7 ways to identify the 'toxic workers' costing businesses thousands

People who always follow their work code of conduct are more likely to follow ethical rules as well

Hazel Sheffield
Tuesday 15 December 2015 15:55 GMT
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Toxic behaviour can rub off on others in the workplace, research has found
Toxic behaviour can rub off on others in the workplace, research has found (20th Century Fox)

You know them when you see them.

The colleague that aces every task but talks over you in meetings. The one who go to great lengths to please a customer, just to make themselves look good. The sales representative that brings in the cash, but belittles everyone around them.

They’re called “toxic workers” – and they might have more of an impact on a company’s bottom line than star performers.

Researchers from Harvard Business School looked at data from more than 50,000 workers fired from 11 US companies and found that it cost, on average, $12,489 to replace workers that left because of a toxic colleague. If the company hired an average worker instead, it would be better off by more than two-to-one.

Some workers are more toxic than others

Harvard Business School (Harvard Business School)

First companies have to be able to recognise a toxic worker when they see one.

Michael Housman and Dylan Minor, co-authors of the report, describe a toxic worker as follows:

1. Self-regarding

People who are self regarding don’t fully recognise the affect of their behaviour on others. They therefore make decisions without thinking about other people. They might also damage other people and their property, the report said.

2. Over confident

People who are over-confident are more likely to engage in misconduct because they are optimistic about outcomes. They might not fully recognise the risks associated with doing wrong.

3. Profess to follow the rules

The researchers found that those who always follow their work code of conduct were more likely to follow ethical rules as well. However those who profess to always follow the rules – in a job interview setting for example – show Machiavellian tendencies, which can lead to deviant behaviour.

4. Someone who is exposed to other toxic workers

This was one of the most important factors, according to the research. If your colleagues lie and break the rules, you may be more likely to.

5. Job position

Certain positions are more likely to lead to different levels of toxic behaviour than others, according to the research. This can depend on the position, the task and the type of people involved.

6. Higher productivity

“There is a potential trade-off when employing an unethical person: they are corrupt, but they excel in work performance. This might explain how a toxic worker can persist in an organisation,” Housman and Minor said.

7. Faster

Researchers found that toxic workers were also faster – but found that this didn’t always mean the work was of a higher quality. Workers were less likely to produce lower quality work if they took time over it.

“We found evidence that a policy that removes the 'big shots' and 'tyrants' seems to be one that would lead to more productive organisations in general, despite terminating such a productive worker,” Housman and Minor said.

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