Over the past decade, developments in the HR industry have enlightened us to the behaviors and needs of a changing workforce and with it came the birth of company culture, unique workplace perks, and a laundry list of other attempts to get employees engaged in their work. In an effort to get ahead of competitors and maximize profit, employers are prepared to do just about anything to recruit and retain high-performing workers.

Unfortunately, however, every engagement effort in the world still won’t keep the bad apples away. Employees, even the highest performing ones, are, after all, human and at some point employers will be faced with the decision to either keep a toxic and high performing employee, or get rid of the culprit for the sake of the team.

Why You Should Get Rid of Toxic Employees, High Performing or Not

The decision to fire a high-performing toxic employee is a tough one, but these statistics on toxic employees helps put the situation into perspective:

  • Good employees are 54% more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee if the proportion of toxic employees on their team grows by as little as one on a team of 20.
  • Hiring just one toxic employee into a team of 20 employees costs approximately $12,800, as opposed to hiring a non-toxic employee which costs an average of $4,000.
  • Having a toxic employee can cause performance to drop by up to 40%.
  • There’s a 47% increase in the likelihood that a person will become a toxic employee if they’re in a group with a high density of toxic workers.

If employers are on the fence about losing a top performer because of toxic behavior, they should think about how it impacts the rest of the workforce. Chances are, those top performers are costing more than they’re worth.

Ways to Identify Toxic Employees Before They’re Hired

The best way to safeguard teams from toxic employees is to prevent them from creeping into your workforce. Here are a few suggestions from the Young Entrepreneur Council on how to expose toxic employees in the interview process:

  • Ask potentially toxic questions. “Ask for the five things the person liked least about his or her last (or current) company. Asking for one thing is pretty common. Asking for five pressures the person to reveal either strategic insights or signs of toxicity.” -Sam Saxton, Salter Spiral Stair and Mylen Stairs
  • Ask forced negative questions. “Asking some forced negative questions can be very telling. Questions like “Why shouldn’t I hire you?” or “Who is the worst person you hired and why?” can set the stage for prospective employees to open up. Positively framed questions can elicit prefabricated responses, so asking an applicant to think about something from a different angle can provide more authentic, telling answers.” -Robert Glazer, Acceleration Partners
  • Watch out for complaints. “A complainer is the least productive employee you could bring on as part of your team. Avoid one like the plague. If the person you’re interviewing complains about his or her current employer throughout the interview, that’s a red flag. It is OK for candidates to dislike parts of their current role, but it all depends on how they explain the issues they are facing.” -Brian Honigman, BrianHonigman.com

Ways To Identify Toxic Employees That Are Currently Employed

It happens to the best of us. Despite all the time, money, and effort spent on having the best recruiting and hiring practices, bad apples still find a way in. Before it’s too late and the damage to the workforce has been done, employers should investigate any time there’s potential for a toxic employee. Look out for clues like this:

  • Employees that are arrogant or overconfident in their abilities– These types of employees are 43% more likely to engage in unethical behavior because they overestimate their ability to get away with poor behavior.
  • Rule followers– A recent study found employees that declare they are “rule followers” are 33% more likely to be toxic.
  • Employees that constantly complain, engage in gossip and tend to be involved in company politics.

Weeding out a bad seed based off of performance won’t help employers locate toxic high-performers. However petty and subjective these indicators might be, they shed light on some of the most harmful displays of toxic behavior and should be taken very seriously to avoid it spreading across the workforce.

Toxic employees, unfortunately, are unavoidable and can be difficult to spot, especially when judgment is clouded by an employee’s distinguished performance. It may be hard to let go of those employees that seem to be adding so much value to the company, but the truth of the matter is they do more harm than good. If you think you might be struggling with a toxic high performing employee, use your intuition and resources to remedy the situation before the damage is irreparable.