Asymmetrical Performance: How One Bad Employee Can Spoil Lots of Good Ones


New research shows that one bad employee can have significant negative effects on a company.

Look around any organization and chances are you'll be able to find at least one person whose negative behavior affects the rest of the group to varying degrees. So much so, say two University of Washington researchers, that these "bad apples" are like a virus to their teams, and can upset or spoil the whole apple cart.

The researchers' paper, appearing in the current issue of Research in Organizational Behavior, examines how, when and why the behaviors of one negative member can have powerful and often detrimental influence on teams and groups.

Yet another reason to adopt the "slow to hire, quick to fire" mindset at your company. You can't afford to tolerate bad apples.

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  • Slow (as in not too quick) to hire sounds good but quick to fire? Every firing is an indictment of your ability and practices as a hiring manager. Should you let your mistakes hurt the team’s performance? No! But who the heck hired this “wrong person” and are they doing enough to get better at judging candidates? What would you do if you had a lot of quality control problems in manufacturing? Just get a bigger dumpster? I don’t think so.

  • I agree with Laurence haughton. Bad employee is a big problem but what would happen if the business practice of the company has some problem. What if one of the higher officials are unskilled or inefficient. How would you recognize these causes?

  • Rob

    That’s a good point. I always took the saying to mean “quick” relative to hiring, not “quick” in the sense that firing people becomes a knee jerk reaction to problems. A lot of companies try not to fire anyone, which I think is a mistake. Some people just aren’t a good fit.

  • Jen

    I’ve worked as an HR Director, and it’s unfortnate, but simple human nature, that as soon as one bad apple “steps out,” another soon takes their place. I’ve seen it a million times. You can’t have a company where everyone is peachy keen all the time, it’s simply unrealistic.

    Additionally, there is something to be said about management doing their job and doing some possible mentoring to aid the “bad apple.” It works, given the right motivation.

    Bad apples can also be the simple product of bad management, who, on their own, can create a bad environment.

    It’s not so simple to say one person spoils it, there are many factors.