SUPERSTAR EMPLOYEES are the obsession of the corporate world. They’re highly sought after, given the most attention and the best opportunities, generously rewarded, and expressly reassured after setbacks. And while some question whether such special treatment is appropriate, it’s clear that this group has outsize influence: high-performers have been estimated to be four times as productive as average workers, and research has shown that they may generate 80% of a business’s profits and attract other star employees. They can comprise the top 3% to 20% of a company’s workforce.
But according to a recent working paper from Harvard Business School, there’s another group that can have an even greater effect on organizations: toxic workers. These are talented and productive people who engage in behavior that is harmful to an organization, say authors Dylan Minor, a visiting assistant professor at HBS, and Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand.