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Toxic Employees: Their Cost and What to Do About Them

Tags: employee toxic

Toxic employees, particularly Toxic managers, can be detrimental to a company. An insightful study came out in Harvard Business Review in December 2015. Some of the highlights follow as well as our suggestions for avoiding the toxic Employee.

The HBR study calculated the gains from a superstar employee versus the loses from a toxic employee. The top 1% of superstars brought in an average extra $5,300 per employee. Meanwhile, the average toxic employee (roughly 20%) of employees caused a loss of $12,500. A careerbuilder survey also found out that most executives believe that the cost of a bad hire is either $25,000 or $50,000 for a very bad hire.

What Type of Employee is Likely to Be Toxic?

The HBR study looked at personality traits that were likely to create toxic employees. They surmised 5 personality traits: some that are surprising, and some that make common sense.

  1. Overconfidence
  2. Self-centeredness
  3. High Productivity 
  4. Rule Following
  5. Narcissism

Many of these traits need little explanation. The overconfident, self-centered, narcissistic employee is likely to have sociopathic tendencies (either completely or borderline). Nobody wants to believe that the average employee is a sociopath. The word brings up thoughts of Criminal Minds episodes. However, there are more sociopaths in white collar management than any other industry. The traits that make someone a sociopath in many ways make a good manager: ability to manipulate someone (i.e., be persuasive), the ability to lie and seem more truthful than the average person telling the truth, and the ability to make difficult decisions without much second guessing/guilt. The sociopath seems to be the rule follower. They are the ones that broadcast their successes and their ability to follow rules so that everyone thinks they are the best rule followers. They also broadcast their productivity. Sociopathic types need self assurance. They need praise. At the core of the narcissist, they are really very insecure. This constant self praise by the toxic worker makes them seem to be productive and rule following (although they are likely much less productive than the non toxic workers in reality). When examining these types of employees in a vacuum, they generally seem to be very good employees. It's their effect on other employees, and many times customers, that is detrimental and seldom seen or measured. Also, the productivity is almost always based on fake or trumped up data.

Avoiding the Toxic Employee

There are several steps you can take to avoid toxic employees.

Use personality and EQ testing as part of the interview process. Look for the traits discussed previously. Run away from employees who exhibit these traits. You do not need to pay an HR or hiring firm money to do this. Many PhD's or psychologists who do consulting on the side can put together a nice survey and you can manage the data through excel. I have done a few of these myself. You pay for the survey up front, but then pay nothing once it is created.

Be very wary of the self promoting person (as I just did previously :)). Most good employees tend to be humble and somewhat uncomfortable with self promotion. Run away from these people in interviews and once in positions. Everyone has to promote themselves in interviews. But, the toxic worker will almost seem too good to be true. If you were buying a used car, would you want the one that supposedly "had only been driven by grandma to and from church" or the one that "has low miles, a couple minor dents, but overall runs well." In case you are not sure, the second answer is the right one.

Do not ignore complaints, especially formal ones. Look for sexual or other forms of harassment complaints. Look for  mentions of abrasive, aggressive or bullying behaviors. Do not overlook comments such as a person is "difficult to work with" or that someone "always speaks their mind." If there have been complaints - you have a huge problems. It takes at least 10-20 unhappy employees before you have a formal complaint. When you identify these behaviors, you cannot be afraid to fire the employee. Do not fall into the sunk cost trap. It does not matter how much you have invested in this person. The potential loss is so much greater.

Toxic employees must be avoided or removed. They are one of the single biggest downfalls of business today.

What's the worst thing you've seen by a toxic employee? What have you done to overcome the problems? Let us know. Comment below.

This post first appeared on Common Sense Business Advice, please read the originial post: here

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Toxic Employees: Their Cost and What to Do About Them


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