Toxic Workers

38 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2015 Last revised: 17 Nov 2015

See all articles by Michael Housman

Michael Housman

Cornerstone OnDemand

Dylan Minor

Anderson School of Management (UCLA)

Date Written: November 16, 2015


While there has been a strong focus in past research on discovering and developing top performers in the workplace, less attention has been paid to the question of how to manage those workers on the opposite side of the spectrum: those who are harmful to organizational performance. In extreme cases, aside from hurting performance, such workers can generate enormous regulatory and legal fees and liabilities for the firm. We explore a large novel dataset of over 50,000 workers across 11 different firms to document a variety of aspects of workers’ characteristics and circumstances that lead them to engage in what we call "toxic" behavior. We also explore the relationship between toxicity and productivity, and the ripple effect that a toxic worker has on her peers. Finally, we find that avoiding a toxic worker (or converting him to an average worker) enhances performance to a much greater extent than replacing an average worker with a superstar worker.

Keywords: strategic human resource management, misconduct, worker productivity, ethics, superstar

Suggested Citation

Housman, Michael and Minor, Dylan, Toxic Workers (November 16, 2015). Harvard Business School Strategy Unit Working Paper No. 16-057, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Housman

Cornerstone OnDemand ( email )

San Francisco, CA

Dylan Minor (Contact Author)

Anderson School of Management (UCLA) ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

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