How to spot the office asshole
A smug businessman (Shutterstock)

How can you possibly get any work done when the office asshole is gossiping behind your back, taking credit for your work and stealing all the paper clips? The answer is simple: You can’t. A study from Harvard Business School found that not only are toxic employees bad for office culture, but they make everyone else less productive, too.


Researchers analyzed data on approximately 60,000 workers from 11 different companies, and looked specifically at employees whose awful office conduct led to termination. They concluded that any given company will save more than $12,000 if they can avoid hiring a toxic employee.

Ironically, avoiding one toxic employee is more cost effective than hiring one superstar (defined as someone who gets work done quickly and efficiently). Specifically, a superstar employee brings $5,303 in cost savings — far less than the cost to clean up the toxic spill of a terminated jerk-off.

How can you spot a toxic worker? The researchers identify three characteristics:

  • Selfishness: They think highly of themselves, and have little regard for others.
  • Overconfidence: They think they can do no wrong. This might lead to troublesome behavior (e.g., stealing from the company) because they’re convinced they can get away with it.
  • They Say They Always Follow the Rules: Maybe the most surprising characteristic, it’s the people who say they always follow the rules — versus those who would admit to sometimes breaking them — who are most likely to be fired for breaking the rules. Good luck wrapping your head around that one, Human Resources department.