Beware the Rule-Following Coworker

Beware the Rule-Following Coworker (downloadable pdf) by Ariana Eunjung Cha for The Washington Post. A Harvard study explores the “continuum of toxic workers” and found the most toxic are are overproductive, overconfident, rules-mongers who regard themselves highly. Thinking about the workplace culture that allows these characteristics to thrive may help you avoid the toxicity.


Every workplace has them. The colleague who bad-mouths you behind your back at the water cooler. The boss who takes credit for everyone else’s ideas. The sexist jerk people actively avoid by taking circuitous routes to the printer and lying about their happy hour plans.

These employees are the bane of American enterprise and they’re everywhere. Not only are they detrimental to a company’s morale, they are extremely costly to its bottom line and can do far more harm to an organization than outliers at the other extreme — the superstar employees — do good. But who are these people exactly? And how are they different from the rest of us?

In a provocative new Harvard Business School working paper, researchers Michael Housman and Dylan Minor crunched data from 50,000 employees at 11 companies to come up with what may be the world’s most detailed personality profile of a “toxic worker.”

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