The 7 toxic employee types you should look for in your recruiting process

Recruiting staff can be a long and arduous process. In any industry, hiring the wrong fit for a particular role can be an expensive mistake and a waste of time. Despite thorough interview and testing processes, many hiring managers still end up hiring toxic employees who create unsafe workplaces. How does this happen?

Safety People Australia recently held an information event, ‘How to avoid a high risk employee’ to find out the best recruiting practices to avoid hiring damaging employees. Two industry experts, Warren Senn and Justine Turnbull, both renowned for identifying and managing toxic people in the workplace, joined us for a morning of insights. Here’s what you missed!

The 7 toxic employee types you should look for in your recruiting process

Live polling was used at the event to capture the experiences of hiring managers with toxic employees.

Our poll revealed that 100% of the participants have experienced unsafe workers in their organisation.

How can you avoid hiring a high risk employee?

With over 20 years’ experience as a Psychologist, and nearly another 20 as Director of the HR Consultancy Lixivium Consulting, there are few hiring managers who have Warren Senn’s expert understanding of workplace psychology. Warren has profiled the seven most toxic employees to infiltrate the workforce. Do you recognise any of them?

1. Obsessive-compulsive – ‘The Perfectionist’

This person focuses on extreme attention to detail. Often known as a ‘perfectionist’ they set unreasonably high expectations for themselves, and their team members.

Danger: This person is hypersensitive to criticism, and often sees themselves as more productive than the rest of the team, blaming others for being less than ‘perfect’.

2. Histrionic – ‘The Drama Queen’

This person must be the centre of attention at all times, and seek constant praise.

Danger: Their need for attention often causes them to over exaggerate everyday events and situations, and cause chaos by overreacting.

3. Sociopath – ‘The Con-Man’

This person has a high sense of entitlement with little to no concern for others, or their organisation, meaning they will use toxic measures to beat the system.

Danger: Their lack of remorse and empathy makes them toxic to work with others. Their behaviour is often destructive, deceitful and manipulative, which includes lying, stealing and demonstrating aggressiveness.

4. Paranoid – ‘Trust no-one, suspect everyone’

This person is distrustful and suspicious of others without reasonable cause.

Danger: Their extreme distrust causes them to misinterpret innocent interactions, and they have a hair-trigger response to anger or criticism, making it difficult for them to work in in stressful environments. They also harbour extreme resentment to others and rarely let go of past grudges.

5. Borderline Personality – ‘Two-faced’

This person exhibits wildly impulsive behaviour, and tends to see the world in black and white.

Danger: This person may use gossiping, and manipulation to have a divisive influence over co-workers. They exhibit contradictory actions which makes others distrustful and hurt by them – this includes switching between idealising co-workers to devaluing them.

6. Narcissistic – ‘Self-Absorbed’

This person is often motivated and produces good work, but only if it’s in their best interest. They are preoccupied with power, wealth, material possessions, beauty, intelligence or strength.

Danger: They often see themselves as indispensable, and view others as unimportant. Their constant self-serving behaviour often leads them to take advantage of others.

7. Passive aggressive – ‘Death by 1000 cuts’

This person is superficially compliant, but exhibits passive resistance. Often a perfectionist, this person sulks in response to negative feedback, and sometimes gives others the silent treatment.

Danger: This person will sabotage their own work quality and/or work ethic as an act of passive aggressiveness, including: procrastinating, malingers, forgetting, being absent (physically, mentally and emotionally), intentionally inefficient, stubborn and sulky.

Harmful impact of these personalities in the workforce

The most universal trait these toxic employees exhibit is the inability to work effectively in a team. When working in safety-related roles, employees are often exposed to stressful, high-impact, and dangerous situations. In order to navigate and handle these situations safely and effectively, you need to be able to communicate, understand and trust others in your team. It only takes one toxic individual to break an entire team – and if your team isn’t working effectively in a safety role you are placing everyone at risk.

Even when your team isn’t exposed to unsafe conditions, these toxic employees almost always come hand-in-hand with bullying and harassment – both of which can have serious physical, emotional and psychological turmoil on its victims, resulting in reduced morale, poor work quality, and high churn of good employees.

Legal ramifications of toxic employees

If your organisation isn’t actively managing a safe work environment that is void of bullying, it could be at risk of litigation. Our second guest speaker, Justine Turnbull, an authority on HR law and workplace behaviour issues, led us through some litigation examples.

While 100% of poll participants knew of their moral responsibilities for managing a safe workforce, 15.4% were unaware of the legal implications of organisational bullying.

While every circumstance of workplace litigation is different, Justine made it clear that damages and loss of company reputation can be large and extensive. Here are some of the cases she discussed:

  • Mathews v Winslow Constructors – The Supreme Court of Victoria awarded an employee over $1.3 million in damages. Mathews was subjected to extensive abuse, sexual harassment and bullying from co-workers, and her employer was negligent in providing a safe working environment.
  • Richardson v OracleThe Federal Court awarded $130 thousand in damages to an ex-employee who had been subjected to ongoing sexual harassment from a manager. Oracle was found to be liable for the actions of the manager and had to pay for the damages.
  • Victorian Apprentice Case – An apprentice was subjected to such extreme physical, verbal and psychological bullying from co-workers and managers that the employer was convicted of a criminal offence under WHS laws. A breach in WHS laws can lead up to $3 million in fines and up to five years imprisonment.

So, how do you keep toxic employees out of the workplace?

Our experts both agree that the best measure to keep your workforce safe and clear of these toxic employees is by detecting them early in your recruitment process. Unfortunately, traditional recruiting methods have made it easier for these personalities to fly under the radar, as they’re designed to measure competency rather than ego or empathy – neither of which are mutually exclusive.

While a majority of participants found psychometric testing to be valuable, most hiring managers don’t use it in their hiring process.

Instead, hiring managers should be measuring the depth of potential employee’s emotional intelligence and the stability of their ego. This can include questions and tasks such as:

  1. Asking questions about their ability to handle conflict resolution:
    • “What would you do if…?”
    • “Why would you do it…?”
  2. Get them to write a story or reflective piece about themselves and review the language used to describe or justify their behaviour.
  3. Create selection mechanisms that put the person under pressure to reveal their true traits.
    • E.g. assess how they react to constructive criticism.

Alternatively, the best measure to ensure that you are hiring quality, reliable and team-oriented employees is by using a specialist recruiter. Safety People Australia use best practice when it comes to selecting the right candidate for a safety role. Since 2002, Safety People Australia have been providing a safe and productive workforce for some of Australia’s largest organisations.

We specialise in placing certified, experienced, and goal-driven professionals in safety-related roles, including:

  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Injury & Risk Management
  • Allied Health
  • Health and Wellbeing

Our commitment to safety and expertise in safety recruitment has led us to be trusted by some of Australia and New Zealand’s largest and well-recognised organisations.

Find your next recruit with Safety People Australia.