Know Which of Your Employees is Noxious?
Via LinkedIn : I have hired all sorts of employees in the past several years for my businesses. While their characteristics can be nicely plotted on a classic bell curve, the two that have always been the outliers for me from an impact perspective are the megastars and the noxious employees.
Megastars are the fixation of American business. They’re actively pursued, provided complete consideration and the finest prospects, munificently compensated, and explicitly encouraged after holdups. The rest of us envy these stars and take every opportunity to question the singular treatment that these employees receive. Research however has proven that these mega yielders, that comprise anywhere from 1% to 15% of a business’ workforce, are almost 4x more fecund than the common employee, producing 80% or more of the business’ profits while drawing other megastars like themselves to the business.
The ones however that have had a more profound impact on my businesses are what I characterize as the noxious employees. These workers are quite gifted and industrious but absorb themselves in conduct that is detrimental to the company. Over the years, I have seen it all – from the experienced workers who cause immense harm to the ones dismissed for abhorrent despoliations, to those sacked for sexual harassment, workplace violence, or fraud and even theft. I now know without a shadow of doubt how important it is for companies to sidestep such workers and not hire them in the first place thus saving more money in the process than recruiting and maintaining megastars.
Having dealt with hundreds of former and present employees over the past 15 years, I worked with my divisional teams to assess job valuation grades that comprised applicant qualities such as self-reliance in their abilities, concern for other people’s desires and their views on following directions; hire and termination dates with reasons for either; and daily performance and attrition data. I then corroborated my findings with those of my colleagues that were business owners or C suite executives from other larger corporations. It was fascinating to see similarities between my findings and theirs, all of which revealed that nearly 5% (that’s 1 in 20) of an average workforce gets terminated for noxious behavior.
Now came the issue of a noxious employee’s expense comparison with the value of a megastar. Who was costing me more? The megastar is typically so productive that for me to get the same output from the rest of the staff, I’d have to recruit a few more staffers and/or pay my current staffers even more money with the hope that they perform at the same level as the megastar. Here is what was interesting for me. I learnt that each noxious employee cost me almost 2x more in lost income to my bottom line than the positive contribution to net earnings that I was making from my top megastar performer. These costs do not even include legal or other regulatory fees or even the cost of recovering from the negative effect on customers and other employees.
So now comes the million-dollar question of whether one could figure out if a potential hire or existing employee could be a noxious one? It turns out that there are in fact some characteristics that one can look out for, that foresee noxious conduct.
An arrogant, brash, bombastic, bullish and overly optimistic employee that is narcissistic, but at the same time industrious, and even possibly rule-following, was likely going to be to a noxious employee.
One unit of variation in talent self-confidence of an employee would imply a roughly 15% higher probability that the employee was a noxious one. On the other hand employees who were found to be more egocentric and self-absorbed and less worried about their colleagues’ needs had a 22% greater probability of being noxious.
Furthermore, the employees that dictated an uncanny adherence to the “rules” had a 25% greater probability of being fired for breaking those exact rules! Even worse was the fact that these noxious workers had a negative impact on the people they would work with because these people would increase their probability of being terminated for misconduct by nearly 46%.
Arrogance and self-centeredness have been linked with undesirable work consequences before. It is also astounding that people who frequently threw policies and the rule-book in your face should be classified as an influencer and need to be followed. All these people were more likely than not to possess noxious traits due to the fact that they were likely more Machiavellian in character professing to clinch whatever rules, personalities, or theories they believed were the most probable in landing them the job. Researchers have shown robust proof that Machiavellianism leads to divergent conduct.
Also interesting is to note that the noxious employees took less time to complete a task than the rest of us – i.e. they were corrupt while being the top performers winning most of the time at work by charming other people with charisma, curiosity and self esteem. A good hiring program also focuses on a candidate’s corporate citizenship.
In the end, negatives have always had more impact than the positives and it is for this reason alone that hiring managers should give the former more thought.
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