Bad Behavior Isn’t Good Performance

A recent Washington Post article, Beware the rule-following co-worker, Harvard study warns, points out four signs of a toxic employee. Three of the four weren’t necessarily surprising, but it’s the fourth that really caught my attention.

Simply put, the study found that toxic employees tended to be more selfish and over-confident than their non-toxic colleagues, which is no big surprise. The third finding was that toxic employees tend to follow the rules more strictly, sometimes to the detriment of providing good service, or embracing the rules that keep them at the top of the pyramid. And while that’s interesting and perhaps counterintuitive, the finding that really got me is that toxic employees tend to more productive than the average worker. More!

What I find interesting about the productivity finding is this: that high performance oends up being an excuse for other poor behavior. I think we’ve all encountered such a scenario before. “Sure, Jim can be a pain, but his numbers are great!” It’s beyond frustrating when you’re on the receiving end of Jim’s pain – whether it’s passive-aggressively not responding to you or blatant disrespect, the message you receive is that it’s okay to treat people poorly as long as you’ve got success in another metric. And that’s how we end up with toxic employees who are more productive – not only do we allow it, but we often reward it, especially when that productivity means more profit.

This is the reason we as organization leaders need to integrate values and behaviors into job descriptions and performance expectations. There should be no paradox of good performance trumping poor behavior – good performance must include good behavior. They absolutely can’t be separated if you want your organization to be successful. They’re never easy conversations, but addressing the toxic behavior will not only help your other employees, it will save you money. Harvard says so!



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