They say that one bad apple can spoil the bunch…. Now research proves it. They are often the reason good employees leave. They are also costly. In a recent study conducted on nearly 60,000 workers across various industries, found that one toxic employee wipes out the gains for more than two superstars.

In fact, a superstar, defined as the top 1% of workers in terms of productivity, adds about $5000 per year to the company’s profit while a toxic worker costs about $12,000 per year. 

Here’s how to stop toxic employees from invading your harvest…

The Interview – Questions

Interviews focus on skill set and experience with brief discussions about culture fit. Instead, civility – courtesy, politeness, and manners – should be a key component of any interview to weed out potential toxic employees. Specifically, ask questions for insight on the specific values you organization is looking for. Even if a previous experience was awful, a candidate should be able to frame it in a way that is respectful of the prior employer, demonstrates their willingness to take responsibility for their part, and/or share what s/he learned. Some good questions to ask:

How would your former employer or subordinates describe working with you?

What was your least favorite thing about your past employer?

Talk about the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career.

Tell me about a time when your team let you down and you had to pick up the slack.

How do you deal with an underperforming teammate?

The Interview – Observations

Interviews are not just about questions and answers. Interviewers can learn a lot by what is not directly said. Toxic employees will reveal themselves subtly.  Tom Taulli of Forbes suggests, “…you need to pay attention to the interactions with your team. Is there some tension? Are there some bad vibes? Such things are certainly red flags, even if the person is highly skilled.” For example:

Did the candidate show up on time?

How did they treat the receptionist, executive assistant, parking lot attendant?

Does the candidate take credit for success but no responsibility for things that did not work?

Do they offer solution-oriented constructive criticism?

Does the candidate come off as bitter or defensive when discussing previous employers or teammates?

Take Full Advantage of References

How a candidate behaved in the past provides a solid indicator of how they will perform in the future – when they are working for you! Be direct with reference checks. Ask questions that require examples of the candidate’s characteristics and compare them to your company’s core values. Toxic employees typically have a reputation for constant drama and conflict. Pay attention to the tone and demeanor of the reference. Listen for what is not being directly said. Go outside the standard reference list such as former colleagues from lower levels and other people in your network. Questions to ask:

What was it like to work with him?

What could she improve on?

Did you receive feedback from his superiors and colleagues?

There’s no question that hiring a toxic employee is costly. Your most important line of defense is a solid interview process. Your recruiting strategy should emphasize personality and civility as much as skill set and experience. Enlist multiple people above and below to ask questions and interpret responses. Engage with candidates in formal and less formal settings such as lunch or a baseball game. Take advantage of references and connections to build an accurate profile of the candidate. And most importantly, demonstrate the characteristics you’re looking for from minute one. 


Hiring/Executive Recruiting