First, a toxic worker isn’t necessarily a lazy worker. In fact, they tend to be insanely productive, much more so than the average worker.
The second characteristic is a bit more obvious. They tend to have what’s known as high “self-regard” and a lower degree of “other-regardingness.” Or put more simply, they’re selfish. “All things equal, those that are less other-regarding should be more predisposed to toxicity as they do not fully internalize the cost that their behavior imposes on others,” the [study’s] researchers wrote. This characteristic was teased out in the job screening program by asking applicants questions like this one that makes them choose between two statements: “I like to ask about other people’s well-being” or “I let the past stay in the past.” Selecting the first would give them a higher other-regarding score.
Third, the toxic employee also has an tendency to be overconfident of his or her own abilities — a trait believed to lead to unreasonable risk-taking. “Someone that is overconfident believes the expected payoff from engaging in misconduct is higher than someone who is not overconfident, as they believe the likelihood of the better outcome is higher than it really is,” the researchers explained.
Finally, if a person is dead-set on following rules, there may be reason to worry. Even though it seems counterintuitive, Housman and Minor said that those employees who claimed in the questionnaire that rules should always be followed with no exceptions (as opposed to those who said sometimes you have to break rules to do a good job) were the most likely to be terminated for breaking the rules.
The consequences of employing such people can be enormous for a company. The researchers calculated that these workers can cost $12,489 due to the need to replace other workers who leave due to their behavior. That’s an almost two-to-one return as compared to their estimates for what a company gains from a superstar employee in the 1 percent of productivity — an increase in $5,303 in value.
Harvard researchers studied just which coworkers suck the worst.