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The Cost of the 'Toxic Rockstar' Employee

Aug 22, 2022
The Cost of the 'Toxic Rockstar' Employee

3 minute read - enough time for 0.5 morning lattes 

Toxic employees, toxic colleagues - we’ve all experienced one or the other at some point in our professional careers. Although it’s rare that some of the best employees will fall into this category, there are grey areas: thus, the Toxic Rockstar employee is born.

Harvard Business Review produced a compelling article on this topic, highlighting that “most of us have known a high performer who is a bully at work or a leader who delivers results but creates a toxic environment. These “toxic rock stars” can ruin the workplace experience for most employees.”

The cost of this can cause exponential damage to your business’s culture, people, and overall performance.

So, how do you spot the toxic rockstar employee? And, how can you mitigate their behaviour? 

They don’t uphold the company values 

Your company values should be upheld by every employee in your business, through their daily actions as well as how they interact with others. The toxic rockstar employee will feel as though due to their high-quality performance, they are absolved of needing to respect company values - when in fact is should be the complete opposite.

They don’t treat everybody equally

Rockstar or not, treating people how you wish to be treated is simply how it should be. But, pay attention to how your best employees interact with everybody else in the business. Regardless of seniority, collaboration is key in every business - so look out for this behaviour as it’s a telltale sign!

Reading the room: People don’t warm to this person

It can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of internal communications and how people are interacting with each other. But, look at how others respond to your rockstar employees. Do they warm to them, go to them for advice, and listen to what they have to say? Or, do they tolerate them simply because they’re the best performer in your team/organisation? 

Their only redeeming trait is their performance

Taking your top performers at face value, what else makes them a top employee beyond this? 

Do they show compassion to others? Are they likeable? And most importantly, are they the type of leader (or future leader) that you want to represent your organisation? 

These can be tough questions to ask - but you have to see beyond their performance and instead look at them as an individual: does this person add wholehearted value or are they just a good revenue generator? 

Dealing with the toxic rockstar employee is achievable, but it can be a difficult conversation to broach.

With toxic rockstars, you have two options:

1. Address it at the root and look for a change in attitude

Ultimately, you can’t assume that your toxic rockstar employee will be inherently “bad” forever - however, you need to have a conversation to address their behaviour and tackle it at the root. How they respond over time will indicate to you whether they are keen to change or not.

2. Consider the future of this individual in your organisation

It sounds harsh, but the cost of the toxic rockstar employee could be causing individuals to leave, and your business to suffer in the long-term (even if you can’t see that right now). 

This can breed a lot of inner conflict, because if the individual is meeting impressive targets and progressing through the ranks, you can feel at a loss when it comes to looking for reasons why this individual can’t exist in your organisation anymore.

This is why it's so crucial to measure performance across multiple areas of your organisation, and ensure that culture and values form a part of your promotions criteria! 

This way, you can prevent the toxic rockstar employee from becoming a phenomenon within your organisation, and instead, create an environment that is empowering, inclusive, and enjoyable for all.

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