toxic employees can be viewed as a necessary evil. Perhaps their negative actions are considered the unfortunate side affect of their ability to get results (AKA – the ends justify the means). Maybe they have a powerful ally who is protecting them from negative consequences. Maybe they’re just darn sneaky.

No matter how their presence is justified, these narcissists take their toll on others around them. There is collateral damage when we allow toxic employees to remain.

  1. Toxic employees destroy morale.
    As the saying goes, “A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise.” One toxic employee can infect their whole team (and possibly more). So, the productivity of one person doesn’t justify their caustic behavior. Their net effect may be creating a huge cultural deficit across a whole group of people.

    This Entreprenuer.com article points out, “Like a virus, toxic employees can subtly–or overtly–spread their counterproductive attitudes or actions that can negatively impact the workplace. Their harmful, contrarious and antagonistic attitudes and actions can easily spread to other employees who then begin to agree with and identify with the toxic individual.”

  2. Toxic employees make talented coworkers wonder if they belong elsewhere.
    By keeping toxic employees, you may be causing your talented workers to consider whether the organization’s values align with their own. They may begin to wonder if your organization values the healthy relational skills and teamwork mentality they bring to their job.
  3. Toxic employees deteriorate trust and respect.
    Speaking of teamwork, how can you work as a team if you don’t have trust and respect? Without these foundational virtues, your teams won’t be able to clearly communicate or trust one another with even simple tasks. Toxic employees create silos within even the smallest of teams. Information sharing grinds to a halt and delegation becomes very challenging

So, when you are tempted to let yet another grievance go unaddressed, or when you think nobody is being hurt by these toxic teammates; consider the collateral damage they truly leave in their wake.

What damaging behavior and collateral damage have you witnessed because of toxic employees?

Dustin Staiger is a business consultant and speaker in Houston, TX. He addresses team and individual effectiveness, communications, creativity and branding for global corporations as well as non-profits and start-ups.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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