Toxic Employees: Colleagues Advocate Confrontation, While Companies Perceived as Too Tolerant

Coworker Negativity “Extremely Debilitating” to Team Morale, According to 78 Percent of Employees


Employees and management are at odds on how to best handle toxic employees according to a recently released survey conducted by Fierce, Inc., leadership development and training experts. Sixty-two percent of employees opt to confront toxic coworkers, yet 78 percent claim their organizations are “extremely” to “somewhat tolerant” of colleagues with negative attitudes. The survey consists of responses from more than 1,000 executives and employees in multiple fields, including healthcare, retail, manufacturing, education, and financial services.

Despite differences in how individual employees and organizations handle toxic employees, there is clear agreement on the havoc a toxic employee can wreak on an organization. An overwhelming 78 percent of respondents cite a negative attitude – identified as the key trait of a toxic employee – as “extremely debilitating” to team morale. Employee negativity trumps gossiping, laziness, and passive-aggressiveness as the most detrimental trait a coworker can exhibit. The poor attitudes of coworkers impact the workplace in distinct ways:

  • Decreased morale – cited by 48 percent of survey respondents,
  • Decrease productivity – cited by 27 percent of survey respondents,
  • Increase in stress – 17 percent,
  • Increased distractions – 8 percent.

Other survey findings include:

  • 33 percent of employees believe a colleague with an overly negative attitude should be fired,
  • 63 percent say a special skill or talent “infrequently” outweighs the impact of a coworker’s negativity,
  • 30 percent argue with coworkers once a month,
  • 55 percent feel that a negative supervisor, peer, and employee are all equally detrimental to the morale of an organization.

“Negativity leads to reduced productivity and engagement, and allowing it to fester is much more costly and damaging to an organization’s bottom line than confronting or possibly replacing a single toxic employee,” said Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce, Inc. “Organizations must foster employee- and company-level accountability by addressing attitudinal issues as soon as they arise.”

Here are three communication tips Fierce recommends for preventing negative attitudes at the office, and for handling someone who has become a “toxic employee:”

Promote accountability: Fostering an environment of personal accountability encourages employees to take responsibility for their outcomes, both positive and negative. It is important to actively seek out opinions and give employees a voice on important decisions affecting the company. It also allows them to understand the context and how they contribute to the well being and overall success of the organization.

Offer 365-degree feedback: Don’t let more than 48 hours go by when an issue arises. Address an employee’s negative attitude before it gets worse, in a short and sweet manner. Don’t forget to offer positive feedback as well – a 2012 Globoforce Motivation Worldwide study found that 81 percent of employees claimed recognition made them more satisfied with their work. Appreciation can motivate and inspire employees, enriching relationships, and building a positive workplace culture with no room for negative attitudes.

Confront them: When employees don’t have a sense of personal accountability and offering feedback hasn’t improved the situation, it is important to confront the issue head-on. To start, name the problem, and then give specific examples. Indicate the desire to resolve the matter and invite the employee to respond. Ask questions to peel back the layers of the issue.

While survey respondents despise negative attitudes at work, a redeeming coworker quality is honesty, with 28 percent of employees considering it to be the most important quality in a colleague. And, with the majority of employees opting to confront toxic employees, candor seems to be the foundation for a positive, engaged workplace. In fact, a 2010 study by the Corporate Executive Board found that companies that encouraged honest feedback delivered a 10-year total shareholder return that was 270 percent more than other companies. Honesty isn’t just the best way to handle toxic employees, it also results in a happy work environment and makes companies more successful and more profitable.

About Fierce

Fierce, Inc. is an award-winning leadership development and training company that drives results for business and education by improving workplace communication. Fierce creates authentic, energizing, and rewarding connections with colleagues and customers through skillful conversations that lead to successful outcomes and measurable ROI. Tailored to any organization, Fierce principles and methods translate across the globe, ensure individual and collective success, and develop skills that are practical, easy-to-learn and can be applied immediately. Fierce’s programs have been successfully implemented at blue-chip companies, non-profits, and educational organizations worldwide, including Ernst & Young, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, CARE, and Crate & Barrel. Fierce has received numerous industry and business accolades. The company has been honored as an Inc. 500|5000 company four times, has been named to Seattle Business magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in Washington list three years in a row, and in 2011 was named to’s “Companies to Watch” list.

Fierce, Inc.
Ray Vincenzo, 206-290-4431

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