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The Bad Apple in Your Workplace

Ryan Piraneo

By: John Birch, CEO


Congratulations, you have just hired a new employee.  You feel great.  They have what you deem the appropriate grooming, potential talent, eager, industrious and pleasant to work with.  They seem to be assimilating rapidly in your organizational culture and are totally immersed in their job.  They seem to be the employee of your dreams.

Less than a year has gone by.  What was once a highly efficient team starts slowly to unravel as productivity decreases, subtly at first.  Your team is becoming less participative during team meetings and those you have been leading successfully now have trouble looking at you in the eye.  It seems like your team is becoming more disengaged each day.  You do what any good leader would do and soul search to see if you have been using the appropriate leadership techniques, and you are.  You begin having in-depth conversations with your team and others that interact with them daily.  The results of your search….you have hired a bad apple.

That new employee that you had such great hopes for has been lying, stealing, talking negatively about other teammates, spends more time trying to get out of work rather than working, takes credit for the work of others, and the list goes on and on.  Your team is now disengaged and dysfunctional.  Your spirit is crushed, you now feel somewhat incompetent for bringing that employee into your team, and you feel deceived. 

Recent research by Professor Gretchen Spreitzer from the University of Michigan clearly proves that one bad apple in your organization will taint the performance of your team and everyone else that that individual regularly comes in contact with.  These results are fully examined in a soon to be released paper “Destructive De-energizing Relationships: How Thriving Buffers Their Performance.”  The results show that the more a person had to interact with de-energizers, the lower that person’s job performance became.  Another study showed that one toxic employee wipes out the gains for two or more super stars.  In fact, a super star defined as the top 1% of workers in terms of productivity, adds approximately $5,000 to the company’s profit, while a toxic worker costs about $12,000 per year.

To ensure that the right person is hired for the right job and the right organization, many companies are using pre-employment assessments that accurately measure a candidate’s skill sets, interests, behaviors and acumens to ensure a proper fit.  Target Training International (TTI)’s TriMetrix System has had a proven track record in quantifying a proper fit for the position.



Here are some steps that both employers and employees can do:


·      Limit interactions with the de-energizers to only when necessary

·      Increase the time spent with people who are positive and make you feel good.  If you must meet with a de-energizer, try to meet with other positive people later in the day.



·      Always set standards of acceptable behaviors and enforce them.  Leaders need to enforce the work culture and norms.  Typically, your de-energizers are technically very good at what they do, so often times, leaders indulge them in their inappropriate behavior. People need to know that there are consequences to the prima-donna syndrome.

·      Consider behavior when promoting people.  Historically, people have been promoted for their technical skills regardless of their effect on other people.  Being good technically does not equate to having good leadership skills, in fact, the skill sets are very different.

·      Provide your employees with regular feedback and put a priority on training that relates to work culture and professional behavior.

·      Interview for civility, asking a candidate, “How they managed a particular situation” provides more insight than asking them, “What would they do.” Ask for 2 or 3 examples.

·      Ensure that you ask each candidate the same questions in the same specific order.

·      Carefully observe these behaviors:

o   Did the candidate arrive promptly for the interview?

o   Does the candidate speak poorly about former employers or co-workers?

o   Does the candidate take responsibility for inappropriate behaviors, results and outcomes or do they point fingers at others?

·      Have others on your team interview the candidate.

·      Ask their references about their level of civility towards others, how other subordinates liked working with the candidate, how emotionally intelligent did they seem, do they work well with different types of people, Are they a team player, do they react well to authority, and most important, would you rehire that person?

In any case, do not let a toxic employee wreak havoc on you, your team or organizational culture.  Address poor behaviors expeditiously as soon as you begin to see them emerge.  Procrastination will not make the situation go away, it will only compound it, making the lives of you, your employees and your family extremely stressful.