get rid of that bad apple employee

What to do With an Employee Who is Toxic but Productive

December 14, 2023

I recently sat down with a leader who asked a fantastic, difficult question:

"We’re incredibly busy and can’t afford to lose anyone, but we have someone who's a bad apple and is ruining our culture. What do we do?" 

One of her employees was complaining, gossiping, and negatively impacting her company’s culture, but he was getting work done. This leader was adamant that she simply couldn’t afford to lose anyone due to the current workload.

“Either he leaves, or your other employees start leaving,” I said. 


Why You Must Let Go of Toxic Employees

If you have a team member who won’t improve and clearly needs to go, every day you delay taking action is a risk.

Yes, even if he or she is an effective, exceptional producer. The damage this person is doing and will do far outweighs the benefits you're receiving from his or her employment.  

One of the biggest travesties in business is when a bad team member causes a good team member to leave. It's a lesson I learned the hard way. 

 "It's much easier to stop drama and gossip before they start than after." 


As as a young leader I hired a number of people who were a poor fit for our culture. Thus, we had to eventually let quite a few toxic people go.

This was difficult, but I’ve never regretted it once. In fact, after the bad apple left and the dust settled, I always found myself wishing I had taken action sooner. Somehow, the work continued to get done, and we were able to hire someone who was a much better fit for the role. 

Why Your Company's Culture Can't Survive That Toxic Team Member

The most impactful thing you can do to influence your workplace culture is add a new employee to it. The values, personality and work ethic of each employee has an incredible impact on the quality of your comany's culture.

Drama and gossip are very contagious. It's much easier to stop drama and gossip before they start than after.

These prevalent office poisons do more to hinder health, relationships and productivity than anything else in business today. Imagine how joyful and productive your team could be if they were fully free of the shackles of these toxins.

In his book, An Everyone Culture, Robert Kegan explains that in most organizations, each employee is doing two jobs. The first is the public job they're actually paid to do. The second is a very private, unpaid job they do in secret: hiding their individual limitations and weaknesses, watching their backs and combating gossip. Imagine how much more productive and happy employees would be if they didn’t have to worry about that second job. 

Don't allow someone who dwells in drama and spreads gossip to infect the rest of your team. 

A Good Leader Lets Go of Toxic Employees - Even When it's Difficult 

According to entrepenuer Vivek Wadhwa, "Business executives need to start by spelling out and communicating their values. Then they need to lead by example. This means getting rid of the bad apples and declining opportunities that bring instant wealth at the cost of selling one's soul."

If you're a leader, be bold, take action, defend your culture, and retain valuable team members.

You should communicate your expectations to the toxic employee and work with him or her to chart a course of improvement. 

But at some point, it may become obvious this person won't or can't change. 

Remove the bad apple. You won’t regret it.