the exact cost of a toxic employee, collaboration overload, and more

Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: the exact cost of a toxic employee, collaboration overload, and more. You can read it here.

{ 63 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Educator*

    I think even the ~$12,000 estimate of damage a toxic employee does isn’t taking into account that many times, particularly if the toxic employee is in a management position, toxic employees drive away good employees. High turnover always costs in productivity, morale, etc.

    1. new reader*

      Agreed that the cost is much higher with a toxic manager. I previously worked for a toxic manager and we joked that the main office door needed to be replaced with a turnstile due to the high turnover rate from all the staff the manager drove away. And while staff were job hunting to be able to escape, there was little motivation to excel or go above and beyond, thereby limiting productivity.

      1. JM in England*

        I also second that a toxic manager is more damaging to a company.

        During a reshuffle at OldJob, a boorish & arrogant coworker was promoted to team manager. Under his reign, morale & productivity plummeted; this was mainly due to his introduction of draconian measures, chief of which was that anyone making two major mistakes within a 30 day period was automatically put on a PIP. In fact, this was what caused a long serving (over 30 years!) employee to just walk out one day. Thankfully, I managed to get out; this was lucky because three years after, the entire building in which I worked was closed down by TPTB………..

    2. AMG*

      Yes! I know someone who not only drove off half a dozen people, but also caused issues ranging in the millions of dollars, drew accounting, legal, HR, execs into multiple problems that could have been easily avoided. He was laid off after I left and not surprisingly, is coming up on a year with no job leads.

      1. sunny-dee*

        My (soon to be ex) manager wasn’t quite that bad, but we’ve had 100% turnover in the last year for people in my role. And considering they’ve actually added headcount for the role (it started off with two and now it’s around 12), that’s pretty impressive. Counting the two people who are looking but not actively applying, and it’ll be about 125% turnover soon.

        For the total department, it’s still over 25% turnover in a single year, and that is INSANE.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Is your soon-to-be-ex-manager at the top of the food chain for your organization? Because if not, that person’s boss is asleep at the wheel if there’s been no call to account for the 100% turnover in one year. (Unless this person was charged with conducting a clean sweep)

          I suspect that any exit interviews (if they were even done) provided little in the way of substance in outlining the reasons for departure.

          1. sunny-dee*

            He’s a director, but not the top. He’s relatively new, and I think his boss was trying to be more hands-off to allow the department to change. But, ironically, he’s not implementing any (needed) changes. People are leaving largely because he is rude and negative. I have two close friends who went to other roles in the company, and both were explicit in why they were leaving … and one of them overheard him telling his boss that she had left because she decided to pursue a different career path. So, he’s at least misrepresenting a lot of the troubles to upper management.

            I’m moving to a different department next month, and the air already tastes sweeter.

    3. Bea W*

      I had a toxic senior manager at one job. Pretty sure in turn over alone she was racking up more than 12k/year between having to pay it unused vacation hours and then the cost of the searches for replacements and training them. Then there’s all the paid sick time people in her department had to take because high stress on the job generally results in that kind of thing. PTO is time people are not producing = more $ lost, and certainly all the time and effort she put into berating people and looking for reasons to berate them, not to mention re-writing employee reviews written by her line managers to try to stick it to her targets, equates to loss of her own productivity. Factor in the length of time she’s been allowed to be horrible, and the losses probably total in the 6-figures.

      I really want to anonymously send this to my former employer, but will behave. It’s their business if the want to stand around roasting marshmellos over a big pile of burning cash.

  2. TheLazyB (uk)*

    Wow, we got an email in work the other day about the collaboration bottleneck! Not often you cross over with work like that, Alison :) I find it really interesting and depressingly believable.

  3. Wendy Darling*

    I had a horrible time with collaboration overload at my last job. I was the one technical person on a team of non-technical people, so whenever someone needed help with the technical aspect of a task they came to me. Which was great until it turned into two specific people expecting me to do any technical portion of their job they found hard.

    Shockingly, I did not have time to do my entire job plus 15% of two other people’s jobs. Unfortunately any time I pushed back about doing some task FOR them (not helping, they usually left the room) RIGHT NOW (no matter how slammed I was) they went to our boss and informed her I refused to help them. She hadn’t seen it go down and I got told off for being unhelpful and dinged on my review, which resulted in me feeling like I couldn’t say no to even the most unreasonable of requests (“Please do this 2+ hour setup and troubleshooting for me, I need it by the end of the day, I’m going to lunch bye! What do you MEAN you have meetings and deadlines?!”). This led to burnout and resentment of being asked for help. Bad scene.

    1. Chinook*

      ” Which was great until it turned into two specific people expecting me to do any technical portion of their job they found hard.”

      I have had that happen here. The request usually disappear when I asked what account code I can charge my time to since my department shouldn’t have to pay for their work.

    2. Vicki*

      Yes, that whole “you’re not being helpful” thing is really nasty. I had that with one manager (and a contractor who could not seem to manager her own work). The contractor was fired (it turned out I was not the only person doing work for her) but I still got dinged on my review.

  4. Leslie Knope's Waffle*

    In my opinion, the result of collaboration overload is….no work is actually being done. I’m a self-starter, “get it done” kind of person, so this drives me bananas.

    1. Jerzy*

      I don’t have anything to add to this comment, but I have to tip my hat to that amazing username of yours. Made me smile. :)

  5. Bend & Snap*

    We just had a huge round of layoffs and a lot of people who were let go were frigging nightmares to work with. Just jerks, bullies and/or slackers.


    1. JM in England*

      That’s odd! IME, it’s usually the most diligent & hardworking employees that tend to be let go…………

  6. fposte*

    #4 makes me think of the behavioral economics research that indicates people mind an investing loss about twice as much as the cheer an investing gain. I think overall as humans we just feel more reward from things not sucking.

    1. Chriama*

      Survival instinct. Humans are loss-averse, which from an evolutionary standpoint makes sense. If you’ve got a secure source of food and shelter it doesn’t make sense to risk losing it to get *more*. On the other hand, if you don’t have enough resources already, your survival depends on being able to hang on to whatever’s left.

  7. Mallory Janis Ian*

    Another loss from having a toxic employee around is the amount of time other employees spend venting about the situation. I’ve seen workplaces where people have spentso much time complaining about a toxic person, often just to convince themselves that other people see the same thing they do, that they aren’t the crazy one.

  8. super anon*

    does anyone else get a 403 forbidden page when they click the link? i’m in canada if it makes any difference.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s actually Inc.! The problem is a little different with QuickBase — they just launched a new site and are having an issue with Canadian access. I’m asking if they have an ETA for a fix.

      1. Alex Forbes*

        Hi All,

        I’ve been told the 403 Forbidden/blocking access for some has been resolved. It had to do with a new hosting provider’s configuration. If those who experienced a 403 or Forbidden error message wouldn’t mind testing it again, I’d greatly appreciate it. The Fast Track is my baby and I certainly don’t want ANYONE to have problems reading it. Comments, concerns, feedback welcome at TheFastTrack@intuit dot com. Thank you so much for your patience as we continue to work through post-launch issues as quickly as possible.

        The Fast Track

        1. Shell*

          It works fine for me now (I had been getting 403 for a couple of days but didn’t comment since everyone beat me to it). Canada, using Firefox.

          Thanks, Alex and Alison!

  9. So Very Anonymous*

    “More often than not, the volume and diversity of work they do to benefit others goes unnoticed, because the requests are coming from other units, varied offices, or even multiple companies.”

    Oh man, this is me.

  10. Small town reporter*

    My last workplace had one toxic employee (combined with a toxic person who was our bossess’ boss) whose presence was a major factor in at least five fairly productive employees leaving. This was in a department of 12 people, and a department that had had very low turnover until these two people (the coworker and the person in charge of our bossess) were promoted. In fact, the toxic coworker is the only person in that department who was there two years ago. At a newspaper, the loss of that much institutional knowledge is a big problem. Thankfully, it’s not my problem anymore, since I got out of there.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I worked in an office that had 16 employees. Within a year of Toxic Employee coming in, 13 of those employees had left. 13/16 in one year. And, yes, the 3 remaining includes Toxic Employee.

  11. AMG*

    I like being the person everyone in my department needs to collaborate with. I make sure to advocate for myself so that my boss knows all of the things I’m involved in. Haven’t burned out yet but I will be sure to take the warning and proceed carefully if I feel like it’s happening.

  12. SophieChotek*

    Read the article on Inc. “Exact Cost of a Toxic Employee” and at the end it states:
    As the third predictor of toxic behavior:

    “If a person states emphatically that the rules should always be followed no matter what, watch out,” states the Gazette before quoting Minor: “I find very strong evidence in my study that those that say ‘Oh no, you should always follow the rules’–versus those that say ‘Sometimes you have to break the rules to do a good job’…are much more likely to be terminated for breaking the rules.”

    I’m not quite sure I understand. Is the article saying that because toxic employees are likely to insist on the rules that is where/how a business builds a case to fire them? Or that toxic employees, despite saying they follow the rules, are more apt to break them?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      here’s the full quote from the source:

      “That is kind of counterintuitive. In a simple world, we would just ask someone, ‘Do you always follow the rules?’ And if you do, then of course, you’re not going to ever break them. But I find very strong evidence in my study that those that say ‘Oh no, you should always follow the rules’ — versus those that say ‘Sometimes you have to break the rules to do a good job’ — that the people who say ‘I never break the rules’ are much more likely to be terminated for breaking the rules,” said Minor.

      They’re saying that people who make a point of saying they always follow the rules actually don’t.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        It sort of like when a guy makes a point of saying he’s a “nice guy,” which means he’s probably a Nice Guy™, which means he’s probably not nice at all.

        1. A Bug!*

          To put a finer point on it, it’s like when someone who says “I’m a nice guy” really means that as far as you’ll ever know (or even more specifically, as far as you’ll ever be able to prove), he does everything he thinks people expect a nice guy to do, because he wants to receive the benefits he thinks it will get him.

          But in the case of people who agree that rules should always be followed, it’s sometimes a genuine answer from someone who’s too naïve (wilfully or not) to see the nuance in the question. They’ll say “yes” because they’re only thinking in terms of “good” rules that don’t conflict with any other rules. It might be an indicator of poor judgment (because if they can’t imagine a situation where they have to choose between two rules, it’s hard to gauge what they would do in the face of one), but it doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on their character.

        2. AnotherTeacher*

          I’m sometimes curious about these statements that tell the listener what kind of person the speaker is – “I’m a nice guy,” “I like to be upfront with people,” “I like to work really efficiently,” etc. Like you said, the statement often seems to contrast with what is actually happening.

    2. QualityControlFreak*

      This is interesting. Because of what I do, I would generally say I’m a rule-follower. However, also because of what I do, I question the reasons behind the rules and whether they are accomplishing their purpose. I don’t advocate breaking the rules to do a good job. I do advocate changing the rules if they are standing in the way of doing a good job.

  13. Cautionary tail*

    I’d really like to read the article on my phone but it won’t let me. The link opens and then as soon as I start to scroll down below the advert at the top of the article I get a pop-up that blocks my whole screen. When I click on the X to clear it and I start to scroll down again another pop-up appears. After five times I gave up without ever seeing a single word in the article.

    I’m sure it’s an interesting article; too bad it won’t let me read it so I’ll never truly know.

    1. Alex Forbes*

      What are the pop up messages you’re seeing?
      If to subscribe, I’ll ask our provider to turn this off for mobile.
      I am unsure what other pop-ups could be on?

      Thank you,

        1. Cautionary tail*

          Sorry about the long wait. When I said I gave up, I really meant it.

          The pop-up, eight hours later, still pops up. The text is “Team Productivity – What You Need to Know This Week.” I know that is also the title of the article but that’s what has popped up an additional five times this evening, blocking the whole screen and requiring me to X out of it whereupon the page resets to the top. The cycle then repeats.

          For detail, I see “The Fast Track” with an orange hamburger icon on the top line. Below that is the article title, “Team Productivity – What You Need to Know This Week.” Below that is a photograph and when I try to scroll down to even see what the photograph is, wham the pop-up obscures my whole screen. If I scroll down very quickly then for about 1/4 of a second I can see a lady looking at what appears to be two notebook computers, then poof the photo and the whole screen are blocked by the pop-up.

          Thank you both for inquiring.

            1. Cautionary tail*

              Blackberry 9930 on VZW
              OS 7.1
              Regular Blackberry browser
              I know this is not the most modern device but I haven’t had issues on other sites or on Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track in the past.

              Thank you

  14. Not Gloria A.A., B.S.*

    The other problem with “collaborative overload” is that employees that would like to be involved in projects are excluded from them. I was once on a team where one person was the go-to for everything. She was praised extensively by management for her attitude and willingness to help out and volunteer. Thing was, when management asked for volunteers for these projects, she was the only non-management employee in the room, so of course she was the one who volunteered.

  15. MissDisplaced*

    Collaborative overload. Yes.
    Although I tend to think of it in a slightly different way. Collaboration is great, except when things are on tight deadlines, then it can become a real nightmare. I work in a subjective area (design and writing) where there isn’t always a “right” answer but lots of opinions on everything from color to photos to word choice. When you have to collaborate with a fairly large worldwide team… naturally there are more of those. It can be very tricky to navigate so that everyone gets a look at things and a chance for their input, but if they don’t respond in a timely manner, still move ahead. I’ve often had to resort to “If I do not hear back from you by xx day, I will assume you are ok with everything.”

    But of course, someone always replies too late.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    I’d like to see the numbers on how a toxic boss/employee impact health costs.

    One place I worked, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. There were several severely toxic bosses. We were not allowed to have water in our work areas. Annndd my work area was 45 degrees and it was frowned on to wear sweaters.
    Here’s the interesting part. The company decided that health care costs were too high. So they implemented the lunch police. Well, that’s not what they called her, but she came around and examined your lunch.

    Employees were laughing, “Hey, turn the heat on, let us wear sweaters, let us drink water and get rid of the bosses who cuss at us all day long. Probably we won’t get so sick all the time if our stomachs aren’t in knots over the work conditions here. And we will have less trips to the doctor.”

    We see it here, too. How many people write into say they have PTSD after a bad boss/cohort and they are having medical treatment or counseling for it? I don’t understand why companies do not get this, if your people are not sick all the time then health care costs will go down. Pretty simple.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*


      45 degrees and no sweaters sounds like an OSHA violation (or it should be!). And their solution was policing people’s lunches?!

      Were this a letter, I’d vote for it for worst boss of the year.

    2. On a Road to Nowhere*

      So you used to work for Dysfunctional Teapots too eh? We had one boss that told two of us we ‘couldn’t talk to each other’ even on our own time.

  17. Meg Murry*

    I find it interesting that no one has comment on the distractions part of the article, or this statement:

    “more upper management employees spend 30 minutes or more each day taking trips to the water cooler or break room than lower management employees, and they spend 30 minutes or more each day talking to friends than lower management employee”

    Since this is a self reported study, I wonder if that would still prove out reality, or if it is just that upper management is more likely to admit to how long they spend doing this than lower management. Or if it becomes a case of people who work really long late hours taking more breaks mid-day and therefore doing a similar amount of actual “work”.

Comments are closed.