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Toxic Workers

Organizational Behavior, People Analytics, Toxic Employees,

Citation: Housman M.G. & Minor D.B. “Toxic Workers”, Harvard Business School Working Paper 16-057, November 2015.

Abstract: While there has been a strong focus in past research on discovering and developing top performers in the workplace, less attention has been paid to the question of how to manage those workers on the opposite side of the spectrum: those who are harmful to organizational performance. In extreme cases, aside from hurting performance, such workers can generate enormous regulatory and legal fees and liabilities for the firm. We explore a large novel dataset of over 50,000 workers across 11 different firms to document a variety of aspects of worker characteristics and circumstances that lead them to engage in what we call “toxic” behavior. We also explore the relationship between toxicity and productivity, and the ripple effect that a toxic worker has on her peers. Finally, we find that avoiding a toxic worker (or converting him to an average worker) enhances performance to a much greater extent than replacing an average worker with a superstar worker.


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