A Toxic Employee can Lead to a Toxic Work Environment

Updated on 22 February 2016

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A toxic employee can cost your business thousands of Rands
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While toxic employees are often very productive and – on the surface – appear as though they are rule-abiding staff members, they can cause a lot of damage to a company’s reputation, productivity and staff morale.

To protect your small business from these poisonous individuals, it is vital for company leaders to understand the extreme consequences of leaving toxic employees to continue in their harmful ways. While the impact of these employees can be devastating to any business, small businesses are at greater risk both financially as well as in terms of staff turnover – likely to lose a greater percentage of their revenue and workforce in the worst case scenario.

According to a recent study from Harvard Business School, ‘Toxic Workers’, avoiding hiring ‘toxic workers’ (talented and productive but act in a way which is harmful to a company) can save an organisation more money than securing ‘superstar employees’ (sought after high-performers, up to four times more productive than their counterparts).

Often described by colleagues as bullies, manipulators and liars, the study noted that the cost of a single toxic employee to an organisation can come in at around R180 000.

“Because negativity can spread across an organisation quickly, it is best to spot a potentially toxic employee early”

While financial loss is a major factor to consider when filtering out these culprits, the ultimate consideration should be protecting and retaining the businesses most valuable resource – its workforce.

Toxic employees are negative, have little motivation, and talk badly about the business and its leadership to both internal and external stakeholders. So, hiring just one to a team can impact productivity, motivation and staff turnover.

A Cornerstone OnDemand study, ‘Toxic Employees in the Workplace: Hidden Costs and How to Spot Them’, revealed that good employees are 54% more likely to quit their job when they work with a toxic employee. This results in the need to replace and train staff which comes at a cost. The increased attrition rate also then negatively impacts staff morale and productivity even further.

While extreme forms of toxic behaviour – ranging from sexual harassment to workplace violence – can cause serious emotional and physical trauma to staff, these forms of toxic behaviour are enough cause for termination, lesser forms of toxic behaviour are less likely to be addressed once an individual has been permanently on-boarded. This includes those who behave rudely, undermine co-workers or who are negative about this business.

Because negativity can spread across an organisation quickly, it is best to spot a potentially toxic employee early. Adding a few questions to your interview agenda and looking out for tell-tale signs can go a long way in protecting your business.

Tips on how to identify a potentially toxic employee:
–    During interviews, ask candidates questions about why they left their previous job
–    Toxic employees are not team players, enquire about how the candidate works in a team and what role they tend to take in a team project
–    Be wary if the candidate is overly confident to the point that he / she appears arrogant and self-involved
–    Ask situational-based questions to determine what the candidates first instincts and actions would be in a challenging situation
–    Always call up a candidate’s references and/or previous employers to enquire about how they handled bad situations and worked with colleagues.

About the author: Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions (Pty) Ltd one of South Africa’s leading staffing solutions provider. She’s a business woman holding a Masters in Business Administration, a B.Com (Banking and Economics) and various other financial and marketing qualifications. Kay’s business acumen and success have made her a sought after speaker and thought leader.

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