How Do You Know It's Time?

How Do You Know It’s Time?


By Mike Wood

Is it ever appropriate to fire a highly productive employee? The question itself might seem counterintuitive. Why would you ever want to let go of your best employee? It may or may not come as a surprise that a worker can be technically excellent at their job while also being a drain in other areas.

A great but toxic employee may bring in money, but they can also dampen the spirits of other employees. Because of that, their high-quality job performance might be outweighed by their negative attitude.

The bottom line is, a toxic employee can kill your business.

Should you fire a great but negative employee?

Gary Vaynerchuk, the millionaire chairman of communications company VaynerX and author of #AskGaryVee, certainly has an opinion on the matter. In regard to whether you should fire a toxic employee, he notes, “I don’t give a s—- if it’s your number one salesperson, your best f——— developer or your cofounder. Cancer spreads—and with cancer and politics, comes lack of speed.”

Vaynerchuk places a premium on workplace efficiency. In his view, pessimism and negativity interrupt the flow of the business, potentially causing you to lose money in the process.

In fact, a study published in the Harvard Business Review looked at the phenomenon of the “toxic worker” and their effect on the bottom line. The researchers found that keeping a productive employee around will save the business an average of $5,300. But, letting go of a toxic employee can save the company upwards of $12,000.

Identifying toxic workers

Clearly, removing toxic employees can improve both the company culture and its monetary worth. But, identifying those toxic employees isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It’s much easier to find issues in the behavior and personality of toxic employees who are underperforming. You can simply look at their productivity and realize that keeping their negative attitude around has no net positive effect.

It’s much harder to identify toxic red flags in employees who are over-performing (or at least producing up to your standards). After all, you can’t make the correlation between their negativity and their job performance. You may also be more willing to sweep their behavior under the rug because their numbers consistently look good.

The most obvious warning sign of toxic behavior in the workplace is a complete unwillingness to see the positive side of anything. Employees who complain every chance they get, shoot down any new ideas, and bring down the optimism of any meeting are guaranteed to be toxic. Indeed, if you can’t have a meeting without a certain employee chiming in with their pessimism or contrarian attitude, it may be time to take some action.

Toxicity can also present itself in other ways, including:

  • Constant worrying. Concern about a project or policy is fine. Openly worrying about every workplace issue can be contagious and lead to indecision and a slower work rate.
  • Lack of concern for others. If an employee is unconcerned when their behavior bothers a coworker or even a client, then they are assuredly not fostering the beneficial corporate culture you desire.
  • Generally being rude. Like anyone else, good employees can be bullies. Open disparagement of coworkers or passive-aggressiveness toward them can produce a hostile work environment.

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When to fire toxic employees

There are no hard and fast rules for firing toxic employees. In general, however, you probably want to bring your concerns to their attention before simply hauling off and dropping the axe. Employees who can exhibit a propensity for self-awareness and reflection are more likely to work on their toxicity.

Vaynerchuk suggests, “We are on the dawn of an era where emotional intelligence is about to become the single most important trade.” Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately identify your own emotions while approaching interpersonal communications with empathy and forethought.

Before you fire someone, it is good to sit them down and tell them that their behavior and attitude are negatively affecting the workplace environment. Their response to that criticism should determine your next move. People with high emotional intelligence are more likely to work on their attitude earnestly.

In some cases, the employee in question might not have realized they were bringing drama or discord into the workplace. They may be embroiled in a personal issue, like a health condition or divorce, and their toxic behavior may have only been a temporary setback.

If an employee is unwilling to work on their negativity or is otherwise incapable of doing so, then termination should be an option. Some employees will remain negative no matter how much counseling or mentoring they receive.

As Vaynerchuk says, a toxic attitude can be like a cancer. It will spread if you allow it to persist, and, before you know it, you’ll have an entire corporate culture filled with negativity and pessimism.

Preventing toxic workers in the future

The best way to avoid having toxic workers at your company is to simply avoid hiring them. It’s important to place as high a priority on emotional intelligence as you would on any skill related to a prospective employee’s actual job description.

It’s also important to spend one-on-one time with all of your employees to find out what they want in a workplace and how to make it better for them. If you want your culture to be positive, inviting, passionate, and thoughtful, then you have to work at it. And sometimes you will have to trim the fat to achieve that goal.

About the Author

Mike Wood is an online marketer, author, and Wikipedia expert. He is the founder of, an online marketing agency that specializes in content writing, brand management, and professional Wikipedia editing. Wood is the author of the books Link Juice and Wikipedia as a Marketing Tool.

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Unicorn Desk

Unicorn Desk is the official writer for Unicorn Weekly Magazine, serving as a creative force behind the captivating narratives and engaging articles that grace its pages. With a unique blend of talent, passion, and commitment, Unicorn Desk brings an unparalleled level of expertise and dedication to their role as a key contributor to the magazine.

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