Toxic People and Your Business


Some people are great to be around and bring out the best in you.  Some people are just the opposite and leave you cringing in anger, frustration and self doubt.  We have all experienced nasty interactions with toxic people,  people who dust us with their poison.  Sometimes it feels more like a drenching.  Such experiences are painful and sometimes mess up our lives.  They are a major drain on our energy, our productivity and our happiness.  But a toxic person is not just hard on other people such a person is also bad for your business.

A recent study from Georgetown University found that 98% of employee respondents had experienced toxic behavior in their workplace and 62% were experiencing it on a weekly basis. This statistic is even more troubling when one realizes that the normal antidote for toxicity is avoidance  – and implementing an avoidance strategy is often impossible or costly  in a workplace environment.

This same study determined that there are nine ways that such toxic relationships adversely impact employees and their organizations.

  1. Loss of productive work time 80% admitted that their productivity declined because of work time spent worrying and fretting over a toxic incident with another employee.  Time is money your money.  Take a few minutes to compute your total business payroll cost (benefits included) on an annual basis. Now divide it by 2000 to get a total business payroll cost per hour worked and then again by 60 to get a per minute cost.  Take 62% of this number (the number of employees that indicated that they experienced indicated a toxic event on a weekly basis),  and multiply it by 3000 (which assumes 60 minutes per week lost on each of 50 weeks per year).  This is the amount of payroll money that is leaking away as a result of toxic behaviors in your workplace.  Keep this number in mind as your read the other 8 impacts, as they usually carry additional costs.
  2. Loss of commitment   – 78% stated that their commitment to the organization declined as a result of experiences with toxic people in their workplace.  Commitment is closely related to levels of employee engagement  and the steady decline of employee engagement in North American workplaces has been the topic of past columns.  Anything that decreases levels of employee engagement in your business needs your attention.
  3. Decline in performance  – 66% admitted that their performance had declined as a result of toxic experiences in the workplace.  Toxicity sucks the energy out of people it affects. Employees with less energy perform at a lower level.
  4. Time spent avoiding the offender.  Interactions with toxic people are painful and unpleasant and as humans, the natural reaction is to minimize such contact, 63% admitted losing work time by going out of their way to avoid dealing with the toxic offender.  Another powerful and costly statistic.


The next impacts are even more interesting as they are intentional choices made by the recipient of the toxic interaction and may suggest some punitive pay-back to an organization that tolerates toxicity in their workplace.


  1. Increased absenteeism  The ultimate avoidance strategy is staying away from work.  47% of respondents intentionally decreased the time spent in the workplace.
  2. Decreased quality of work  – 38% of responders admitted that they had intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  3. Decreased work effort  – 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  4. Impact on Customers  – 25% admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.
  5. Resignation  –12% said that they had previously left a job because of workplace toxicity.

The financial costs of toxic relationship behaviors in the workplace are huge and dwarfed only by the human cost.  Business owners and leaders have a moral obligation, and often a legal obligation, to address toxic relationship behaviors in their workplace. Turning a blind eye, or shying away from confronting the toxic behaviors are not behaviors of an effective leader.  Our next column offers some suggestions to step up and effectively manage these problem situations.