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Cornerstone Report Details Effects of Toxic Employees in the Workplace

Michael Housman

Chief Analytics Officer, Cornerstone

Toxic employees - we all know them when we work with them. They are the folks that always have something negative to say in a meeting. The ones who join the conference call halfway in, if they even bother to show up. They not only cause frustration, they can cause significant damages to the workplace. Toxic employees make their teammates 54 percent more likely to quit and cost employers up to three times more in hiring fees, according to our latest report, "Toxic Employees in the Workplace."

Looking at data of 63,000 hired employees spanning approximately 250,000 observations, our report identifies the factors that make someone likely to engage in toxic behavior, as well as quantifies the impact of toxic employees on their co-workers and employers. We focused on the damages caused by individuals who engaged in "toxic behavior," defined as misconduct, workplace violence, drug or alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, falsification of documents, fraud and other direct violations of company policy.

The report shows that toxic employees have a fairly negligible effect on the performance of their co-workers, which suggests that they have a stronger influence on stress and burnout than on day-to-day task completion. This causes good employees to be 54 percent more likely to quit when they have a toxic employee on their team. As toxic employees make their co-workers significantly more likely to leave, replacement costs rise greatly; hiring a single toxic employee into a team of twenty workers costs approximately $12,800, whereas hiring a non-toxic employee costs an employer an average of $4,000.

It’s easy to spot these individuals once they’ve joined an organization, but what’s much more difficult—and much more useful—is to identify them before they’ve been extended an offer.

Using data from hiring assessments, the report found that certain types of responses were indicative of toxic behavior. For example, employees who considered themselves "rule followers" are 33 percent more likely to be toxic employees. Applicants who were notably overconfident about their technical proficiencies for a job were 43 percent more likely to engage in toxic behavior.

Thankfully, there are measures an employer can make to identify a toxic employee before they’ve joined an organization. Online science-based hiring assessments that utilize data analytics and intelligence tools can identify applicants who are more qualified for the job, as well as predictors of toxic behaviors. Of note is that a candidate who is deemed to be highly qualified by Cornerstone Selection is 19 percent less likely to be a toxic employee who is terminated for a policy violation.

Toxic employees affect not only large employers but also the honest, hardworking co-workers who are subjected to their disruptive behavior. The fact that these behaviors can be predicted by an online assessment and avoided before they occur should offer some relief to employers and employees alike.

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