10 common toxic workplace behaviors and how to prevent them

by Vaishali Badgujar
toxic workplace behaviors

Want to learn about toxic workplace behaviors?

Humans express a lot through their behavior than with words. However, as it varies from person to person, human behavior can often be difficult to comprehend.

While you don’t need a psychology degree to understand human behavior, you sure need some guidance when it comes to analyzing your employees’ behavior. 

So when do you flag their behavior as ‘toxic’? 

In this article, we’ll cover what toxic workplace behavior is and highlight ten toxic workplace behaviors. We’ll also provide a few tips to help prevent each type of toxic behavior.

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What Is Toxic Workplace Behavior?

10 Toxic Workplace Behaviors And How To Prevent Them

Let’s get started.

What is toxic workplace behavior?

Toxic workplace behavior is any kind of behavior exhibited by an employee or the management that negatively impacts the work culture. 

It includes activities like workplace bullying, mistreatment, gossiping, incivility, and regularly missing work.

And when left unchecked, these behaviors can lead to adverse effects such as:

  • Low morale
  • Unproductivity
  • Workplace stress
  • Burnout
  • Poor work-life balance
  • High turnover

So it’s important to monitor employee behavior regularly to prevent instances of toxic behavior that can harm workplace harmony.

10 common toxic workplace behaviors and how to prevent them

Here’s a detailed look at ten common toxic workplace behaviors and measures to prevent them:

1. Aggressiveness

Aggressiveness can refer to both verbal and physical aggression. 

Verbally bullying a co-worker or assaulting them is both an example of workplace aggression.

Usually, the aggressor might be struggling with a few personal issues, which would cause them to lash out at their coworkers. 

These issues could include:

  • Low self-worth.
  • Poor mental health.
  • Lack of attention.
  • Jealousy or malice towards a co worker.

Additionally, aggressiveness can be classified into two categories:

  • Overt or active: when the aggressor intentionally attacks their target.
  • Covert or passive: when the aggressor conceals their intentions and participates in activities to indirectly attack the target. 

Regardless of the method, the motive remains the same — to harm, disrupt, or create a hostile workplace for the target. 

How to prevent aggressiveness in the workplace

Here are a few measures you can use to curb bullying behavior:

  • Before hiring an employee, screen them based on behavior tests and weigh the results to see if they’re a good fit.
  • Set workplace aggression policies to take action accordingly during instances of violence.
  • Set up training sessions for employees to deal with their anger issues in a healthy way. 

This way, you will not only be able to avoid hostile situations but also be able to tackle them with ease.

2. Gossiping

Water cooler conversations are fun. 

Whether it’s regular office gossip or informal conversations within cliques, they help relieve workplace stress and strengthen the bond among employees.

However, some employees might be the target of office gossip and rumors. Gossiping shouldn’t come at the cost of your co-worker’s feelings.

Additionally, office gossip can waste a lot of time and hinder productivity. 

Here are a few more effects of negative gossiping in the workplace:

  • Mistrust among employees.
  • Distracted employees.
  • Baseless rumors.

All of which leads to tension between employees, stress, and missed deadlines — which can create a toxic work environment.

How to prevent gossiping in the workplace

The reality is you can’t stop people from talking to each other.

But what you can do is give your employees the time to interact during lunch hours or after-work parties to share their thoughts and blow off some steam.

This way, they’ll limit their conversations to those free hours and concentrate on their task during the work hours.

3. Absenteeism

Employee absenteeism is the frequent absence of an employee from work. This is usually habitual and doesn’t include the authorized leaves or paid time off.

This toxic culture affects both the employees and the employer.


Frequently absent team members lose their reputation as diligent employees and also receive a pay cut for missing work. Additionally, their absence contributes to an increasing workload for other employees — which can in turn increase workplace stress.

On the other hand, employers need to bear additional labor costs for covering up the lost productivity due to the missed work hours of absentees.

How to prevent absenteeism in the workplace

The ideal prevention measure for this toxic behaviour is to have flexible work hours

This allows your employees to structure their schedules in order to prioritize work while accommodating other personal activities — striking a better work-life balance in the process.

You can also conduct surveys to gain insight into the reasons for their absenteeism and brainstorm towards a solution.

For example, if a toxic manager is absent because of personal life responsibilities, they can ask their supervisor permission to work from home for a certain number of days in a week or a month.


4. Narcissism

A narcissistic toxic worker is usually a great performer but doesn’t believe in teamwork.

Their main motive is to look good and be seen as the best, even if it’s at the cost of their teammate’s efforts.

A narcissist prefers to work independently, constantly demotivate their co-workers, and keep interfering in other employee’s projects.

A few common characteristics of a narcissist are:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-worth.
  • Constant need for attention.
  • Takes advantage of others to further their own ends.
  • Lacks empathy.

Additionally, narcissistic employees have the habit of stealing credits for their team member’s work. They present someone else’s ideas as their own to receive appreciation from everyone. 

How to prevent narcissism in the workplace

Narcissists don’t like to be criticized, and when stuck in such situations, they tend to overreact. You can use this opportunity to talk to them and understand their point of view. 

Once you’ve heard them out and made your evaluation, help them identify their weaknesses and strengthen their emotional intelligence. 

You can also encourage them to seek help from their teammates to make up for their personal shortcomings — promoting teamwork.

5. Passiveness

Passive employees agree to everything they’ve been asked to do and don’t cause direct trouble.

However, this can be bad in the long run as they’re likely disengaged and are unable to think for themselves.

Such toxic employees put minimum effort and do only what’s expected of them and wait for further instructions instead of taking their own initiative.

For example, if they’re in a meeting, they’ll agree to all the ideas proposed and never provide their input or ask questions about it. This shows that they aren’t keen on learning.

How to prevent passiveness in the workplace

You can adopt some active measures, like:

  • Present yourself as a leader rather than giving them orders.
  • Ask passive employees to speak up during team meetings.
  • Address problems with empathy so that more passive employees try to open up.

Such small initiatives can increase employee engagement and push them in the right direction. This way, it becomes a healthy workplace for everyone.

6. Disorganization

A person’s shoes usually speak a lot about their personality.

Similarly, things like a messy work desk or mismanaged calendar say a lot about an employee.

But how does an individual’s organizational skill negatively impact the company culture?

Disorganization causes delays.

Employees with poor organizational skills frequently juggle with deadlines, keeping their managers waiting on them. This wait time can slow down the progress of a project — creating stress for everyone involved.

How to prevent disorganization in the workplace

Proper work and time management is the answer to this toxic behaviour. But like every process, it takes time to improve organizational skills.

You need to show a little patience and support disorganized employees by:

  • Ensuring that your employees stick to the work schedule.
  • Breaking down their tasks into smaller subtasks.
  • Explaining the benefits of an efficient organization. 

This support can encourage your employees to become more organized and understand the value of time.

7. Procrastination 

At some point, everyone has postponed their work for the next day.

Workplace procrastinators do it all the time.

They have a bad habit of delaying work or delegating it to someone else.

How do procrastinators spend their office hours?

They can be busy scrolling through their social media feed, watching Netflix, or shopping online, instead of concentrating on their job.

Much like the absentee employee, a chronic procrastinator doesn’t contribute much to the project — which can result in missed deadlines and subsequent stress.

How to prevent procrastination in the workplace

To prevent this toxic behavior, you can use employee productivity management tools like Time Doctor to accurately track the work hours of each employee. 

This way, you can see how much time an employee has taken to complete each task. 

And if the time taken is relatively high for a handful of tasks, you can help your employees manage their work hours, improving their productivity.

Additionally, you can use Time Doctor’s productivity ratings feature to categorize a website or an application as productive, unproductive, neutral, or unrated. 

This provides a more accurate measure of productivity as you can simply see if your employees are spending time on productive apps or unproductive ones.

8. Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a gender-neutral offense that involves unwelcome sexual behavior, inappropriate sexual remarks, or requests for sexual favors. 

The harasser and the victim can be anyone — a team member, subordinate, supervisor, or manager. 

There are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace culture:

  • Quid pro quo: exchange of sexual services for professional favors. 
  • Hostile work environment: physical or verbal harassment that creates an unpleasant environment for the victim.

How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Silencing the victim or firing the harasser is not the answer to any sexual harassment incident.

You need to follow proper measures to overcome this toxic work culture, such as: 

  • Raising awareness about workplace harassment.
  • Setting sexual harassment policies like the zero-tolerance policy.
  • Dealing with related complaints on priority.
  • Appointing a dedicated human resource or panel to review allegations.

These should help you create a healthy work environment where people of all gender, race, age group, ethnicity (in short: everyone) can work safely and peacefully.

making excuses

9. Making excuses

Employees that exhibit this toxic behavior are always looking for ways to avoid responsibility. 

From feeling under the weather to being stuck in traffic, a toxic employee with ready-made excuses can bring down the productivity and morale of your company. 

While they show potential, they are simply not reliable when it comes to work and consistency. 

Unlike procrastinators who finish their tasks eventually, excuse makers try to avoid it altogether. This can mean they aren’t engaged at work or simply lack motivation.

How to prevent making excuses in the workplace

You can deal with excuse-makers by:

  • Scheduling unplanned review meetings.
  • Asking for weekly reports.
  • Confront or approach them directly.
  • Give them warnings about their declining performance.

And if all the above measures are exhausted, you should hold them accountable for their tasks and projects. This will create a sense of responsibility in them, forcing them to take their work seriously.

10. Pessimism

While it’s okay to have the Monday blues, some employees are constantly upset in the workplace.

Such a toxic co worker complains about everything all the time, whether there’s a solid reason behind it or not — from the broken vending machine to the slow response time of their computer systems. 

They aren’t satisfied with anything and have a negative attitude about everything, creating a hostile environment for the whole team.

How to prevent pessimism in workplace

Whether it’s constantly listening to their complaints or negative remarks, managing a toxic person can be time-consuming and exhausting. 

You can prevent this bad behavior by showing a pessimist how to transform negative feedback into constructive criticism. 

For example, you can help them see that instead of complaining about the shortcomings in the corporate culture, they can focus on ways of improving it. 

Final thoughts

Toxic behavior exhibited by anyone within an organization can form a toxic workplace culture.

And with everyone working remotely because of the COVID pandemic, picking the signs of a toxic workplace can be challenging. 

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards a healthy workplace environment. Use the tips mentioned here to prevent toxic behavior and create a friendly environment for everyone in your team!

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