Why Toxic Teammates Leave on Their Own

Published: June 24, 2019

Even when all the coaching efforts and performance improvement plans have been exhausted, it seems impossible to move disengaged employees along. The HR wheels turn slowly and toxic teammates often find a way to stay an inch short of termination for cause. What would it take for them to leave on their own?

Actively disengaged employees spend considerable energy hurting coworkers and poisoning workplaces. They need dysfunction to survive. Complaining without constructive solutions is their primary mode of communication. Gossiping and bullying are their tactics. They seek to divide the team and make others feel unsafe. This is how they establish and maintain their power. Most teammates are unwilling to suffer the consequences of confronting them.

Surprisingly, toxic employees often leave on their own when team culture no longer tolerates bad behavior. In today’s economy, few workplaces can afford to waste energy or resources on managing broken people. When leadership empowers employees to hold others accountable to mission and values, the fuel for dysfunction gradually disappears. Eventually, employees who thrive on disengagement need to go elsewhere to get their emotional needs met.

If an employee’s psychological foundation for self-esteem requires making others feel small, a workplace culture devoted to respect and professionalism no longer feeds their fragile ego. Poisonous people seek poisonous environments. Let them go.

Many workplace problems solve themselves when a team commits to behavior-based values and a culture of accountability. Top performers are only valuable when they aren’t sucking the life out of their teammates. Because we’re human, occasional broken interactions are inevitable. Normalizing them, however, is unhealthy. What you tolerate, you sanction.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.