I was surprised by the depth of response to a new workshop we created, focussing on toxic employees. What we discovered by this response is that a very significant number of people have encountered toxic behaviour in colleagues, leaders or subordinates.
This workshop (which we will need to rerun, given the response) focussed on the psychological markers of employee negative behaviour and then how to address the problem once it had arisen. We reviewed the evidence as to why this behaviour occurs, the main predictors being:
- Biological factors such as the employee possessing the “warrior gene”, monoamine oxidase A, often accompanied by atypical neurology such as a lack of self control.
- Cognitive ability. People with low IQ undertake such behaviours far more often than those with high IQ. Of course there are very many people with low IQ who are completely benign, but over the course of multiple hires it is a risk factor.
- Personality, particularly:
- Low Honesty-humility – a tendency to be manipulative and “conning”, often with a tendency to arrogance. Sadly also a risk factor for sexual harassment.
- High trait anger. Some people are naturally angrier than others, and this is a risk factor for bullying and other negative behaviour.
- Low conscientiousness, particularly the factors associated with self control such as the measure of “prudence”. People low in this tend to act more impulsively, rather than making decisions thoughtfully. A significant risk factor in combination with the factors above.
- The factors above are largely genetic, so they are the best indicators, but values can have an effect on the likelihood of negative behaviour. The keys appear to be:
- People high on this value believe in the importance of rules and that it is a good idea to follow them. They undertake negative behaviour less than those low in conformity.
- People high on power may seek to dominate and this is a risk factor for negative behaviour such as violence in combination with some of the other factors mentioned above.
Fortunately it is easy to test for cognitive ability, personality and values (not so much for the warrior gene, unless you add genetic screening to your recruitment approach!).
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