6 Ways To Spot A Toxic Direct Report Before They Cause Problems

Toxic employees are bad for business. Do you know the signs to look for?

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Candace Alnaji118
The Mom at Law
April 17, 2024 at 9:33PM UTC

Every employer or manager wants to stop workplace problems before they arise. However, sometimes a problem isn’t obvious until it blows up in your face. Businesses work to hire and retain good people but sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, a bad hire comes on board. A direct report can be toxic for several reasons. Sometimes it's because their behavior is illegal, but other times it's simply be bad for business. 

Whether it’s poor communication skills, a hot temper or engaging in unlawful bullying and harassment, you need to know the signs. Here are six ways to spot a toxic direct report before they cause problems.

1. No one wants to work with them 

A major red flag that you’ve got a problem employee is that no one wants to work with them. Of course, there may be other reasons someone is cast as the office pariah, so you’ll want to do your due diligence to find out why. What makes this person so difficult to work with? Are they not a team player? Do they create conflict in group situations? Establishing the foundation of the problem will be key and will require some careful, neutral investigation. That said, be sure not to ignore workplace complaints that center on a single employee. While it may seem like petty office politics at first blush, there could be a real problem lurking within.

2. They’re overconfident.

Confidence is a desired trait in a business setting but overconfidence can be a real problem. An employee who can’t take responsibility for his or her actions may cause larger issues later. These workers are often self-centered, focusing only on how the workplace impacts them. As a result, they are highly unlikely to think about what’s best for the greater work environment, nor will they exercise care in their dealings with colleagues or clients.

3. They engage in gossip.

Even the best employees may sometimes participate in the office rumor mill. However, the wisest ones will always steer clear. Alternatively, toxic employees frequently engage in office gossip. In fact, they may be the original source of much of it. Gossip has many negative effects including reduced morale, higher rates of turnover, reduced productivity and potential liability for the employer. While certain conversations may seem harmless, it’s important to head-off all questionable discussions that could be deemed as gossip. Moreover, you’ll want to be on high alert for an employee known to spread rumors and backbite.

4. They fail to positively contribute.

We all have off days sometimes, but a toxic direct report will frequently be a source of negativity in the office. These employees drain the energy from every room they enter. During meetings, they interrupt, criticize and condescend. Their emails and verbal communications are often sarcastic, aggressive and hostile. Over time, these employees make the workplace much less enjoyable and businesses often lose good workers as a result.

5. They’re dishonest.

If you can’t trust someone to tell the truth, you can’t trust them with anything. Of course, it’s not always easy to know when someone is being dishonest, but if you have reason to believe there’s deceit afoot, you should take a deeper look to uncover the truth.

6. They exhibit unlawful bias.

Workplace discrimination is illegal, so anyone who exhibits signs of animus or bias against a certain protected class will spell very bad news. Managers should be aware of biased language and beliefs that signal a discriminatory mindset. Take complaints of workplace discrimination and harassment seriously, and work to eliminate sources of unlawful conduct. 

Bad workers aren’t just bad for business. They’re bad for everyone. Make sure you know the signs to protect your workplace.

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