What do you do about the ‘competent jerk’ at work?
Toxic employees can bring down their colleagues and the overall workplace environment, but many times, bosses are hesitant to let them go. That’s because despite their negative behaviors, they’re still very good at their job.
In a recent Harvard Business School study, the authors noted that workers who exhibit toxic behaviors – from gossip to bullying to sexual harassment - tend to be quite productive in terms of output, and for that reason, they remain in an organization for, perhaps, longer than they should.
According to Jessica Methot, assistant professor of human resource management at Rutgers University, the most difficult category of worker is the “competent jerk” – a horrible person to interact with, but a great producer for the company’s bottom line.
But these toxic actions don’t start and stop with the one bad employee. They’re contagious, Methot said, spreading to others in the workplace and destroying the organization as a whole.
So the situation leaves employers with an interesting decision.
“Good employees are extremely hard to come by,” Methot said. “Is it worth keeping one really highly-productive star if they’re harming the rest of our employees and causing our other good or potentially even great employees to leave?”
In the end, Methot said, the toxic employee needs to go. Their value does not compare to the cost of others leaving and the effect of a negative company culture. That view is echoed by the Harvard study.