New Year Promise: Be Positive and Avoid Toxic Traits As Women Leaders

A new study shows the traits of toxic employees and how they view themselves.

A new study shows the traits of toxic employees and how they view themselves.

It’s the time of year when it seems most everyone is making resolutions for the New Year and also perhaps finalizing hiring plans for 2017.

This new study by Montreal-based uncovers traits to look out for when hiring new employees or evaluating current staff members, including manipulativeness, vindictiveness and deception.

These employees are definitely leaning towards naughty and away from nice. As an effective women leaders and positive role models, you want to be able to spot these traits, as well as avoid ever demonstrating them.

Some employees look great on paper. They’re accomplished, well-educated, and have all the technical skills needed to do the job. But “vindictiveness” and “deception” won’t be listed under their job skills; “disdain for rules” won’t be covered in their accomplishments; and “antagonist” will not be in their job title.

Employees with a toxic personality may be hard to spot in an interview, but a new study by PsychTests indicates certain core traits that toxic employees tend to display can make the office a very unpleasant environment. It would be wise, then, as women leaders, in the New Year to sort this all out and move ahead with a positive work culture.

It would be wise as women leaders to rid your work culture of toxic traits in the New Year

Analyzing data from 997 people who took their Integrity and Work Ethics Test, researchers at PsychTests looked at the most prominent traits that set toxic people apart from the rest of the population. Scales range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the stronger the trait. Among the 17 traits assessed, these are the top six most toxic characteristics:

1. Calculating

Score for toxic group: 64

Score for non-toxic group: 14

Cunningly opportunistic, toxic individuals will immediately seize the chance to take advantage of a situation or a person (especially if they are vulnerable). Every move and decision they make is carefully planned, like a play in chess. Toxic employees will only help others if it benefits them in some way.

2. Vindictiveness

Score for toxic group: 62
Score for non-toxic group: 11

Not only are toxic employees more likely to hold grudges, they are unlikely to let slights or transgressions committed against them go unpunished. They may even go out of their way to get back at someone who wronged them, like a colleague who is competing with them for a promotion, or a manager who gives them a bad performance review.

3. Manipulation

Score for toxic group: 61
Score for non-toxic group: 8

Toxic employees can influence people to achieve their own ends by preying on their weaknesses or toying with their emotions. They are not opposed to using guilt-tripping, intimidation or downright blackmail to achieve what they desire.


Score for toxic group: 61
Score for non-toxic group: 5

Some workers may take pleasure in seeing others fail, especially enemies or competitors. They feel vindicated when someone who has wronged or crossed them gets a taste of their own medicine or becomes a victim of misfortune.

5. Disdain for Gullible People

Score for toxic group: 61
Score for non-toxic group: 14

Toxic employees have little sympathy for people who don’t think for themselves and who believe everything they hear. And given their opportunistic nature, toxic individuals may be more likely to take advantage of people who can be easily fooled. In their view, “the fools” had it coming or are basically asking to be exploited.

6. Disdain for Weakness

Score for toxic group: 60
Score for non-toxic group: 15

These employees tend to dislike overly emotional people, and often interpret a lack of emotional discipline as a sign of weakness. Toxic managers may have little sympathy for employees who are going through a difficult time or struggling with a challenging project.

More results from the study revealed:

  • 45 percent of toxic employees lied about their job skills on their résumé.

  • 33 percent exaggerated their accomplishments.

  • 29 percent lied about why the left their previous job.

  • 57 percent covered up a mistake at work so that they wouldn’t get in trouble.

  • 34 percent spend more than half an hour surfing the web during work hours.

  • 22 percent have stolen from their employer

  • 35 percent consider dishonesty justifiable if an employee hasn’t had a raise in a long time.

  • Surprisingly, 57 percent of toxic employees (compared to 53% of non-toxic employees) believe in karma.

With more and more companies adopting a “no reference” policy, it can be difficult to get a clear picture of what an employee is really like. Accomplishments and good grades may indicate ambition and discipline, for example, but they won’t tell you whether a person is tactful, kind, or a team player.

Accomplishments won’t tell you if a person is a kind team player

This means that employees with problematic and toxic traits will slip through the cracks. Companies will only find out how detrimental a person is to team morale and camaraderie once this individual starts working with other people. It may take months for someone to show their true colors, as people tend to be on their best behavior for a few months after being hired. Positive women leaders can be vigilant about addressing these negative traits.

It takes a number of incidents before people really cue in – and even then, management may fail to take action until other staff members file a complaint, especially if they turn in excellent work. But while toxic employees may still get work done well, they affect the atmosphere of the entire team. Their colleagues’ focus often shifts from performance and quality control to licking their wounds and airing their grievances. The cost of toxic attitudes and behaviors is tremendous.

Here you can assess your own level of honesty and integrity. You can either pat yourself on the back because none of thesxe traits apply to anyone on your team, or you can work harder in the New Year to avoid these negative traits and build a positive work culture.

About the Author

Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D.,is the president and Scientific Director of PsychTests AIM Inc.,in Montreal, a division of Plumeus Inc. She graduated from Bishop’s University with Honors in Applied Psychology and earned her doctoral degree in clinical sciences from the Medical School of Sherbrooke University. She trained in psychiatric genetics as part of her post-doctoral fellowship at McGill University. She is a recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal and has written or collaborated on the development of more than 200 scientifically validated psychological assessments and several matching applications. She has managed the development of a database of 10,000 items covering hundreds of topics from personality to intelligence, attitudes and skills.