8 signs of toxic people

In any team there are people with a destructive aura: they spoil the mood of those around them, discuss colleagues and disrupt work processes. And sometimes they even show aggression. Such people are called toxic – and for good reason. They really “poison” the team.

Collected 8 signs that you work with a toxic colleague. How to recognize and disarm? And what to do if the toxic person is yourself?

How do toxic employees affect a company

In 2015, Dylan Minor, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Michael Hausman, chief analytics officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, researched the negative impact of toxic employees on a company. They examined 11 companies, 2,882 work groups and 58,542 employees.

It turned out that there are toxic people and “superstars” on every team. Superstars are the 1% of the most productive employees: they are so helpful that without them, the company would have to hire additional people to achieve the same level of productivity.

Dylan Major and Michael Hausman calculated that per year, the most productive team member makes the company $5,000 profit, while one toxic one makes a $12,500 loss.

In fact, the costs associated with hiring a toxic employee are twice as high as the benefits of hiring the most stellar employee.

Studies have also shown that:

  • Employees who interact with toxic coworkers perform worse.
  • Nearly half leave work early to avoid interacting with an unpleasant coworker.
  • 38% don’t work at their best because they fear criticism from toxic coworkers.
  • 25% of employees admitted that a bad work environment affects their communication with clients: conflicts arise because of it.
  • 12% quit their jobs because of toxic colleagues.

Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, wrote a book called “Don’t Work With Assholes. In it he explains that it’s important to distinguish between people you just don’t like and really toxic people.

We are all “temporary assholes” sometimes: when we are just not in the mood / have problems at work / have a bad day. But you have to stay away from “certified assholes,” people with a permanently negative influence.

How to recognize toxic people

Toxic behavior can manifest itself in different ways: someone criticizes everyone, someone – demands too much, and someone is constantly complaining. Toxic people can be divided into 8 types.

A man-saboteur

Constantly dissatisfied with something: tasks, clients, wages, management and colleagues. He criticizes all ideas, even without analyzing anything, and the rules are not written for him. The saboteur will never be the company’s “advocate. Everything he says about his place of work is a complete negative.


Workaholics are used to being in work mode 24/7: staying late in the office in the evenings, completing tasks on weekends and even on vacation. And are sure to shame other colleagues who leave the office at the end of the day.


Such people feel that they are undervalued, treated rudely and generally unfair by everyone around them. Victims constantly complain about their health and make excuses for personal inefficiency. They are bad team players.

Gossip Girl

Gossip and intrigue are their habitat. They know all the news, and the ones they don’t know will make up their own. Gossipers love to provoke conflict, deceive and manipulate. They are often the ones who climb the career ladder faster than others.


Constantly prying into their affairs with unnecessary advice – after all, he knows better than anyone else how to do it right. He creates around himself an image of the most important and valuable employee in the company, although this is not true. Usually these are the people who have been with the company the longest, have already stopped growing professionally, but still think that they are more important than others.


Usually such employees are too demanding to their colleagues, constantly correcting everyone and giving feedback even when no one asked for it. They downplay the merits of others and often complain to management about teammates. And for them, personal boundaries do not exist, so they will be criticized not only the professional achievements of colleagues, but also their appearance, personal stories, close people.


Constantly evades tasks, doesn’t hand over work before deadlines, is engaged in personal affairs or just sits around the office. The smarter slackers have learned to delegate their tasks to others. This gives the impression that they are working, when in fact they are not.

The Aggressor

Some express hostility in a passive-aggressive way: implicit insults, manipulation, insults. And some are directly insulting, raise their voice, and make their colleagues feel overwhelmed.

How to work with toxic people

If you’re HR.

Understand the real motivation of the person who wants to work for you. Ask open-ended questions and observe not only what the person says, but also how they do it.

Non-verbal signs will tell you a lot about whether he is being honest. For example, a person who is telling the truth will sit in an open posture, their emotions will be natural. If the job seeker is afraid to look you in the eye, sits quietly, assumes closed postures (crossing his arms and legs) – perhaps he is lying.

Study his previous experience: how often he changed jobs, what recommendations were given by previous employers. Scroll through social media – so you can understand how he interacts with other people.

Observe him during his probationary period: how he communicates with colleagues, how quickly he adapts to the team, what position he takes and how he reacts to criticism. Toxic communication will be noticeable from the outside.

If you are a supervisor

Understand that the negative influence of a toxic person negates the merits of good workers. And even if an employee seems productive, does a lot of work and always does it well, his negative influence on the atmosphere in the team prevents others from working to their full potential. Such employees should be got rid of.

If you are a colleague

Establish personal boundaries: show how you can communicate with you and how you can’t, what topics can be discussed and what topics are forbidden. Fight back if the critic violates them, say you’re not willing to listen to whining if you work with the Victim, and tell the Gossip Girl that you are not interested in talking about your colleagues in the smoking room.

Ask for support. A toxic person will often provoke you into unpleasant emotions. If you have someone to share them with, their negative influence will decrease. Try to control yourself. If the toxic colleague fails to lead you to emotion, he will calm down after several attempts and choose another object of influence.

Keep the conversation going – that way you won’t allow the toxic colleague to manipulate you.