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Monday, December 7, 2015

Counting the Cost of Toxic Employees

By: Thomas Eden

What impact does one highly toxic employee have on your workplace? A toxic employee is one who engages in behavior that is harmful to your workplace. On the mild side costs include: lost customers, lower employee morale, and higher turnover. On the high side are fatal workplace shootings. Toxic workers can also include those who harass others, engage in fraud, falsify documents, commit employer theft, commit workplace violence and engage in general workplace misconduct. Even more frightening is when their toxicity spills over and infects other workers.

According to a November 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review, where approximately 50,000 workers across 11 firms were surveyed, toxic workers were found to be so damaging to the workplace environment that avoiding them could increase work performance and provide more benefits than finding and retaining a superstar worker. The authors found that workers in the top 1% of work productivity resulted in $5303 of additional revenue, while avoiding toxic workers could save an estimated $12,489 in reduced turnover, regulatory penalties, and potential litigation fees. They determined that the two top characteristics exhibited by toxic workers were excessive overconfidence, overestimating one's own abilities, and being a workplace bully.

The study found that the degree of “caring for others” was predictive of the choices one makes that affect others. Specifically, those who showed little concern for others’ interest were found less likely to refrain from damaging others and their property, and thus to engage in toxic workplace behavior. Those people were classified as self-regarding. There was also found to be a correlation with increased on-the-job hazard rates and those who over-reported their skill level before they start the job. Greater overconfidence also typically resulted in a greater chance of being terminated for being a toxic worker. Of course, some toxic employees are highly productive which is the reason they avoid termination in spite of their toxicity.

Also, it was found that toxic workers seemed to induce others to be toxic, and consequently less productive on the job. While some workers were found to have pre-existing traits that predicted they would be toxic workers, it was also found that workers environments substantially influenced their propensity to become a toxic worker. So managing toxic workers is not simply a matter of screening them out, but also minding the work environment by adoption of a set of commonly established values. Managing by values is what Forbes finds that the top 100 Best Places to Work in America do best.

Common Sense Counsel: any question as to what you should start planning to do with your toxic employees in 2016? If you are that toxic employee, commit to get over your "stinkin thinking" by daily showing, and voicing, gratitude for the job opportunity you are currently enjoying by rendering more and better service no matter the task.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at with link to Harvard Business Review article.