Rarely do I come across a study about dynamics in the workplace that is a total surprise. But it's always nice to see data that supports what always feels pretty obvious.
So, here is today's news flash: toxic employees cost employees more money than "star” employees.
According to a Harvard Business School working paper, which looked at more than 50,000 employees at 11 companies, it costs twice as much to deal with and get rid of a toxic employee than the benefits received from an employee who performs in the top 1% of their job.
This study roughly described a toxic employee as one who does harm to property (such as destroying company property or stealing it) or harm to people (such as bullying, sexual harassment and workplace harassment).
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As the study says, most research tends to be conducted on how to recruit quality talent to improve a workplace.
However as both an employee and a former employment discrimination attorney, I've seen how toxic employees can consistently suck all the air out of a room. I have no doubt if this study expanded studying the range and reach of a toxic employees influence, they would find that the cost is way more than a few thousand dollars a year.
Here are some of the ways a toxic employee costs a workplace in ways beyond dollar and cents calculation:
▪ Loss of productivity. Toxic employees tend to be like the drivers who get behind the wheel of a car while impaired — they tend to walk away from the disasters they cause without a scratch.
In the workplace, the people who work with toxic employees spend a lot of time talking about, reacting to and working around that employee. It’s time that’s not spent working. And if the toxicity comes from a supervisor, time lost can be multiplied.
▪ Loss of commitment. When you have to work with a toxic person that your employer continues to employ, especially if they have given them jobs that involve a copious amount of responsibility over others, you can't help but lose some respect for the people we hired the person in the first place.
At some point, the continued employment of the toxic employee becomes something you take personally. When people ask for transfers within an organization or leave an organization altogether, many times having to work with a toxic employee may be part of the equation spurring the change.
▪ Loss of company values. Almost every organization that employs people has come up with a list of company values or a mission statement. But if a toxic employee is continuing to cause harm to property or people, especially if that harm is through harassment or discrimination, then it undermines whatever values the top of the organizational food chain claims to hold dear.
Being toxic and being unlikeable or unfriendly are two different things. The employee who doesn't “fit in” socially but does their work well should not be confused with the employee who expresses more harm than they do good. Toxic employees should require employers to seek out the appropriate antidote.