Brilliant but difficult to work with – is it worth it?

Brilliant but difficult to work with – is it worth it?

Amnesty, the global human rights organisation, recently had to launch an internal investigation over two staff suicides in a single year.

This investigation found that staff were generally unhappy, but it wasn’t because of the misery and pain that they were faced with on a daily basis.

Instead, it was a poor working climate, with overbearing and bullying management and colleagues regularly mistreating each other contributing to an overall toxic workplace. The report actually used highly pointed language, describing the working culture as toxic, adversarial and having a lack of trust.

For a lot of managers, the bottom line and getting the job done is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how it happens, what it takes, or how that affects your personnel, as long as targets are hit, then everything is good.

In an environment like this, certain people thrive. People with a focus on performance over civility, on hitting targets over fostering a good environment. But despite their effectiveness in reaching goals, these people end up being a destructive element in almost all workplaces.

It might not even be due to the person themselves. Humans are highly malleable, and people will generally work to fit in to the others around them, moulding themselves to fit the prevailing culture.

This means a boss who allows toxic behaviours to continue, or worse, actively fosters them out of some misguided belief that it lets the high achievers have the freedom they need to succeed, can slowly twist personnel into following this same pattern.

As the adage goes, ‘what you accept, you promote.’ When someone is acting like a jerk and getting rewarded, this shows others that the path to success lies in acting this way, so others will begin to adopt these behaviours.

Even simply not punishing toxic behaviour can allow it to spread, as it leads to the implicit assumption that it is supported, as it’s being allowed.

The necessary thing is to move fast. Catch employees acting in this manner, be prepared to coach them on how to change, or just as prepared to discipline. The faster you move, the more people realise that this sort of behaviour simply will not be tolerated, and the faster it can be stamped out.

The signs of a bad employee

  • Harrassing or bullying other employees
  • Constant gossip
  • Inability to admit fault, and blaming others
  • Insubordination
  • A lack of professionalism when communicating with others
  • Outright rudeness or disrespectful
  • Narcissism
  • Unnecessary competitiveness


It’s worth reiterating that high performance doesn’t cancel out toxic behaviour..

If you permit bad behaviours in your company and let toxic personnel continue with these things, it can hugely affect your bottom line. Bad behaviour can have a massive range of negative issues, including productivity, health and sickness, discrimination, lawsuits, and as we’ve already seen with the example at the start of the article, even suicide.

It all starts with the hiring process. Hire people who will fit in with the atmosphere that you’re trying to foster. Emotional intelligence is a far more valuable trait for almost all industries than raw IQ.

The bottom line is, teamwork should always be more valuable than solo efforts. Consider a sports team, for example football teams in the World Cup. Whilst a team like Argentina might have Messi, widely considered to be one of the best players, if not the best player in the world, without the rest of the team to support him, he’d be so limited in effectiveness there would be basically no point in playing.

The same principle applies in your teams. Everyone has a part to play, and by bringing everyone together and letting them achieve goals as a team, you’ve got a far greater chance of success.

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