Beware of those toxic co-workers

first_img The Daily Gazette Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news. They bad-mouth you to work colleagues behind your back; they angrily demand the impossible from everyone but themselves; they make unwanted comments about your attire.At some point in our careers, most of us have come across someone known as a “toxic worker,” a colleague or boss whose abrasive style or devious actions can make the workday utterly miserable. Such people hurt morale, stoke conflict in the office, and harm a company’s reputation.But toxic workers aren’t just annoying or unpleasant to be around; they cost firms significantly more money than most of them even realize. According to a new Harvard Business School (HBS) paper, toxic workers are so damaging to the bottom line that avoiding them or rooting them out delivers twice the value to a company that hiring a superstar performer does.While a top 1 percent worker might return $5,303 in cost savings to a company through increased output, avoiding a toxic hire will net an estimated $12,489, the study said. That figure does not include savings from sidestepping litigation, regulatory penalties, or decreased productivity as a result of low morale.“I wanted to look at workers who are harmful to an organization either by damaging the property of the company — theft, stealing, fraud — or other people within the company through bullying, workplace violence, or sexual harassment,” said Dylan Minor. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerDespite their seeming ubiquity, quantifying bad apples is an understudied area.“Most of the work in organization design and human resource management has been focused on what I would say are ‘positive outliers’ — the really top performers,” or star talent, said economist Dylan Minor, a visiting assistant professor of business administration at HBS and the paper’s co-author. “[As] it turns out, we’ve all had personal experiences where we have a worker on the other side of the distribution [who], rather than really helping performance, actually hurt performance in one way or another.”Looking at the existing academic literature on negative performance, Minor said it soon became clear how little is known about who these workers are, where they come from, how productive they are, or what effect they have on organizations and other employees. And because of privacy restrictions, much of that research is based on laboratory results, not real life.The term “toxic” is meant to convey both a person’s ability to cause harm and their propensity to infect others with their bad attitude, said Minor, who is here from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.“I wanted to look at workers who are harmful to an organization either by damaging the property of the company — theft, stealing, fraud — or other people within the company through bullying, workplace violence, or sexual harassment,” he said. “The other reason I chose the term ‘toxic’ is that, as I find in the empirical study, it also tends to spill over — that if you are exposed to these toxic workers, then you become more likely to ultimately be terminated … later on.”Analyzing rarely available employment data on nearly 60,000 workers across 11 companies, the study focused on only the most egregious kinds of toxic behavior: conduct that resulted in a worker’s termination.The data suggests that toxic people drive other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently, which generates huge turnover and training costs, and they diminish the productivity of everyone around them.Although not part of the study, Minor said client customer surveys indicate that toxic workers “absolutely” tend to damage a firm’s customer service reputation, which has a long-term financial impact that can be difficult to quantify, he said.Who is most likely to be a toxic worker? The research shows three key predictors. First, whether a person has a very high level of “self-regard” or selfishness. Because if such people don’t care about others, they’re not going to worry about how their behavior or attitude affects co-workers.Second, feeling overconfident, which can lead to undue risk-taking. “Imagine you’re going to engage in some misconduct and steal something from your company. If you think the chance that you’re going to get away with it is much greater than it really is, … you’re more likely to engage in that conduct,” said Minor.And lastly, if a person states emphatically that the rules should always be followed no matter what, watch out. “That is kind of counterintuitive. In a simple world, we would just ask someone, ‘Do you always follow the rules?’ And if you do, then of course, you’re not going to ever break them. But I find very strong evidence in my study that those that say ‘Oh no, you should always follow the rules’ — versus those that say ‘Sometimes you have to break the rules to do a good job’ — that the people who say ‘I never break the rules’ are much more likely to be terminated for breaking the rules,” said Minor.Getting rid of toxic workers is often difficult because they’re also more likely to be high performers, or to be perceived as such, which can blunt or blind supervisors to the true depth of their impact on the workplace.“A natural question I get from people is ‘Why would anyone have a toxic worker? That’s crazy!’” said Minor. “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.”Rooting out toxic workers not only stops the immediate harm they’ve been causing, but acts as a deterrent for others tempted to go down the same path. “Literally, the worst thing to do is to not do anything, which happens a lot, unfortunately,” Minor said.Hiring decisions that only consider an applicant’s potential upside, or prioritize it over other traits and skills, open the door to toxic workers, said Minor.“Most managers, if you ask them, ‘Do you want to have someone who cares more about others?’ They’d say, ‘Of course, I want that.’ But at the end of the day, most of them aren’t hiring much based on that.”By considering someone’s potential toxicity as well as their productivity, managers might hire employees who don’t look like world-beaters on paper, but will, in the end, bring more value to an organization.Managers and human resource staffers should take a more holistic, multidimensional hiring approach, one that values productivity and corporate citizenship, said Minor, for as the study makes clear, having good people working for you who care about others, and keeping the bad ones out, is not just a nice thing to do, it’s good for business.last_img read more

Briefs: Trail Blazers’ president/general manager Patterson quits

first_img Miami’s Dwyane Wade will have to wait another day for his second opinion. Wade was scheduled to have noted specialist Dr. James Andrews examine his dislocated left shoulder, but severe weather kept Andrews from making the trip from Birmingham, Ala., to South Florida for the meeting. TENNIS: Top-ranked Roger Federer dropped a set for the second time in three matches, yet defeated Serbian teenager Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to reach the Dubai Open semifinals.Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny upset second-seeded Rafael Nadal 7-6 (5), 6-3. Top-seeded James Blake was given a quarterfinal spot in the Tennis Channel Open, hours after the ATP Tour initially ruled that he had been eliminated during round-robin play. Blake led Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 3-1 when the Argentine player retired because of respiratory distress. The tour ruled that he would have won his round-robin group if del Potro hadn’t retired. Unseeded American Sam Querrey defeated No. 15 seed and fellow Californian Paul Goldstein, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. Querrey had 16 aces and Goldstein had none. It was the second time in two weeks that Querrey has defeated Goldstein. Querrey (Thousand Oaks) advanced to the quarterfinals, as both he and Goldstein beat No.6 seed Julien Benneteau of France. Sixth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova rallied from a set down and 1-4 in the second to upset No. 3 Martina Hingis 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the Qatar Open semifinals. SOCCER: Rookie Anthony Hamilton scored in each half, including the final goal, as Chivas USA tied Cal State Fullerton 3-3 in an exhibition. VOLLEYBALL: The pro beach volleyball tour is adding a new stop in Long Beach, with men’s and women’s matches set for July 19-22. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Portland Trail Blazers president and general manager Steve Patterson abruptly resigned Thursday after owner Paul Allen refused to renew his contract. The move came with the Trail Blazers in next-to-last place at 24-34, a season after they had the worst record in the NBA. center_img Tod Leiweke, chief executive officer of the Seattle Seahawks, will take over while a full-time replacement is found. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, also owns the Seahawks. Philadelphia 76ers rookie forward Rodney Carney is day-to-day with a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his right shoulder. last_img read more