What are parasite employees & how to deal with them?

Aiva Strelca 19.09.2022
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Parasite employee

No matter the context it’s used in, the word ‘parasite’ never really has a positive connotation. 

In the context of this article, a parasite is a person feeding off someone else’s success and recognition without having actually contributed. In the workplace, a parasite employee is someone disengaged and unproductive, disrespectful, or even abusive towards one’s coworkers. 

Sound like the cause of your daily headache? Don’t worry – this article has got you covered. Read on and explore how you can spot parasite employees and how to deal with them in civilized ways.

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What a parasite employee looks like

First, let’s explore what traits indicate someone could be a parasite employee.

  • Disengagement at work

While it’s normal not to be excited about one’s work 24/7, constant disengagement without the willingness to change can indicate parasitism at work. It can manifest as apathy against one’s duties, over-indulging in unhealthy activities (for example, excessive social media use at work), lack of communication with other employees, and more.   

  • Extremely low productivity

Having productive days and days when you get less done is ok. However, constantly low productivity is a sign that something’s wrong, and one of the causes could be workplace parasitism – a deliberate choice to slack at work. 

  • Claiming others’ success

Another trait of parasite employees is claiming recognition for something they haven’t earned. It can manifest as not engaging in a joint effort but taking the stage when the result is praised or stealing someone’s idea or work and presenting it as their own. 

  • Manipulative and toxic communication

Manipulative and toxic communication with one’s coworkers is also one of the traits of a potential parasite employee. “Delegating” tasks that should be their responsibility, blaming coworkers for their own mistakes, and restricting valuable information from others are just a few examples of how a parasite employee can bring manipulation and toxic communication into the workplace.

  • Abusing resources

It, of course, depends on the company policy of employee resource use, but if an employee is exploiting the company’s resources for personal gain (which doesn’t align with the company policy), it’s more often than not a parasite employee alert. 

A note before we proceed

The potential traits of a parasite employee can also indicate other issues, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a worker is acting in this manner intentionally.

Disengagement at work and low productivity can be linked to, for example, a lack of work motivation, which can be caused by a need for a career change. An employee may want new challenges but be afraid to ask for help or need some external motivation. It can also be a sign of job burnout or a result of some personal issues. 

When it comes to claiming others’ success and manipulative communication, it can be a self-defense strategy. Lack of self-confidence or disbelief in one’s abilities can make people afraid to take risks and seek more effortless ways to receive a positive response from management. Even though it doesn’t justify toxic behavior, keeping this in mind when dealing with a parasite employee can be helpful.

How to deal with a parasite employee?

Now when we’ve explored some potential traits of parasite workers, let’s see how you can deal with them in civilized ways.

Start by talking to them

Many things in this world can be healed through open and honest communication, and parasitism in the workplace is potentially one of them. Invite the employee to talk. It likely won’t be the most pleasant conversation, especially if it’s a long-term employee. But asking them openly and honestly about what’s happening is a crucial first step. 

Implement performance monitoring systems

To address a parasite employee, firstly, you must be sure it’s indeed a case of one. A data-backed discussion about an employee’s job performance has an entirely different weight than discussing your or someone else’s observations and accusations. Thus, employee performance monitoring can be helpful. 

If you haven’t implemented such a tool, consider a time tracking software with productivity and efficiency monitoring features. The options are various – choose what best suits your company needs.

Moreover, a performance tracking tool will provide a valuable overview of the parasite employee’s performance before and after you’ve discussed the issue and set a trial period.

Evaluate their workload

Evaluating workload is another way to deal with a parasite worker. 

If they claim others’ success, try assigning individual tasks so the employee has no option but to do the work. In case you’ve discovered that lack of motivation is the reason for parasitism, try introducing the employee to new responsibilities and tasks. Change in one’s duties could spark some interest and inspiration.

Additionally, evaluate the employee’s workload. It could be a case of overwork that has led to exhaustion and loss of interest in one’s job resulting in parasitism. Thus, a reduced workload may bring back your employee’s best self.

Involve professional help if needed

No matter how long you’ve been a manager or a team lead, there can be conflicts and situations that you’re not skilled enough to resolve. Thus, if a workplace conflict involving a parasite employee has gotten out of your hands, don’t hesitate to ask for a professional help from HR specialists or organizational psychologists. 

Workplace conflict has many downsides, such as downturns in productivity, increased absenteeism, project failure, high employee turnover, and more. Plus, risking losing great employees due to a parasite in the workplace isn’t in your best interests.

Termination

If you’ve tried all the approaches mentioned above and they haven’t worked, or if the employee refuses to make any changes in the first place, there is one option left – termination. Firing someone is never pleasant, but in this case, it’s the best you can do for your other employees. 

With the Great Resignation going strong, you cannot afford to cultivate a toxic workplace environment, right? Thus, letting the parasite employee go may not be the higher cost to pay for others’ job satisfaction.

Concluding thoughts on parasite workers

The truth is that almost every workplace has one or more employees that show parasitism traits. It can come and go or be constantly present. It can be a conscious strategy or a result of underlying issues. 

The best way to deal with such employees is to provide a safe and honest communication space. Encourage other employees to speak up, involve your HR professional or outsource an organization psychologist if it’s a case of a long-lasting workplace conflict that you can’t resolve on your own. 

But if a human approach doesn’t bring any results and the parasite employee keeps playing the same old game, consider terminating your professional relationship. Having a parasite employee can muddy the workplace waters, turning it into a toxic place. Not your preferred goal, right?

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