You probably don't need much convincing that working with jerks is unpleasant. Personal experience is enough to convince most of us that bullies, liars, and manipulators make miserable colleagues. Research even shows their bad behavior is contagious. But if you're the type that likes data to back up every hunch, a new working paper out of Harvard Business School has put some eye-popping numbers to the cost of tolerating jerks.

Avoiding jerks saves more than hiring stars

The research analyzed data on 60,000 workers across 11 companies in order to determine the cost to the organization of a team member who is eventually fired for their bad behavior (so real, certified, A-grade jerks). The researchers then compared how much the worst employees cost to how much top performers add to a company.

Here are the startling figures the team came up with via The Harvard Gazette: "While a top 1 percent worker might return $5,303 in cost savings to a company through increased output, avoiding a toxic hire will net an estimated $12,489." And those figures don't even include the costs incurred if hiring or tolerating a jerk results in litigation or a regulatory penalty.

So why, specifically, are toxic employees so costly? Though the low morale they engender could obviously be a factor, this research indicates that increased turnover is the real issue. "The data suggests that toxic people drive other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently, which generates huge turnover and training costs, and they diminish the productivity of everyone around them," summarizes the Gazette.

How to spot a bad apple

The takeaway here is pretty obvious--hiring superstars may feel like bagging big game, but if you want to maximize your team's performance, you should probably make sure you've eliminated the worst performers before you go on the hunt for new talent. Ignoring productive but destructive bullies is a surefire way to severely dent your team's overall performance.

How do you know if you have a jerk on your hands? A truly toxic employee should become noticeable pretty quickly, but if you want to avoid hiring one in the first place, economist and study co-author Dylan Minor notes three predictors of future toxic behavior. Two probably won't shock you--high self-regard and overconfidence (which leads to excessive risk taking)--but the last one may come as more of a surprise.

"If a person states emphatically that the rules should always be followed no matter what, watch out," states the Gazette before quoting Minor: "I find very strong evidence in my study that those that say 'Oh no, you should always follow the rules'--versus those that say 'Sometimes you have to break the rules to do a good job'...are much more likely to be terminated for breaking the rules."

Published on: Dec 14, 2015