article » Study finds 'toxic' employees hurt everyone at work

Study finds 'toxic' employees hurt everyone at work

December 21, 2015
1 min read

Walbert Castillo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Work can be busy enough — no one needs to waste their time avoiding colleagues behaving badly. But new research shows that employees who are excessively confident, or are bullies, or who exhibit any number of bad behaviors might be worth skirting — and not for the reasons you might think.

Such “toxic workers” — which also include those who steal, commit fraud, sexually harass co-workers and more — can “spill over and infect” other work colleagues, who in turn are more likely to become toxic themselves, Dylan Minor, co-author of the recent Harvard Business School study “Toxic Workers,” told USA TODAY College.

Toxic workers can also burden firms with large sums of money and liabilities, according to the findings.

The study analyzed approximately 50,000 workers across 11 firms to document a multitude of characteristics and circumstances that led to behavior described as “toxic.”

Toxic workers are so damaging to the workplace environment that avoiding them could increase work performance and provide more benefits to the firm than finding and retaining a superstar worker, it also suggests.

A worker in the top 1% of work productivity could return $5,303 in cost savings, while avoiding a toxic hire could net an estimated $12,489 (by the avoidance of any potential litigation fees, and avoiding a reduction in employee morale, another other things), according to the study.

The data also suggests that toxic workers drive other employees to leave their jobs at a much faster rate, which in turn generates huge turnover and training costs, Minor, a visiting assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, told the Harvard Gazette.

But these toxic workers often stick around. Minor said that they’re usually tolerated by their manager longer than they should be because they tend to be high-performing workers.

“A natural question I get from people is ‘Why would anyone have a toxic worker? That’s crazy!’” Minor said to Harvard Gazette. “But then you realize they’re incredibly productive. And so, it makes sense then that maybe managers would look the other way because they’re really hitting all their productivity numbers.”

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