HR 101: Getting Rid of People Who Suck Life Out of the Organization

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In yesterday’s post (Learning to Love Work Again – It’s All About Employee Energy) on the very intriguing work of Tony Schwartz and the Energy Project, I asked: “Who are your energy vampires?”

Perhaps I should define what an “energy vampire” is. I wish I could claim credit for the phrase, but I first saw it in a LinkedIn post from Aaron Hurst titled Purge Energy Vampires – Save Your Employees. Hurst defined energy vampires this way:

There are certain people in an organization who may be great performers but no one wants to work with them. You dread meeting with them. They suck the life out of the team.”

Meeting needs beyond the paycheck

The obvious first question is – how can they be great performers if nobody works well with them?

Often the answer is they are quite smart and effective individual contributors, but can be bullies to get their own way. They likely don’t listen to others’ ideas, believing their own approach to be the best and therefore only possible solution.

Alternately, the can be the quintessential “Negative Nelly,” the cynic or downright pessimist who excels at pointing out the potential points of failure but never highlights the positive. (To be sure, considering the potential failure areas is important but should be balanced by the potential positive outcomes and considerations, too.)

The good news is, energy vampires can’t hide. They just can’t help themselves. Hurst illustrated how his team uncovered the energy vampires in their own organization, The Taproot Foundation.

We realized 10 percent of our organization were energy sucking vampires. There was no real discussion about it. When someone named a potential vampire everyone vehemently agreed. It wasn’t subtle. It was hard to transition them all out given that several of them were strong individual contributors, but within a few months they were all gone.

Employee engagement and retention increased by over 25 percent. We saw collaboration and innovation increase. Political nonsense went way down.”

It;s critical to have positive energy

“Vehemently agreed” – those are strong words. Energy vampires seem to inspire this reaction in their colleagues.

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Think how much more effective that emotional effort could be if redirected positively. Clearly, Hurst’s organization saw the benefits quite quickly. Bottom-line impact is indisputable.

I also find it interesting Hurst doesn’t mention training programs, PIPs or any other remediation efforts for these admittedly “strong individual contributors.” They were simply transitioned out.

That’s how important positive energy is in the organization. What are you doing to shine the light of day on your energy vampires and exorcise them from your organization?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


4 Comments on “HR 101: Getting Rid of People Who Suck Life Out of the Organization

  1. Love this post. Energy vampires exist in most organizations. It’s an easier call on what to do with them when they are not your top performers. It’s a big culture killer eventually if even a top performer’s behavior is allowed to go unchecked and suck the life out of the remainder of the team. Thanks for the great post.

  2. I like the no-nonsense tone of this post.

    I’ll add that many times, these “vampires” are NOT top performers–they’re just very good at mimicking top performers while pulling the wool over the eyes of influential people.

  3. These people are NOT high performers – I agree. Great article, and it’s unfortunate so many organizations take so long to either recognize these employees or to act.

    1. I agree with Jay. There must be a reason for this behaviour. Perhaps looking into the real issues and causes might uncover more about the organisation than you realise.

  4. I would much rather move these productive but draining types out, conserving some additional energy to work on developing the B level employees with the great attitude to be A level replacements.

  5. And when that “energy vampire” is in a protected class? What then? If performance is good, letting that person go could land the org in legal hot water. Better to find out what’s causing it than to just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Very shortsighted.

  6. What about giving them a chance to change instead of just getting rid of them? Maybe they are negative for a reason. I used to be one of those people. But my underlying reason for being so negative had to do with the fact that I had an un-diagnosed developmental disability that no one realized I had for forty two years.

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