Preventing Bad Apples in the Workplace

By: Liz Roling, Ph.D.

The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “How a Few Bad Apples Ruin Everything,” explaining that “deadbeats (‘with-holders of effort’), downers (who ‘express pessimism, anxiety, insecurity and irritation’) and jerks (who violate ‘interpersonal norms of respect’)” have a larger negative impact on a workgroup’s performance than the positive impact of “good employees.”

Unfortunately, as human beings we focus more on negative interactions, experiences, and results more than positive ones. The article cites that having just one slacker or jerk in a group can bring down performance by 30% to 40%.

How can you prevent bad apples in your workplace?

  1. Monitor your own behavior. Always treat coworkers with respect, remember that your attitude (particularly if it is negative) has an impact on those around you, and pull your weight.
  2. If you are a manager or leader, do not tolerate bad apples. Correct unacceptable behavior when you see it, provide coaching when needed, and be ready to let someone go who is unwilling to change and hurting the work environment. Remember the following story quoted from The Wall Street Journal Article:“Stanford researchers Charles O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer report a revealing episode at a clothing retailer. The company fired a top-producing salesman who was a bad apple. After he was gone, none of his former colleagues sold as much as he had. But the store’s total shot up by nearly 30%. The lesson, according to the researchers:  ‘That one individual brought the others down, and when he was gone, they could [all] do their best’” (Sutton, 2011).
  3. Consider offering Executive Coaching to high performing bad apples. An Executive Coach who is trained in facilitating behavior change (usually someone with background in psychology) can provide an outside perspective and a better understanding of the how and why of change. Many coaching firms have services dedicated specifically to this type of situation.
  4. Hire the “good apples” in the first place. Work ethic, attitude, and the way people interact with others can be assessed before letting someone into your work environment. Personality assessments and structured behavioral interviews are particularly useful tools for screening bad apples. Some assessments can even predict a candidate’s likelihood of Counterproductive Behavior.

Click here for the Wall Street Journal Article cited above:

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