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Tired of Hiring Toxic Employees? Screen Them Out Early

If you keep winding up with employees who aren’t a good fit for your practice, a new report from Harvard Business School sheds some light on how to avoid the problem.
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
PUBLISHED: Saturday, October 22, 2016
You’ve gotten to the point where you need some extra help in your practice. You sit through interviews, or you let your office management team handle the interviewing and hiring of your new talent. But it seems like you keep winding up with people who aren’t a good fit for your practice–they don’t pitch in to help your other team members, they don’t follow the rules, and it seems like they always have a bad attitude.

You’ve got a problem with toxic employees. How do you avoid all this in the first place?

Toxic employees do more than bring down the mood in your practice. They can also seriously hurt your bottom line. According to a Harvard Business School (HBS) report on toxic workers, even modest levels of toxic behavior can cost organizations big time in the form of unhappy patients, decreased morale in your practice, increased turnover, and damage to your reputation.

From a financial standpoint, even one toxic employee can cost you the monetary gains you make from your superstar employees. For example, the HBS study found that a superstar employee-a person in the top 1% of workers in terms of productivity-can add about $5,000 each year to your profit margin. Your toxic employee? They’re actually costing you about $12,000 every single year you keep them on the payroll.

How to Spot a Toxic Employee

You want to avoid this entire situation, and no one blames you. After all, if your toxic employee does something like steal from you, or forges patient records, the financial penalties you could face are going to be a lot more than $12,000.

There are certain things you can look for during the interview process that can help you identify people that might turn toxic so you don’t bring them into your practice in the first place. As the HBS report explained, toxic employees seem to share common traits. You can look for these traits to screen toxic people during your hiring process, but keep in mind that not all toxic employees will show all of them.
  • Overconfidence: If a person is overconfident, they’re more likely to overestimate their abilities to complete tasks correctly and within desired time frames. They automatically believe they can handle whatever your practice throws at them … but they also automatically believe that they can get away with doing something they know they shouldn’t. Hypothetically, if someone believes they can get away with doing something, they are more likely to do it. Even if they know they shouldn’t.
  • They Say the Rules Should Always be Followed: This is counterintuitive. It seems like someone who believes the rules were made to be followed would, in fact, follow them. The HBS study found just the opposite--it showed that people who said the rules always had to be followed were actually 25% more likely to be fired … for breaking the rules. People who said the rules should always be followed during interviews were saying that just to secure a job--they said it because it’s what they thought prospective employers wanted to hear. They didn’t necessarily believe it themselves.
  • They’re More Productive: Toxic employees tend to be faster when it comes to working. It typically takes them less time to complete tasks compared to their non-toxic coworkers. Even so, they’re not likely to help your practice in the long run. They might be faster, but they also don’t necessarily produce higher quality work.
  • They Regard Themselves Highly: Did your interviewee treat your receptionist like trash? Maybe they were rude to your other patients? It’s a good idea to check with everyone your interviewee came in contact with while they were waiting to interview. Toxic people typically have little regard for others, believing themselves to be above everyone else on some level. They don’t care about other people’s interests and don’t understand the consequences of their behaviors on the people around them.
  • They Say They Came from Another Toxic Workplace: Toxic environments breed toxic people. It’s like a sickness in the workplace--once it starts, it spreads around and infects everyone. Constant negativity, employee favoritism, narcissistic leaders, and major communication problems are all problems in the workplace that can influence people to develop toxic attitudes about work. As the HBS report found, a person who was exposed to a toxic work environment was 46% more likely to be fired for misconduct. It says a lot about just how damaging toxic attitudes can be.
It takes more time and effort to weed through your interview pool to find the best talent for your team, but the benefits of doing so far outweigh the risks of not pursing better people. You don’t have to shoot for only hiring the top 1% superstar employees either. Even average workers with positive attitudes can save you cash and make you more money in the long run compared to a toxic individual, and they save you the headache of having to deal with daily negativity, lower employee morale in your practice, upset patients, and even potential litigation. Screening for toxic people should be a part of every interview you conduct, since such signs are a good indication of likely problems you’ll have in the future.

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