Beware the ‘Toxic’ Employee, Warns Study

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Take a moment to think about the worst worker you’ve ever encountered. According to The Washington Post, many immediately jump to the conclusion that the worst worker is lazy and uninvolved in his or her work.

However, a recent Harvard Business Review study has proven that the worst worker is not necessarily lazy; in fact, they are often quite successful on the surface. According to the report, the worst type of worker is the "toxic" employee. Toxic employees are "talented and productive people who engage in behavior that is harmful to an organization." In many cases, this individual engages in illegal behavior and lacks integrity as a whole.


What is even more counterintuitive is the body of behaviors shown most often by toxic employees. According to the study, the toxic employee usually behaves in the following ways:

  • They are profitable and seemingly talented, allowing them to “slip under the radar” for extended periods of time
  • They are self-centered and fail to consider others
  • They have an inflated ego
  • They actually emphasize the rules more often than other employees

Although a few of these items sound odd or ironic, careful research has determined them to be the most telling factors.

In light of these facts, it is imperative to note that an individual can possess one of these characteristics and still not qualify as a toxic employee. For example, not every hardworking, efficient employee is a criminal. Likewise, not every employee who follows the rules is secretly out to get you. Rather, it is the combination of these factors that might raise concern.


Furthermore, this type of employee will not always commit crimes or engage in shady behavior; many environmental factors play a role in this. One such factor is the attitudes of other employees. If everyone else is doing the right thing, it is possible that the toxic employee will also follow the beaten path.

To avoid toxic employees, the study recommends actively focusing on avoiding bad hires at least as much, if not more so, than on attracting star performers in order to lessen the odds of shady behavior.

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