William Felps and Terence Mitchell of the University of Washington Business School have released new findings about how detrimental a single ‘bad apple’ can be to teams and teamwork. To paraphrase, one negative employee in a small office can undermine virtually all the positives offered by others, and others may stop contributing unless the ‘bad apple’ can be expunged.
“Most organizations do not have very effective ways to handle the problem,” said Mitchell. “This is especially true when the problem employee has longevity, experience or power. Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly.“
Common defensive mechanisms employees use to cope with a “bad apple” include denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear. Trust in the team deteriorates and as the group loses its positive culture, members physically and psychologically disengage themselves from the team.
This list of symptoms is the bane of managers and team leaders, signs of a sinking ship, or at least one that will have a tough time navigating choppy waters. ‘Bad apples’ can cause low morale and a lack of collaboration, and I have found that these feelings can spread like a virus.
Fortunately, high morale and positive collaboration can spread just as fast and far, assuming that problem employees can be kept out, sidelined, or removed. To address ‘bad apples’, Felps and Mitchell suggest intense screening (and personality testing) before hiring, assigning problem employees to work alone or, if all else fails, termination. The bottom line is to identify and deal with problems before they can spoil the whole team.
Read the full report here: Rotten to the core: How workplace ‘bad apples’ spoil barrels of good employees