5 Ways To Know If You Are Hiring A Toxic Employee

5 Ways To Know If You Are Hiring A Toxic Employee

5 Ways To Know If You Are Hiring A Toxic Employee

Companies are responsible for providing a work environment where each employee can grow, learn, and thrive. But one wrong choice during the candidate selection process can disrupt the effort, cause enormous loss, and affect the whole workplace.

HR professionals center the recruitment around finding high-performers, known as superstar employees, who can generate 80 percent of a business’s profits. Even though these individuals can also attract other stellar workers, another group affects companies more intensely: toxic employees.

A study by Harvard Business School found that avoiding a toxic hire can save an organization more than twice as much as hiring a top-performing employee. Costs of employing individuals with harmful attitudes or behaviors go beyond the financial aspect.

Here is everything you should know about toxic employee traits, how to spot the warning signs, and avoid hiring these individuals.  Use these guidelines to identify toxic employees to protect your company.


A toxic employee is an inevitable scenario for most large enterprises and many small businesses. But you might wonder what are the characteristics of a bad employee.

According to SHRM, they engage in behavior that’s harmful to an organization, its property, or people. Toxic employee traits typically include overconfidence, self-centered attitude, productiveness, and following the rules.

Hence, identifying a harmful employee can be challenging because they tend to obey their superiors and complete their tasks faster than their co-workers. These employees are often high performers, charismatic, curious, and have high self-esteem.

But despite these beneficial characteristics, toxic employees are Machiavellian in nature and can hurt other workers’ performance and cause regulatory and legal fees. They can instill distrust, kill team productivity, alienate their co-workers, and lower employee morale, affecting a company’s bottom line and work environment.

As an HR professional, you can avoid workplace toxicity by hiring the most compatible candidates.

Here is how to spot toxic employees.


The best way to spot signs of a toxic employee is during the interview. Ask the right questions and use the most efficient methods to identify individuals who could damage your business and work environment before you hire them.


If you want to identify whether you’re dealing with potentially problematic future employees, ask questions that can reveal their attitudes and behavior. Candidates who have nothing nice to say about their previous (or current) employer are a big red flag.

It is why you can ask what they liked least about their former workplace, manager, or supervisors. If the job applicant has a list of things they disliked, especially targeting someone’s personality, dive deeper into it.

Moreover, if you discover that they hold grudges against their previous employers, consider whether they sound objective, self-centered, or irrational.


People often show their true colors during a conflict. When pressure enters the picture, some employees become aggressive while others often play the victim. Both of these are toxic employee traits.

Ask the candidates about the most challenging situation they had to handle in their former workplace and how they solved it. Watch out for those candidates that always blame others and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Pay extra attention to those who say they can solve any issue without much struggle and who don’t give any credit to their team and co-workers.


Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask questions that could trigger candidates to speak about their previous employers. They will do it themselves. These candidates tend to find reasons to mention their former workplace and portray it negatively whenever possible.

Although each employee will dislike something about their job role or even workplace, if complaints are the overwhelming majority, that’s concerning.

On the other side, job applicants full of praises for themselves are also a red flag. If you encounter a self-centered individual who appears to be exaggerating their accomplishments, that could also be a sign of toxicity.


Interviews are usually too short when aiming to uncover the true nature of candidates. It is why you should consider setting up multiple stages of selection to get to know your prospective employees.

Consider implementing short case studies, personality tests, and surveys to understand who your candidates are. Use these to identify whether their skills, attitudes, and experiences are compatible with the company and whether they fit into the workplace culture.


Get more insights and confirm the data you received from references.

Even though references might not report anything openly disheartening, see if they have anything that reveals there could be more to the story. If more than one reference says something that indicates toxicity symptoms, you should be highly careful with the candidate.


Toxic employees account for three to five percent of all workforce, but their behavior impacts their colleagues and company culture more intensely than superstar employees. Incivility can affect the workplace and your business just as much as sexual harassment, bullying, and theft, causing revenue loss, employee turnover, and killing productivity.

Use the interview to identify the signs of a toxic employee before hiring them. Implement additional stages to the hiring process, such as case studies, personality tests, and surveys to detect potentially detrimental traits.

Watch out for self-centered individuals, complaints about the former employers, and the victim attitude. If you recognize toxicity before hiring the candidate, you could save the company from losing high-performing employees, revenues, and reputation.

Avoid hiring toxic employees and start building better teams by choosing Crosschq, the Human Intelligence Hiring™ platform with automated digital reference checks and talent analytics. Request your demo here!

1. What is a toxic employee?

Toxic employees are typically self-centered, charismatic, confident, and put themselves first. These individuals continuously say Imuch more than WE. However, problematic employees also tend to play the victim card and blame others for their behaviors.

2. How do toxic employees affect the workplace?

These employees cause revenue loss, affect team productivity, and often force high-performing employees to quit due to being subjected to incivility.

3. Are toxic employees necessarily low performers?

Despite their negative traits, these employees are usually high performers. They tend to complete their tasks first and with excellent results. However, toxic employees covertly subject their co-workers to incivility, causing a decline in overall team productivity or increased absenteeism.

4. How can recruiters prevent hiring toxic employees?

HR professionals can establish an in-depth selection process that includes personality tests, surveys, and case studies to understand the candidates better. Recruiters can also ask toxicity-triggering questions to identify signs of a toxic employee.

5. How does Crosschq help to identify toxic employees?

Crosschq uses a cloud-based, data-driven digital reference checking and talent analytics platform powered by Human Intelligence Hiring that helps recruiters get in-depth insights into candidates and employ the most compatible employee.

Learn how Crosschq helps the world make better hires through automated digital reference checking and talent analytics. Read more.

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Lucas Sonini

Contributing Writer

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