Why You Might Have to Fire Your Star (Toxic) Employee

Self-made millionaire and New York Times best-selling author Gary Vaynerchuk recently gave an impassioned presentation in front of business leaders on how to build a robust work culture.

His message was loud and clear: be ready to fire toxic employees regardless of whether they’re your best developer, best salesperson, or even your company co-founder. If their attitude is making the other employees miserable, be prepared to let go of them.

It’s an interesting take that may raise eyebrows, especially from companies that value productivity over everything else. But it’s also sound advice that’s backed by data. Long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term impact of firing a toxic superstar employee.

In this post, we’ll discuss the reasons why you might have to fire your star employee, the possible effects it might have on your company, and the steps you can implement to achieve greater success.

The Cost of Hiring a Toxic Worker

Harvard Business School’s 2015 study reveals the economic impact of hiring toxic workers. They defined “toxic” as someone who engages in behavior that is detrimental to the organization, including its people and its properties.

The study showed that a superstar employee, defined as someone who consistently delivers performance-wise, will save a company around $5,300. However, letting go of a superstar employee with a negative attitude yields even more significant savings at around $12,500.

Toxic workers can be a significant factor in causing the following:

Voluntary Turnovers

Employees won’t hesitate to leave a company when they feel unhappy with their co-workers.

And high employee turnovers cost a lot of money.

From recruitment to hiring and onboarding, your company would be spending more than necessary on these processes as long as toxic workers continue to make your other employees leave.

Low Employee Morale

Toxic workers who always spread negativity can cause low employee morale. As we know, happiness at work is crucial in employee productivity. It’s hard to motivate workers to give their best effort when morale is low.

Legal Troubles

In some cases, you may even end up getting sued because of negative employee behavior. Litigation costs a lot and hurts the reputation of your business.

When you weigh in these factors, it becomes clear why your company is better off letting go of a toxic employee, superstar or not.

Workplace Culture Is Everything

Workplace culture is the environment you provide to your employees. And no, we’re not merely talking about the free-flowing coffee or the pool table in the cafeteria. It’s all about how your employees feel they are being treated by their superiors and by their peers.

A superstar employee who hangs a dark cloud over their colleagues will hurt the workplace culture, which in turn will affect other aspects of your business.

Just think of the many benefits of having a positive workplace, which include the following:

Employee Retention Will Increase

You would be able to save a lot of time, effort, and money on the hiring process if most of your employees choose to stay and work long-term for your company.

As Gary Vaynerchuk mentioned in his talk, continuity is a vital part of any company’s progression. A revolving door of a workplace due to toxic employees will only stunt your growth.

Employees Will Be More Engaged

The productivity will rise as a result of an increase in employee engagement. Your employees are likely to give their best effort in a positive working environment.

Your Company Will Attract the Best Talent

It will be easier to recruit the right candidates when your company has an excellent reputation.

Aside from the salary, benefits, and career path, potential applicants usually consider the work environment before applying. The best workers, with talent and the right attitude, will come to you when they know you can provide them with a great working environment.

All of these benefits and more can be wiped out with toxic workers, no matter how productive they may be. It may be difficult to fire superstar employees. But when they’re hurting the workplace culture, it would be more beneficial in the long run for your company to let them go and move on.

Attitude Matters More than Skills

It’s an age-old debate when it comes to the hiring process. Should you look for talent or skills? Ideally, it’s best to search for both.

Specific jobs can’t be performed merely on the merits of having the right attitude. For instance, you can’t hire someone to be a surgeon just because they are kind when they don’t have the proper education and training. That would be disastrous!

When it comes to most entry-level jobs though, it’s better to hire someone with a great attitude, as long as the skills, or at least the potential, are also present. The character of every potential hire matters just as much as their qualifications.

With all the technology available at our disposal, it’s not as difficult now to acquire the necessary job skills. New hires with a great attitude would be open to feedback and learning. A bad behavior, however, may be more challenging to change.

When doing background checks, make sure you conduct it thoroughly to get to know the individual better before hiring. Get in touch with their previous supervisors or human resource managers when possible instead of only relying on the character reference they provided.

You can trust an employee with good attributes to keep going even in the face of obstacles, to excel at team collaboration, and to help build a positive culture. You can’t expect the same from someone who’s lacking in attributes, notwithstanding how impressive their qualifications or performance may be.

Choose someone with both the skills and the attributes. But if you can only select one, choose the latter, because it’s easier to teach skills than it is to change behavior.

Pay Attention to What Your Employees Are Saying and Doing

To know which ones of your employees are negatively impacting the morale of the workplace, it’s also essential to pay attention to employee behavior and to take their feedback and reports seriously.

Just as important as worrying about the company’s bottom line is being on the lookout for red flags in a worker’s behavior, whether you consider them a superstar employee or not.

When you receive unfavorable reports from employees about their colleagues, listen, and take action. Make sure that employees know the company is taking care of them by listening to them and watching out for their emotional well-being.

While it’s not necessary to fire a bad-behaving worker right away, taking measures such as counseling them and imposing sanctions when warranted are a must.

Turning a blind eye to an employee just because they’re a superstar worker will only cause others to lose trust in you. This can also lead to a decrease in morale and engagement, thereby creating a toxic work culture.

Addition by Subtraction

Firing toxic workers even when they’re superstars in terms of performance may hurt your productivity in its immediate aftermath.

But think of it as an addition by subtraction.

What you’ll lose in output in the interim, you’ll get back in spades in the long run when your workplace culture improves, employees become more engaged, and productivity increases.